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Bruni and Beyond: NYC Reviewing (2007)


slkinsey
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she gave Masa four if at the bar and 3 if at a table.

that works out to 3 stars in my book.

She did say that, but the actual review had four question marks printed — no rating at all. Had she been forced to make a decision, we'll never know what she would have done. The Times doesn't allow half-stars.

At the time, people noted that the best seat for a Japanese omakase is always at the bar. Ergo, if she thought it was a four-star experience at the bar, four stars was the correct rating. That's all academic, as Bruni came along less than a year later and awarded four.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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Other people are now reporting it will be EMP and USC - that makes a little more sense. USC has probably gone a long time without a review. My guess is 3-1, very outside shot at 3-2 if things went perfect at USC.

Rich Schulhoff

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

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I wish these people would get it right. :laugh: It now appears confirmed - The Modern and EMP. More than likely it will be neither the way things are going. :wink:

Rich Schulhoff

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

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EMP is due for a review.

USC hasn't had one in ages but the only reason to review it is to downgrade it. which would be kind of mean. because it hasn't gotten worse in any way, it's just that the food is good by the standards of 20 years ago (it's not bad, but it's not anything special). of course, that's exactly the way its clientele wants it.

I'd give the food somewhere between one and two stars, bump up to two for service and ambience....but then once price is considered, you could lower it to one...depending...(the problem is that the food is no better than Little Owl...and arguably not as good....USC is much more comfortable than Little Owl, but its also 2-4 times as expensive)

is there any real reason to bother doing so?

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For the record, Union Square Café's last Times review was in September 1999: three stars per Grimes. He re-affirmed a Bryan Miller three-star rating, bestowed 14 years earlier.

Even in 1999, Grimes's endorsement was somewhat tepid, making it fairly clear he was adding a star for comfort, service, and consistency:

It's not the food that's setting off the stampede....

What looked like a flashy sports car a decade ago now seems more like a midsize Buick cruising in the center lane at a precise 65....

In general, Union Square has mastered the art of pleasing without challenging....

The excitement in New York's dining scene has moved on, which is partly the fault of Danny Meyer, the principal owner, who has since opened Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park and Tabla....

Should a USC re-review be on Wednesday's bill, I think two stars are the most likely rating. Edited by oakapple (log)
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Eater is now reporting a joint review of EMP and the Bar Room tomorrow: http://eater.com/archives/2007/01/brunibetting_el.php

In one of those paradoxes only Eater could come up with, the purported odds favor 2 stars for EMP and 1 star for the Bar Room. But Eater's own prediction is 3 & 2. (The paradox, of course, is that Eater is responsible for both the odds and the prediction.)

Bruni has said that he actually likes the Bar Room better than the main restaurant, so I agree with Eater's prediction of 2 stars for the Bar Room. EMP is more of a wild card, but with almost everyone saying that Chef Humm has improved the place, I also agree with the Eater prediction of 3 stars for EMP. On top of that, a re-review less than two years later, even with a change of chef, would be unusual unless the rating is being changed.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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oh, that's interesting....I could see the Bar Room getting 2 on its own.

oh, i don't know. on each of my 3 visits there, there were bad food & service mixups. so unless they got it together in the last few months, i'm not holding my breath.

then again, by now they know him well at the Modern, which should take care of food/service glitches. and he's been cozying up to DM lately (blog Q&A, calls for quotes, etc.) i'll be very curious to see the review.

EMP will likely get 3 stars though.

Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.

P.G. Wodehouse

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"oh, i don't know. on each of my 3 visits there, there were bad food & service mixups. so unless they got it together in the last few months, i'm not holding my breath."

I've probably eaten there 15 times and never had an issue.

"then again, by now they know him well at the Modern, which should take care of food/service glitches. and he's been cozying up to DM lately (blog Q&A, calls for quotes, etc.)"

I fail to understand your point. He is certainly less likely to be recognized in a casual, high-traffic space like the Bar Room then in the Modern proper.

but more importantly, I fail to see how any purported "cozying up to DM" would result in Bruni getting better service than otherwise. There is not a restaurant in NY that would not attempt to give Bruni perfect service and food...merely because he is the Times critic. Its really that simple.

