By very special engagement, The Year 2007 in Frank Bruni, a retrospective by Julia Langbein, better known as The Bruni Digest. At present, Julia is busy smartening herself in Chicago, but that's not to say that the Bruni doesn't cross her mind now and again. And again.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, put your hands together for the Bruni Digest.
Best Blunt KO
When Bruni feels like applying Lee press-on nails, dipping his hand in a bucket of ice and slapping someone in the face, he likes to go for the veterans. Or maybe, a few vets this year just really muffed up. From the Review Heard Round the World, (or at least round the enormo circumfrence of pugilist restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow)—Bruni's zero-star of El Chod's Kobe Club, back in February:
And some of the food was alarming. A clam in an underwhelming cold seafood platter had a metallic tang, while an American strip loin had a sourness that didn't taste like aging or, for that matter, like anything anyone intended.
J-Chod: you're not just ugly, you also smell bad. Youch.
April 25, Morandi, one star: Morandi's overworked Chianti bottles and its canopy of brick arches — no matter how old the brick — aren't whimsical; they're just clichéd.
June 27, Landmarc at the Time Warner Center, one star: It serves food that's seldom much flashier than the fare at a Midwestern Marriott.
When Frank Bruni doesn't have time to concoct some fancy language, and he just calls you "clichéd," it's like when a stray dog refuses to pee on you: extra insulting.
Frank's Feb 28 one-star of Robert's at the Penthouse club, a 1500-word eunuch-in-a-whorehouse joke, required Frank to banter with a room full of oiled-up strippers. Fully a third of the review involved gems like the following, with women named after various shades of Sherwin-Williams deck stain:
Mahogany?" I said.
"Yes," she purred.
"Mahogany," I asked, "do you know where you're going to?"
She didn't miss a beat, noting the reference? "I'm ... coming ... out!" she sang, waving her arms, wiggling her hips. Mahogany and I would get along just fine.
Frank would get along equally well with a Medical Doctor and Medieval scholar named Foxy, whose oily stripper's mams probably left paw-prints on Bruni's lapel during the following:
"Foxy," I began, then stopped myself, wondering if I was being too familiar. "Are you and I on a first-name basis, or should I address you as Ms. Foxy?"
"You can call me Dr. Foxy," she said.
"Is that an M.D. or a Ph.D.?"
"Yes," she answered.
Best Gossip-Girl Moment
Y'all remember when Jason Neroni got busted for emailing everyone he knew to suggest they vote for him in the James Beard awards? Bruni insisted on weaving the whole tawdry episode into his Jan 17 one-star review of Neroni's Porchetta, as if he were hiding in a shrub and reporting live from his rhinestone-encrusted Sidekick:
"In his desire to be noticed, [Neroni] can be overly insistent and careless, as some embarrassing recent adventures in self-promotion suggested...Mr. Neroni circulated an e-mail message that beseeched friends and fans to vote for him as best up-and-coming chef in the James Beard Foundation awards,"
"and the Web site Grub Street, owned by New York magazine, got a hold of it."
"Neither the quoted portions of the e-mail nor the reports of it specified how his supporters were supposed to flex their wills or what effect that flexing might have."
XOXO! Gossip Critic.
Most Confusing Statement
From Frank's 3-star shocker review of Fiamma from Nov. 28:
"And can a restaurant with food as ornate, saucy and creamy as Fiamma's rightly call itself Italian? That's a chewy topic for debate, and I cast my vote this way: Fiamma is about as Italian as a poodle in a Prada scarf."
How Italian is a poodle in a Prada scarf?
Best Metaphoric Description
Bruni thinks the kids are getting too high-concept and self-aware, as snarky one-stars of Tailor (Nov 21) and Varietal (Mar 21) proved. The real winners here, as usual, were the literate, who got to imagine things like this:
A duck-and-eel terrine in a chocolate consommé tastes like cat food splashed with Yoo-hoo.
Frank's rose-scented livret of love poetry is forthcoming from Harper-Collins.
From Bruni's Dec 5 2-star of Soto:
The lobster? It's like a waterlogged cockroach with a thyroid condition and a mean streak.
Bruni loved the décor at Ushiwakamuru, which he gave one star in a July 11 review, because:
?the restaurant's proudly ragtag subterranean setting stole at least one ventricle of my ? heart. Ushiwakamaru has an underdog charm that's irresistible, with its bilious green walls; its artlessly clumped-up plastic wrap over displayed fish; and its spindly, unsmooth chopsticks, the kind that make you worry about tongue splinters.
If they throw in sandpaper chairs and a floor paved with poo, they might get another star outta Frank!
