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Bruni and Beyond: Reviewing (2008)


Nathan
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I agree with that to a large extent. A big part of why Bruni was so willing to run with the luxury and pomp of Le Cirque is because of its history. It belongs in another time to an extent. The here and now is not Le Cirque, and I think that's generally in line with Bruni's overall preferences.

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I guess some will have to rethink the contention that Bruni never likes formal restaurants...after today's Le Cirque rereview...

Although we tend to write in absolutes, there's clearly no "never" or "always" with Frank Bruni.

But if you substitute "seldom" for "never," this review really does prove the rule. For though he did bestow three stars, it seemed almost grudging:

I’m not calling for the spread of these establishments [but] I’m charged with noting when one of them fulfills its chosen mission with classic panache.
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The key point is, if I were opening a new restaurant in New York, I wouldn't make it a formal (traditionally) four-star-type place, because this review PROVES that the New York Times critic wouldn't be receptive to it.

no, I wouldn't open a traditional formal four-star-restaurant in New York cause the odds of losing money on it would be pretty high (and the coming attempts to pin dollar in line with other currencies in order to mitigate or stave off recession are going to lower high-end tourism considerably). and leaving aside economic factors...the dining trend just isn't toward formality...and Bruni is only an example of that trend...he's by no means the leader.

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consider Picholine. and he's left Chanterelle or La Grenouille alone.

I think he hates formality for the sake of formality. where you're paying for obsequiousness...not for the food. but where the formality is justified by the food, I see nothing in his record that says he downgrades that.

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I wouldn't open a traditional formal four-star-restaurant in New York cause the odds of losing money on it would be pretty high (and the coming attempts to pin dollar in line with other currencies in order to mitigate or stave off recession are going to lower high-end tourism considerably).  and leaving aside economic factors...the dining trend just isn't toward formality...and Bruni is only an example of that trend...he's by no means the leader.

There are some dubious statements here. Bruni has been on the job roughly 3½ years. In that time period, I believe more luxury restaurants have opened than closed. You can look up the menus at places like Country, Gilt, The Modern, and Gordon Ramsay, and see that they're about as expensive as Daniel. Prices at the just-opened Adour are about comparable to Bouley, which had four stars till Bruni got his hands on it.

And even when Bruni hated these places, his reviews have not been fatal. Mostly, they've been irrelevant. The only counter-example I can think of is V Steakhouse, which clearly wasn't intended to get four stars, but I would class as a luxury restaurant nevertheless.

consider Picholine.  and he's left Chanterelle or La Grenouille alone.

Well, he's got to give three stars to somebody. Surely you're not disputing that the overall arc of Bruni's writing is that he is not particularly fond of that style of dining. He is not a mere dispassionate observer of the current trend; he is a cheerleader for it.

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oh...the demand has been there for the past few years for high-end restaurants. it's been a mix of luxe tourism and wall street.....but if I was investing in a restaurant, I sure as heck wouldn't bet on that particular combination being sustainable for the next couple years.

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oh...the demand has been there for the past few years for high-end restaurants.  it's been a mix of luxe tourism and wall street.....but if I was investing in a restaurant, I sure as heck wouldn't bet on that particular combination being sustainable for the next couple years.

Yes, but the demise of that dining stratum has long been forecast—even Bryan Miller wrote about it, and that was three NYT critics ago. White-table-cloth dining is still here, and it's still thriving. Even if you attribute the demand solely to "luxe tourism and Wall Street" — and I think that's simplistic — neither of those market segments is going anywhere. Obviously, there's a chance we're headed into recession, but there have been multiple recessions since Bryan Miller was chief critic at the Times. Recessions come and go. The demand for high-end dining survives, and I see no reason to doubt that it always will.

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The kitchen doesn’t produce meals on a par with those from four-star chapters in the restaurant’s storied past. Le Cirque isn’t quite as reliable as other three-star restaurants.

But the quality of its French-Italian food has improved to the point where it sufficiently complements, and doesn’t undercut, the rest of what makes this restaurant such an haute hoot.

Despite Bruni's amused ambivalence, this quote suggests that it is not the food but the haute hoot-iness that is the primary component of the ***, meaning that in this case it's a definite positive as far as Bruni's rating is concerned.

I think this is Bruni's first self-revision that wasn't in the context of a double review.

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oh, I thought it was pretty clear that...in the case of Le Cirque....he found the formality a plus.

I agree that there will always be a demand for formal dining. that doesn't detract from the point that that demand has diminished....and that a change in economic circumstances will lower it even further. a great many formal dining customers are once-a-year celebratory types (yes, they have plenty of regulars too)....and that group is especially affected by economic swings.

