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Bruni and Beyond: Reviewing (2008)


Nathan
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He didn't include Cut or Mozza because he covered them in other pieces long before writing this one -- so he was working with what was left. But I think overall he came up with a pretty good list, or at least as good a list as you'd get through basic online research. What's interesting to me is how little insight he gained despite extensive dining and travel on the Times's dime.

That, to me, is perhaps Bruni's greatest flaw: when it comes to insight, he's a bad investment. I mean, when you think about the fact that he's probably spending something in the neighborhood of $200,000 a year of the Times's money, it's amazing how little he comes up with in the way of insight. You'd think, dining out 10 times a week at the best restaurants in New York (as well as the rest of the country and world), he'd have unparalleled deep insight. There may be nobody else in the world eating in such a systematic way. But the most I can say in his favor is that 1- he has gotten good, after a very slow start, at figuring out which restaurants are good and awarding them a credible number of stars in maybe 9/10 cases lately; 2- he's prolific and highly motivated (his output is amazing when you consider the online material as well as the print material he produces, all while dining out so often); 3- he's a gifted writer; and 4- like many gifted writers, he notices a lot about his experiences and he's able to milk those details for all they're worth.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It was the patrons that cost ADNY a star!

I don't think it's a particularly insightful piece. This is what he says about the ADNY patrons:

I looked around the Essex House dining room on that occasion and saw, at one table after another, couples in extravagantly expensive attire, with extravagantly expensive jewelry, drinking extravagantly expensive wine. Many looked bored, and not especially attuned to the food they were being served.

I'd say he's overflowing with disdain for people who happen to dress extravantly, and perhaps he merely assumes that they're not attuned to the food, because he figures they're not like him. I mean, did he actually ask? More likely it's just an assumption that flows from a lack of familiarity with the people he's looking at. In my experience, limited though it may be, those with expensive tastes are usually more attuned to the quality of what they're consuming, not less. Sure, there are some who just throw money around because they can, but then, not every Momofuku patron is "savvy" either (Bruni's term for them).

Considering the Tods anecdote and other factors, it's highly doubtful that Bruni has an aversion to things sartorial.

Rather, it's hardly a secret that on any given night at restaurants as expensive and opulent as ADNY (let alone in that location....anyone ever spent some time in the lobby? it's.....interesting....) that you'll get a certain segment of people who aren't there for the food....but rather as an exercise in conspicuous consumption....whether it be the cost, the Russian "date" one-third their age....etc. and if you talk to waitstaff of that level...they've seen it all.

with that said, he did kind of tar the place with a broad brush.

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whether it be the cost, the Russian "date" one-third their age....etc. 

Maybe there's a difference between a third and a half, or between Russia and other parts of the former Soviet bloc, but I really generally do tend to notice the food I'm eating.

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it's hardly a secret that on any given night at restaurants as expensive and opulent as ADNY (let alone in that location....anyone ever spent some time in the lobby?  it's.....interesting....) that you'll get a certain segment of people who aren't there for the food....

That's true of most any restaurant. Even a foodie-youth-culture temple like Momofuku Ko is full of people who are only there because it's an in-demand, trendy, hard-to-reserve spot. Pretty much the only restaurants where you're guaranteed a there-purely-for-the-food audience are the ones that are particularly difficult to get to and undesirable in every sense other than the food. So, like, A Fan Ti in Flushing -- you won't find a lot of poseurs there, though even at places like that you'll find a few culinary trainspotters who just want the lamb-eyeball belt notch. But you'll find plenty of pretextual eaters at any trendy restaurant in the East Village, no matter how serious the food is. Meanwhile, while you'll find some rich-stupid-undiscerning people at restaurants like ADNY (and Per Se, et al.) you'll also find plenty who are very serious and well-traveled gourmets -- in other words people who are more serious about food than Frank Bruni. Basically, the notion that only clueless people ate at ADNY is absurd, but Bruni seems to need to believe that.

