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McNally Slams Bruni, Redux: "Integrity, When Reviewing For The New York Times, Is Crucial." Including Special Frank Bruni Response!

H.R.H. The McNally of New York takes another shot at Times chief critic Frank Bruni today. Last time we went down this road, Keith Balthazar suggested -- with evidence to support, though it was received by the public as somewhat inconclusive -- that the Bruni discounted the ability of women chefs and tended to rate their male counterparts better. This time around, Keith writes us to assert that Frank may have a willingness to shill for his friends. The following statement is written by Keith and presented unedited. He tells us it's being sent along to the Times as well, as a letter to the editor. There are two sides of this, so do read through to the end.

MCNALLY: In his New York Times review of the restaurant Esca (April 18th, 2007), Frank Bruni gave an uncharacteristic plug to chef Dave Pasternack's upcoming cookbook, "The Young Man And The Sea." The book's co-author is Ed Levine. Mr. Levine is not only a good friend of Mr. Bruni, but someone who's openly stated ( May 8th) he's a regular Bruni dinner companion.

Though Esca may not have been reviewed in order to plug his friend's new book, it's clear that Mr. Bruni acted with impropriety by not resisting the temptation to advertise it. Integrity, when reviewing for The New York Times, is crucial. To plug a friend's new cookbook when reviewing a restaurant, as Mr. Bruni has done, contradicts this integrity and borders on the unethical.

As a matter of course and courtesy, we shared this note with Bruni and Dining the section Editor, Pete Wells. Here is Mr. Bruni's response:
BRUNI: I respect and like Ed, but I just counted it up in my head, and I've eaten with him, I think, three times tops (the restaurants August, Peter Luger and maybe, only maybe, one other I can't remember) in the three years I've had this job. Oh --- and I saw him at a Johnny Apple memorial, and he quite possibly had food in his hands!

I mentioned the book because it was something going on in Pasternack's career at the exact time the review was coming out, and it's a measure of his rise in the culinary world, and thus an arc directly tied to the Esca re-review. I would have mentioned the book no matter its co-author. It was germane. It wasn't a plug.

He says, he says. Comments are open for you to decide.
· Keith McNally: Bruni has 'unremittingly sexist slant' [~E~]

UPDATE: McNally on the redirect:

MCNALLY: Frank Bruni has sidestepped the question as to whether Ed Levine is a friend of his or not. The issue is not whether Bruni has had dinner with Levine three times or more. It's whether Bruni, when reviewing a restaurant for the NY Times, consciously plugged a book that was co-written by his friend. That's the question.

Furthermore, in avoiding the real issue Mr. Bruni replies that he plugged the book because "it was something going on in Pasternack's career at the time the review was coming out." If this is correct, then why, when reviewing Geoffrey Zakarian's restaurant, Country, in April '06, did Mr. Bruni not plug Mr. Zakarian's new book? For Mr. Zakarian also published a cookbook ("150 Recipes For Life Around The Table") the same month he was reviewed by Mr. Bruni. And, like Esca, Country received three stars.

Frank, stop flip-flopping. You crossed the ethical line. Admit it and move on. (Or out).

McNally photo courtesy of Eat This New York