Most Provocative Opener
ANYTIME Anne Burrell gets near hot oil, I want to be around.
What about when she's taking a bath? No? Not then? OK. So only when she's making frito misto, got it.
Runner up, from Bruni's OBVIOUSLY zero-star review of Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man:
If we're not vigilant, who knows what could happen? We could wake up one dark chocolate morning to an East River of cocoa and a Hudson of hot fudge, slices of banana bobbing on its surface.
Vigilant against what? Taking muscle relaxers at a bicurious panty party?
Best Accidentally Disgusting Lines
Bruni's August 15 3-star of Café Boulud was a pretty tasteful affair. Bruni decided he would use Boulud's ravioli as an initial thromometer for the quality of the whole place:
"O.K., the ravioli. It was time for the ravioli, each a tiny purse with flutes and wrinkles all its own. I plopped one in my mouth, and instantly my whole body smiled."
He should have a special editor whose only job is to keep his eyes peeled for accidental descriptions of tea-bagging.
From Bruni's one-star of Centro Vinoteca, Oct 17:
"Both on and off the plate, Centro can alternately elate and deflate you."
I can't help but picture someone farting his way off a bar stool. Repeatedly.
Filthiest Review, or Best Reason to Wrap the Dining Section in Opaque Plastic
Until Frank's Dec 19 one-star review of Primehouse, his VISIT TO A STRIPCLUB would have been the hands-down winner in this category. But when Frank's love of suggestive meat-speak meets Primehouse's claim to serve steak from cows all knocked up by the same bull—well, put an ice cube in your demi-cup, it's getting nasty:
Considerable effort has obviously gone into harvesting and making the most of this particular beast's mighty seed, and why not?
THIS PARTICULAR BEAST'S MIGHTY SEED: straight out of Beowulf, and yes, I'm talking about the 3-d one where Angelina's gilded melons scrape your cornea.
They pimp horses, don't they?
Yes they do, Frank. I believe they call it breeding.
Primehouse New York, on Park Avenue South? It's the seminal steakhouse.
Grandpa, it makes me feel weird when you make dirty jokes about Bull semen.
You can gaze at the dangling flesh, if you like, through an enormous window. Dinner meets diorama.
Actually, dinner meets the bathroom at The Cock. Of Primehouse's clever fill-it-yourself hollow desert balls:
You use the syringe of your choice to, um, fertilize each one.
By the end of this review, it starts to feel like Andrew Dice Clay's gig at a children's birthday party: Children are crying, mothers are frozen in shock, as he makes a last-ditch ball joke.
Best Usage of a Restaurant's PR
"Max Brenner is 'creating a new chocolate culture.' Max Brenner invites you to 'watch, taste and smell my love story.' Max Brenner has 'freed chocolate from its cage.' He's a poet?"
Wisely, Bruni lets the Max Brenner prose shine for itself. And I mean shine in a creepy mentally-ill way.
Most Successful Punch-line
Grandpa Frank makes a lot of dumb jokes. But sometimes they work, like this one from his June 20th review of Insieme:
But Insieme's setting? Mamma mia. I mean it: "Mamma Mia!" That's what I see when I look up from my broth: the Winter Garden Theater.
Most Hilarious Description of a Chef
March 21 Varietal: "I'd bet my life that a molten chocolate cake will never get within 100 feet of Jordan Kahn, the young, gonzo pastry chef."
Bruni straight-out called Jordy "gonzo."
Runner up, from his Feb 21 two-star of Momofuku Ssam Bar: "David Chang is a terrific cook, a pork-loving, pickle-happy individualist?"
"Pork-loving and pickle-happy," in gothic lettering, over a leaping dolphin: Chang's newest tattoo?
Strongest Reminder that Bruni Used to Be a Political Journalist
From his one-star valentine to Pera, Feb 14 (I like to picture him saying this slowly into a microphone on the floor of the United Nations): "Turks live to skewer. If kebab production were a principal criterion for European Union membership, Turkey would have been admitted a decade ago."
Can the Italian representative please respond? Or is he too busy humming a song about his mama and twirling spaghetti around a large wooden silly-fork?
Best Non-Review Article
A special award goes to Bruni's August 1 exposé of diners that drink too much at high-end restaurants. It was investigative, revelatory, funny, and involved Times-appropriate euphemisms for all of the following: Coke, nudie dancing, tittyflashing, pot, barfing, bathroom sex, pants-wetting, pants-shitting and crotch-petting.
Clap. Clap. Clap clap clap. Full on applause. Standing ovation.
—Julia Langbein, The Bruni Digest