And, as the RTR episode evinces, he is not recognized as much as people think.

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"oh, i don't know. on each of my 3 visits there, there were bad food & service mixups. so unless they got it together in the last few months, i'm not holding my breath."

I've probably eaten there 15 times and never had an issue.

lucky you, and i'm saying it seriously. i like other DM places and i'd like to like the Bar Room, which is more affordable for me than the Dining Room. i found it very chaotic on my visits, it just never went smoothly when i was there and the food suffered. three rather spaced visits (a few months after the opening, a few months

later and then even more months later), yet similar problems experienced each time - i generally won't go back after a so-so or ok meal. the first visit wasn't the worst, mind you, i did go back. but i'm not a glutton for punishment. it happens - you and i can be just feet apart at nearby tables at the same restaurant on the same night and have very different experiences.

"then again, by now they know him well at the Modern, which should take care of food/service glitches. and he's been cozying up to DM lately (blog Q&A, calls for quotes, etc.)"

I fail to understand your point.  He is certainly less likely to be recognized in a casual, high-traffic space like the Bar Room then in the Modern proper.

DM is a professional, it's his job to make sure the NYT critic is recognized. Bruni has been to the restaurant before, staff at DM places tend to stay long, pictures abound, etc. i think any critic deals with being recognized (or suspicion thereof) but Bruni's pix were plastered all over Gawer & other websites when he first started, he might be the most recognized NYT critic (hey, blame the internet). so i'd bet that he was recognized - and it can make a difference

but more importantly, I fail to see how any purported "cozying up to DM" would result in Bruni getting better service than otherwise.  There is not a restaurant in NY that would not attempt to give Bruni perfect service and food...merely because he is the Times critic.  Its really that simple. 

you are right, of course, that every restaurant strives to give the NYT critic a perfect experience. but the comment is not about getting better service, it's about Bruni's more frequent interaction with DM, whom he has been quoting more often lately, especially on his blog.

DM was not happy about the reviews Bruni gave EMP and The Modern - he wrote so in "Setting the Table." When the book came out a few of months ago, this was mentioned by a few publications and there was some "he said, he said" going on (including an allusion to it by Bruni on his blog). Ever since Bruni has been calling DM for comments on this and that, whatever puzzles him at the moment about restaurnat experience. that's what i meant - a certain shift since the days of Bruni's original reviews of EMP and The Modern.

For the record, i have great respect for DM and his work, how he shaped the industry and how he runs his business. he has a lot to share and is a role model in the industry. i also applaud his honesty regarding reviews and critics in "Setting The Table," which, by the way, is a great book.

Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.

P.G. Wodehouse

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"it happens - you and i can be just feet apart at nearby tables at the same restaurant on the same night and have very different experiences."

agreed. and I've always eaten at the bar there (except for once)...which generally avoids most service issues.

agree with the rest of your post as well.

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wow. three stars to both.

I love Bar Room but three seems high....on the other hand...the food is at a higher level than say Little Owl -- and it's not much more expensive. Throw in that you can get always get in as well as the stunning decor....

hmm...Bar Room is not at the level of Perry Street or EMP under Humm (I presume)....but it's also half PS' dinner price and even less than half of EMP's...

he was harsh on GT, huh?

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wow.  three stars to both.

I love Bar Room but three seems high....on the other hand...the food is at a higher level than say Little Owl -- and it's not much more expensive.  Throw in that you can get always get in as well as the stunning decor....

hmm...Bar Room is not at the level of Perry Street or EMP under Humm (I presume)....but it's also half PS' dinner price and even less than half of EMP's...

he was harsh on GT, huh?

i agree. looks like i'll have to give the Bar Room another shot :laugh:

(laughs aside, i'm looking forward to it - once the inevitable review-followers crush is over)

i AM surprised at the harshnes of GT comments - i had a few meals at the Tavern recently, they were quite good, if not mind-blowing

Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.

