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Bruni and Beyond: NYC Reviewing (2004)


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I thought this week's review was terrible. Some people may feel there was some buildup to the ending climax of discussing the steak, but I just felt like he was sidestepping the issue. Then at the end Bruni just gives up and rolls over gives us a two bit description fitting of my assessment of my personal analysis of a steak I would make on my home grill any given weeknight.

Whether or not the NYTimes should be reviewing steakhouses is beside the point, IMO. I was more annoyed by the pedantic self-amused tone Bruni took throughout the review. It reminded me of the guy who tells a joke and laughs his ass off while everyone else in the room looks around at each other unamused.

I don't care what the shrimp cocktail is like, I don't really want to know about the seafood options - a simple, brief mention that they exist would be fine. I want the majority of a steakhouse review to wax poetic about steak. Why it was good, why it was bad, what could be done better, etc. As I stated before, this discussion was left to the end and was miserably lacking in depth.

That's what the review should have been - the steak, the normal sides (creamed spinach, potato, tomato and onion), then decor and service. Cut the seafood and dessert crap, cut the heath warnings (which are about 10 years behind the times and probably off-base, anyway).

So far Bruni is 0.5/3 in quality reviews in my book with the 1/2 rating going to the Babbo review which was good overall, but fell short.

I also dislike the man's failed attempts at humor, and sympathy-baiting style.

-Eric

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Again, I liked it because I didn't take it seriously.

I mean, if an over-broiled steak is two stars but Bouley only rates three then it's all a joke.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I think that the idea of appoximating a side-by-side test between Wolfgang's and Peter Luger is a good idea. Bruni mentioned in the review that he had been to Wolfgang's at least twice, and I'm sure that he has visited Luger many times. However, from reading the review, it seems that the "side-by-side" was performed only once. This means that the thickness of the steak at both restaurants was measured once. Also, the doneness of the steaks was compared just a single time. No tendency to overbroil, underbroil, or sporadically over and under broil is mentioned. My problem with Bruni's "experiment" is that the sample size is too small to be reliable. Even worse is that his results could be completely inaccurate. Sorry Frank, you're going to have to clog-up your arteries a few more times at each establishment in order to convey anything of worth or meaning to your readers. What a tough job you have!

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I think that the idea of appoximating a side-by-side test between Wolfgang's and Peter Luger is a good idea. Bruni mentioned in the review that he had been to Wolfgang's at least twice, and I'm sure that he has visited Luger many times. However, from reading the review, it seems that the "side-by-side" was performed only once. This means that the thickness of the steak at both restaurants was measured once. Also, the doneness of the steaks was compared just a single time. No tendency to overbroil, underbroil, or sporadically over and under broil is mentioned.

No critic has the column space to mention all of the dining experiences he has had at the restaurant(s) under discussion. The review is a selection of those experiences, chosen to give an overall impression of what the restuarant is about. If he has visited both Luger's and Wolfgang's multiple times (which you concede is likely), then he is not comparing them based on one experience. In the review, he wrote about the day he tried them within hours of each other—something that no other critic in memory has done. This doesn't mean he has no other data to draw upon.

A high-end steakhouse should hardly ever fail to get the doneness right. Therefore, if the critic has had an over-broiled steak on even one of his visits, it's relevant to the review. The overall context of the review suggested that this was not a chronic problem, but it was certainly fair to mention it.

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I think that the idea of appoximating a side-by-side test between Wolfgang's and Peter Luger is a good idea.

Mike, I guess I not convinced it was a good idea. Comparing restaurants in the manner presented served more as a distraction for me. Sure, mentioning the connection is fine, but in my opinion that's where it should have ended (unless both restaurants were being reviewed). Luger was actually mentioned more than Wolfgang's.

But aside from that, it's very difficult to compare a steak place that serves one cut to another that serves several. I don't see how it's fair to either place, the reader or the reviewer. If he wanted to compare two restaurants, he should have chosen the Brooklyn PL and the Long Island PL (but that would have been a longer walk) - that would have been more meaningful and I think the differences would surprise many.

Finally, it's truly a shame how the NY Times editorial department has fallen on bad times and the food section has mirrored the rest of the publication. I remember when it was a good paper - probably the best in the country and arguably the world - now it would be hard pressed to make the top ten.

When the NY Times "left" NYC, it pushed the city into a "newspaper void." Now we have one ultra right-wing paper (NY Post), one ultra left-wing paper (NY Times) and one paper that's not sure what it is (NY Daily News). (Newsday is another story for another time and is a Long Island paper anyway - in spite of what it tries to spin.)