I'd say he's overflowing with disdain for people who happen to dress extravantly, and perhaps he merely assumes that they're not attuned to the food, because he figures they're not like him. I mean, did he actually ask? More likely it's just an assumption that flows from a lack of familiarity with the people he's looking at. In my experience, limited though it may be, those with expensive tastes are usually more attuned to the quality of what they're consuming, not less.

I concur. It's all about contempt for the other. I'd happily subject the ADNY crowd on any given night to a food-and-wine literacy test of some sort. I bet their test results would stack up against those of the clientele anywhere.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Right. There's this demographic (I hate that word) of wealthy older people who are better traveled, and have eaten more serious food and drunk more serious wine, and know more about both, than any member of the youthquake that we're told has for the first time made food serious.

I don't necessarily enjoy going to those oldline restaurants much myself. But I certainly respect the knowledge, experience, and sophistication of much of their cilientele.

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I realize this is an overly broad generalization, but does anyone else notice that there seems to be a group late 20/early 30-somethings who have, for all intents and purposes, never been anywhere but the various Momofuku restaurants and yet think they know better than people who have been exploring cuisine/restaurants for decades?

--

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I realize this is an overly broad generalization, but does anyone else notice that there seems to be a group late 20/early 30-somethings who have, for all intents and purposes, never been anywhere but the various Momofuku restaurants and yet think they know better than people who have been exploring cuisine/restaurants for decades?

And to Bruni's point, I bet the average Ducasse customer is more likely to complain about a sub-par dish than the average Momofuku customer.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I realize this is an overly broad generalization, but does anyone else notice that there seems to be a group late 20/early 30-somethings who have, for all intents and purposes, never been anywhere but the various Momofuku restaurants and yet think they know better than people who have been exploring cuisine/restaurants for decades?

And to Bruni's point, I bet the average Ducasse customer is more likely to complain about a sub-par dish than the average Momofuku customer.

considering the relative price points.....

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I realize this is an overly broad generalization, but does anyone else notice that there seems to be a group late 20/early 30-somethings who have, for all intents and purposes, never been anywhere but the various Momofuku restaurants and yet think they know better than people who have been exploring cuisine/restaurants for decades?

And to Bruni's point, I bet the average Ducasse customer is more likely to complain about a sub-par dish than the average Momofuku customer.

I'm reminded of an old gentleman in France who took a bite of a baker friend's baguette, narrowed his eyes, and said "you've switched to the winter wheat".

In other words, I agree. Underestimate the wealthy bourgeois diner at your peril.

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Isn't the advantage of being a wealthy diner basically the same class of advantage Bruni enjoys: the means (i.e., money and time) to amass a volume of experience inaccessible to most? Like FG says, though this is of value, it is no guarantee of "insight." I think Bruni is just over-pointedly (and perhaps without self-reflection) trying to illustrate the same point. One can well imagine a chef finding the occasional enthusiastic patron of insight far more stimulating (if less lucrative) than the frequent patron without.

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  • 4 weeks later...

So what do we do with Bruni's latest review of Michael's? I realize this may be ignorance of a long and successful history, on my part, but I just don't see it as a review worth doing. Does anyone interested in New York food eat there expecting good food? I suppose the answer to my question is the existing two-star review, but I'm still a little puzzled.

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So what do we do with Bruni's latest review of Michael's? I realize this may be ignorance of a long and successful history, on my part, but I just don't see it as a review worth doing.  Does anyone interested in New York food eat there expecting good food?  I suppose the answer to my question is the existing two-star review, but I'm still a little puzzled.

Most of us know that Michael's is not worth our time, but Bruni doesn't write his reviews just for people who are already knowledgeable about the food scene. I'll admit he wastes an awful lot of reviewing slots, but I accept that part of his job is to deliver the occasional smackdown of iconic restaurants past their prime. If Ruth Reichl gave it two stars, that was probably an error significant enough to be worth correcting.
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Did anybody else (besides Eater) notice that Josh Ozersky (Mr. Cutlets) is no longer doing the Grub Street blog and is now working for CitySearch?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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