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oh, I thought it was pretty clear that...in the case of Le Cirque....he found the formality a plus.

I thought he found it a minus. He called it a "restaurant...that exists to be absurd" and noted that he's "not calling for the spread of such establishments." How often does a critic award three stars, while calling the restaurant absurd and noting that he doesn't wish to see any more like it?

I'm not even sure what the absurd part is? Other than the top hat-shaped ravioli, what he described was more-or-less the trappings usually associated with luxury dining, wherever you do it.

I agree that there will always be a demand for formal dining. that doesn't detract from the point that that demand has diminished....and that a change in economic circumstances will lower it even further. a great many formal dining customers are once-a-year celebratory types (yes, they have plenty of regulars too)....and that group is especially affected by economic swings.

But as I noted above, more luxury restaurants have opened during Bruni's tenure than have closed. That doesn't sound like a diminishing market to me. I agree that it's a segment more likely to be vulnerable during economic swings. But economic swings are always temporary.

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But as I noted above, more luxury restaurants have opened during Bruni's tenure than have closed. That doesn't sound like a diminishing market to me. I agree that it's a segment more likely to be vulnerable during economic swings. But economic swings are always temporary.

absolutely. and your first point has to be considered in light of all the restaurants that closed between 1999 and 2003.

but it doesn't change the fact that there is less formal dining now than 20 years ago.

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Has anyone mentioned the fact that Bruni does cite a change in chef at Le Cirque? As discussed (ad nauseum) on this thread (Fiamma Osteria, for one), a new chef at a two/three/four star restaurant puts it back within the purview of the NYT restaurant critic.

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Your first point has to be considered in light of all the restaurants that closed between 1999 and 2003.

but it doesn't change the fact that there is less formal dining now than 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, I don't have a good feel for the number of places that closed from 1999–2003, versus the number that opened. But until someone shows me, I would remain skeptical that the luxury segment contracted during that period.

I also wonder if we mean the same thing by the terms we're using. I referred to "luxury dining," you referred to "formal dining". They might not be the same things. It's indisputable that the number of jacket-and-tie places has gone down, but each generation re-defines formality. Formal French restaurants have been replaced by other kinds of luxury, but I see no evidence that the demand for luxury itself (in modern guises) has diminished.

Consider Adour, for instance. There's no question that it would have been a jacket-and-tie place 30 years ago. But leaving aside the dress code, it simply has to be considered part of the luxury segment. Only the top 1% or so of the population, or perhaps even less, would even consider eating at such a place.

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Has anyone mentioned the fact that Bruni does cite a change in chef at Le Cirque?  As discussed (ad nauseum) on this thread (Fiamma Osteria, for one), a new chef at a two/three/four star restaurant puts it back within the purview of the NYT restaurant critic.

It's not quite that black-and-white. Sometimes a restaurant is re-reviewed even though there has been no chef change. Sometimes there's a chef change, and it goes unnoted. At the three-star level, Oceana is an example. It's well known that Bruni paid no notice to the chef change at the original Alain Ducasse after he demoted it, and the restaurant staff stated that he never even visited.

Le Cirque got its re-review after a chef change (well deserved), but Gordon Ramsay and Gilt did not. Gilt under Chris Lee is, for all intents and purposes, a brand new restaurant. Gilt under Lee is far more important from a culinary perspective than a good dozen-or-so places Bruni has reviewed since the change took place—even if he believed that the original two star rating is still correct.

GR is arguably a bit different, since it is still technically Ramsay's restaurant, even with a different executive chef, but it is the only Michelin 2-star that doesn't have at least three NYT stars. Michelin has its limitations, but for that type of cuisine, I think they have a better understanding than Bruni.

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your technical point as to GR also applied to Ducasse.

Bruni discussed Gilt under Lee in a Diner's Brief.

Yes, I do recall the Diner's Brief on Gilt (there was one on GR also). Recall that I was replying to an earlier post about re-reviews, which neither got. Ducasse did not attract so much as a mention in any of the various forums in which Bruni had the opportunity, and allgedly not even a visit to the restaurant either.

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of course, ADNY was reviewed at least three times in a six or seven year period.  that's a lot.  more than any other restaurant I would think.

The only one that can match it, at least in recent history, is Compass. :laugh:

I don't think yet another ADNY re-review could have been justified at that point—the larger error was demoting it in the first place. But as Steven Shaw and I have often said, the telling point is that he took no note of the change in any of the various ways he could have done so.

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I'm guessing even a NYC deli waiter would not be a match for a table consisting of Ed Koch, Nora Ephron, Frank Bruni and Laura Shapiro.

Today's Second Avenue Deli review was a fun read.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

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