How I long for the days when a newspaper reported the news straight and restaurant reviews contained meaningful information on restaurants and the food they served and not unproven allegations or cardiovascular warnings.

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Again, I liked it because I didn't take it seriously.

I mean, if an over-broiled steak is two stars but Bouley only rates three then it's all a joke.

Agreed.

If you're in my neighborhood - come on over and I'll serve you a steak that's perfectly done to your liking. I mean - how much is there to *cooking* a steak apart from getting it to the desired degree of doneness? Any restaurant that can't do that doesn't deserve any stars in my book. Robyn

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No critic has the column space to mention all of the dining experiences he has had at the restaurant(s) under discussion. The review is a selection of those experiences, chosen to give an overall impression of what the restuarant is about. If he has visited both Luger's and Wolfgang's multiple times (which you concede is likely), then he is not comparing them based on one experience. In the review, he wrote about the day he tried them within hours of each other—something that no other critic in memory has done. This doesn't mean he has no other data to draw upon.

A high-end steakhouse should hardly ever fail to get the doneness right. Therefore, if the critic has had an over-broiled steak on even one of his visits, it's relevant to the review. The overall context of the review suggested that this was not a chronic problem, but it was certainly fair to mention it.

I don't think that this is a matter of column space. My guess is that Bruni's side-by-side comparison was done once and therefore, the results are statistically unreliable. If this is not the case, then he failed to convey that the specific results of the comparison are based on multiple visits to both restaurants. This is a critical piece of information to omit.

I think that there are some good ideas in the review. I found the cardio cracks a bit dated, given that carbs are the phobia du jour. Maybe that's also dated. I haven't been in the Health and Diet section of B & N ever since I started exercising regularly. Here's an idea for an interesting spin next time Bruni reviews a steak restaurant. Steak as health food. Plenty of protein, that's for sure. I also thought that visiting both restaurants in the same day was imaginative, given that many people are asking how Wolfgang's compares to Luger. There's just something missing. Maybe Bruni should have reviewed both establishments in the same article. That would have given him the opportunity to delve into the comparison more comprehensively. Luckily, I'm not the critic. I'm just criticizing the critic. I give the review one star. (*)

Edited by mikeyrad (log)
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I give the review one star. (*)

That's neat idea, give the reviewer stars on his review:

Babbo - 3.5 stars

Megu - 2 stars

Bouley - 0 stars

Wolfgang's - 0.5 stars

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I give the review one star.  (*)

That's neat idea, give the reviewer stars on his review:

Babbo - 3.5 stars

Megu - 2 stars

Bouley - 0 stars

Wolfgang's - 0.5 stars

I'll play:

Babbo - 3.0 stars

Megu - 2.5 stars

Bouley - 0 stars

Wolfgang's - 0 stars

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I give the review one star.  (*)

That's neat idea, give the reviewer stars on his review:

Babbo - 3.5 stars

Megu - 2 stars

Bouley - 0 stars

Wolfgang's - 0.5 stars

I'll play:

Babbo - 3.0 stars

Megu - 2.5 stars

Bouley - 0 stars

Wolfgang's - 0 stars

We're very close, but I only gave him 0.5 stars for the Wolfgang review because he walked from midtown Manhattan to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You "gotta" give the guy something for that - those are some unique neighborhoods to walk through along the way.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I think its way too early to be this critical of Mr. Bruni.

Let him cut his teeth first, and then see how he does three or four months down the road.

Soba

From my journalism background, what you see is what you get.

I have no problem with his food opinions. However, the last two reviews have had serious methodology flaws. This has been an editorial problem for the NY Times for the last several years - the paper has a terminal case of myopia.

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I happened to catch Bruni's appearance on NY1 last night where he mentioned that he'd made five visits to Wolfgang's for the review. Of course some of those were to sample the swordfish and the tuna and the ribeye and so forth; but between himself and his dining companions I'm sure he managed to taste a pretty representative sampling of the Wolfgang's porterhouses--certainly more chances than any other reviewed restaurant would have to execute on one particular dish.

That he framed the review in terms of one particular visit (and one particular overdone porterhouse) might be considered misleading, but it is no different from any other review written to imply one or two visits when we all know there were five or six--which is to say most of them.

And the complaint that the review is as much about Luger as about Wolfgang's completely misses the point of what Wolfgang's fundamentally is: an attempt to copy Luger without its (real and alleged) inconveniences. Trying to review Wolfgang's without comparing it at every point to Luger is like trying to review a cover band without reference to the original. It can certainly be done, but assuming most of the review audience has heard or is at least familiar with the original songs (a fair assumption in this case), it's going to make for a much less effective review.

To me the real problem here is that Bruni simply doesn't discuss the food in sufficient detail. The steaks get five or so sentences--not nothing, but not enough considering they're the whole reason we're reading this. And the other dishes rate around one adjective apiece (although perhaps that's all they're worth). It has all the filler of a normal NYT review--which is fine, I suppose--but a few hundred words less substance.

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I mean - how much is there to *cooking* a steak apart from getting it to the desired degree of doneness?

Actually Luger's, and probably Wolfgang's as well, uses a broiler that is far far hotter than any found in a home kitchen, and the result is very different.

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I mean - how much is there to *cooking* a steak apart from getting it to the desired degree of doneness?

Actually Luger's, and probably Wolfgang's as well, uses a broiler that is far far hotter than any found in a home kitchen, and the result is very different.

So if they're using fancier equipment - shouldn't their results be more precise - not less? Why should a steak ever be overdone?

I'm not a big steak eater - but when I do cook a steak about once a month - I want it rare - very. My husband likes medium. I know the cut of meat I buy - and I know my grill - and I have a Polder timer. I sometimes have to adjust a little if I'm grilling in the 90 degree summer - or the the 50 degree winter (we do get under 50 - but I don't grill then - it's too hard to adjust for the cold). Otherwise - it's simply a matter of setting the timer. Presumably a restaurant kitchen can keep a more constant temperature.

Like I said - I like my meat rare. And when I first started to grill I got lousy results cooking really thick steaks at home (burnt outside - raw inside). I then ate a few times at places like Ruth's Chris and Mortons - mostly to see what they could do with those fancy high temp grills. If you want a steak that's "rare" inside - and you order a very thick cut at these places - it will basically not be hot when it's served (and you are so warned on the menu). IOW - same results as I got at home. So when I cook at home - I use thinner steaks (not skinny - but not really super thick). Max of 4 minutes (2 minutes a side). Nice outside - rare inside.

Anyway - I'm not sure what you're saying. Because these guys have grills fancier than my Weber - their results are worse? I suspect you're saying something different - but I don't understand exactly what it is.

I will add that that there was a suggestion in another message (not yours) that because the NYT is national now (and I do get home delivery of the paper here in the hinterlands) - that the nature of the food reviews was somewhat compromised (presumably for us "hicks"). Nothing could be further from the truth. We have steak places - and we even have our own grills. I have never (and will never) dine in a NYC restaurant to eat something as basic as a steak. When I go to the Big Apple - I want something that's very far removed from what I can get at home. Perhaps New Yorkers need reviews of steak places because they don't have their own grills? Robyn

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Robyn, you can't sear a steak on a Weber with the same kind of crust to the extent that Peter Luger and Wolfgang's or any other professional steak house can with real salamander-type infared broiler equipment.

Actually, you have a much better chance of getting closer results to a steakhouse in a semi-pro type Viking or Wolf or DCS range with the built in broiler than you will on your Weber.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Robyn, you can't sear a steak on a Weber with the same kind of crust to the extent that Peter Luger and Wolfgang's or any other professional steak house can with real salamander-type infared broiler equipment.

Actually, you have a much better chance of getting closer results to a steakhouse  in a semi-pro type Viking or Wolf or DCS range with the built in broiler than you will on your Weber.

I was talking about the fact that the steak was overdone (according to the review). I'm sure it's possible to do that with any piece of equipment - but I certainly wouldn't excuse a restaurant because it had high end equipment.

Like I said a few messages ago - about all you you can do wrong cooking a steak is not cooking it to the proper degree of doneness. And this restaurant flunked that test (according to the review). Whether they could have done it with the equipment they had - I don't know. The fact is that they didn't.

For what it's worth - my Weber does a pretty good job. I'm not sure exactly how hot it gets. It's certainly not the 1800 degrees advertised by Ruth's Chris - I suspect it's more like 700-800 degrees on a warm night. And I probably get a bit more heat because I like to cook ribeyes with a lot of fat. When the fat ignites - you get little fires. They're really hot - and they make a nice crust. Perhaps the best thing about the Weber porcelain in my opinion is it hasn't totally corroded after being left outside for over 6 years. When you're dealing with Florida heat/humidity - anything that's supposed to be "Stainless" steel isn't. Robyn

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Rich, I will refrain from discussing your allegations about the political positions of New York newspapers, because we are not here to argue about such things here. This is not ePolitics, and non-food-related articles are off-topic for discussion.

That said, I'm curious to know which food critics for the Times you've liked. More to the point, who was the last main (over-$25) food critic you liked?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Like I said a few messages ago - about all you you can do wrong cooking a steak is not cooking it to the proper degree of doneness.  And this restaurant flunked that test (according to the review).

To say they "flunked" is really to mis-read the review. Bruni wrote:

Best of all was the beef. A rib-eye steak (not on the Luger menu) yielded striations of color and texture: the black, crisp exterior gave way to soft red pinpricks in the center. A sirloin had similar virtues, and so did the porterhouse, arguably the raison d'être of Wolfgang's and Luger.

My cholesterol-impervious friend and I tried just a few slices, knowing there would be more in another borough, at a later hour. Then we each had another slice. It was definitely time to stop. We had another.

The meat was many wonderful things at once, or in rapid succession: crunchy, tender, smoky, earthy. It induced a kind of euphoria — and a stab of guilt. We walked all the way to Williamsburg.

Does that sound like a "flunking" review to you? It certainly doesn't to me!

Now, I do have to admit that this praise is difficult to square with the "overbroiled" comment at the end of the review. And this may be Bruni's real failing to date: a failure to communicate clearly. But reading the review in its totality, you cannot possibly conclude that Wolfgang's had come anywhere close to "flunking" at the art of broiling a steak.

I have never (and will never) dine in a NYC restaurant to eat something as basic as a steak.

Far be it from me to tell you what to order, but there is quite a bit more to making a first-class steak than merely getting the doneness right. The big steakhouses age their meat, which makes an enormous difference. They are also able to get higher quality beef than is found at your typical community supermarket. Even if you have the same product quality and age it yourself, it is no small feat to produce the "crunchy, tender, smoky, earthy" taste Bruni referred to. If you can do all that consistently, I congratulate you. But lastly, there is of course the pleasure of having it all done for you, which is one of the reasons we eat out.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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I think that the idea of appoximating a side-by-side test between Wolfgang's and Peter Luger is a good idea. Bruni mentioned in the review that he had been to Wolfgang's at least twice, and I'm sure that he has visited Luger many times. However, from reading the review, it seems that the "side-by-side" was performed only once. This means that the thickness of the steak at both restaurants was measured once. Also, the doneness of the steaks was compared just a single time. No tendency to overbroil, underbroil, or sporadically over and under broil is mentioned. My problem with Bruni's "experiment" is that the sample size is too small to be reliable.

The more I think about this comment, the more I conclude that it is totally specious. Every critic in town that has reviewed Wolfgang's has compared it to Luger. It's an unavoidable comparison, and nobody on eGullet had questioned whether those other critics had a large enough "sample size" to do this. Bruni merely did something further, which was to compare them on the same day, and furthermore, to make that excursion the focal point of his review. He could simply have done what all the other critics did, which is to include the comparison without mentioning his two-Porterhouses-in-one-day steak orgy, in which case it likely would have passed under your nose without notice, and without the accusation of a purportedly inadequate sample size.

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Rich, I will refrain from discussing your allegations about the political positions of New York newspapers, because we are not here to argue about such things here. This is not ePolitics, and non-food-related articles are off-topic for discussion.

That said, I'm curious to know which food critics for the Times you've liked. More to the point, who was the last main (over-$25) food critic you liked?

I don't dislike Bruni. His methodology has been off in his last two reviews, but that's as much a fault of his editors as it is his.

I can't think of a reviewer that I didn't or don't like. Everyone has an opinion and I respect and listen to anyone who has been to a restaurant.

My difficulities arise when they enter inappropriate areas. As you mentioned concerning my post about the politics of the NYC newspapers (even though I was just stating what is a general consensus - nothing controversial there), reviews shouldn't get into the areas of mentioning unproven allegations (Bouley review) or the cardiovascular problems related to beef (Wolfgang's review).

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Just to follow up on my last post. To show how "off" Wolfgang's review was. The headline mentioned "cardiologists." This has no place in a restaurant review. If I want to read the medical/science section, I can find it myself.

By the way Michael, what were doing awake at 3:00 a.m. :laugh::laugh:

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I don't dislike Bruni. His methodology has been off in his last two reviews, but that's as much a fault of his editors as it is his.

NYT critics have an extremely wide berth to cover the subjects they choose, in the manner they choose. Whether you liked the Bouley & Wolfgang reviews or not, it was well within the scope of Bruni's job to write them that way. This does not make them great criticism — an attribute we are free to debate — but editors don't ring-fence their critics the way you're suggesting.

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