P.G. Wodehouse

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I've been working round-the-clock for the last three or four weeks (with the occasional break for things like eating an inhuman amount of pig). Tonight I literally fell asleep at my computer as I was assembling yet another very-important-to-someone-but-perhaps-not-so-much-to-me appellate brief. I figured I'd have someone make me dinner and then go home to sleep before two or three in the morning for a change.

But who?

I figured that this would be last time I could easily get a bar seat at The Bar at the Modern for a while, in view of what I assumed would be their highly favorable two-star New York Times review.

So I walked over and had my usual very satisfying The Bar at the Modern experience. It really is one of the great dining values in New York.

As I was finishing dessert, the bartender plopped a champagne flute in front of me and said, "I hope you won't mind if I treat you to a glass of champagne. We just got three stars from The Times."

Mind? Send me to a hospital if I ever mind. (It was good champagne, too.)

After I left, though, in the cold dark of night, I had to think to myself:

"Three stars for The Bar at the Modern?????????? Is he fucking nuts???????????????"

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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I know I've said this before but I'll say it again:

Bruni's star ratings only make sense when you realize that he must weigh price heavily.

(I'm not saying that makes them accurate -- that's a separate discussion -- but it does give most of them a consistent, albeit internal, logic.)

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I think the Bar Room deserved all the praise Bruni gave it, and more (it's not as though he exhibited any actual comprehension of the food), and I eat there all the time and love it, but I've got to agree with Sneakeater that the star rating is silly. I can't imagine Gabriel Kreuther or Danny Meyer thinks the Bar Room is a three-star restaurant. I'm not even sure they'll be happy for the rating after the euphoria wears off, because people are going to be showing up with three-star expectations and getting, yes, amazing food, but not a three-star experience -- and that's just going to lead to disappointed customers.

I also feel like it shortchanges Daniel Humm and Eleven Madison Park. They deserve not to be caught up in Bruni's half-baked theories of the Union Square Hospitality Group. And I think, again, as in the previous review of Eleven Madison Park, Bruni is handicapped by the fact that he hasn't done enough homework to make authoritative comments on the Union Square Hospitality Group as a whole. Yes, it's a lot of work to do that, but if he doesn't want to do the work he should shut up about it and just review the restaurants. Has he dined at Bread Bar or at Gramercy Tavern's Tavern? Those would be the places to hit in comparison to the Bar Room at the Modern. That's an actual category worth writing about, especially since the Union Square Hospitality Group pretty much owns the category.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Considering I haven't read the review yet, this post may be pointless. With that said, I think FG is right in that it does somewhat cheapen Chef Humm's awesomeness to give three-stars to The Bar Room, too. The Bar Room is not a three-star experience, but rather a very chic two-star one. Still, given my preferences and assumptions, I would've predicted that Bruni would have given The Bar Room one star as opposed to three..

I'll try to find time to read the review and make worthwhile commentary soon.

As others have alluded to, I'd say this is Bruni pulling the trigger about as much as he could have.

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Considering I haven't read the review yet, this post may be pointless.  With that said, I think FG is right in that it does somewhat cheapen Chef Humm's awesomeness to give three-stars to The Bar Room, too.  The Bar Room is not a three-star experience, but rather a very chic two-star one.  Still, given my preferences and assumptions, I would've predicted that Bruni would have given The Bar Room one star as opposed to three..

I'll try to find time to read the review and make worthwhile commentary soon.

As others have alluded to, I'd say this is Bruni pulling the trigger about as much as he could have.

I have been meaning to add to your review of EMP as I must have been there the same night as you and had the tasting menu with wine (first time). I was also at the Bar Room at The Modern (BRM) the same week (third time), and had a meal last year at the dining room (once and immaterial to this thread). Bruni's review of the two places is like comparing apples and oranges except that they are owned by the same person. Would he have reviewed them together otherwise? Doubt it. That said, I think that that the highs at both places merit three stars. The foie gras torchon at the BRM was gutsier and tastier than the one with coffee at EMP, which I found had no flavor. The gnocchi with sweetbreads and shrooms at BRM had me swooning. The flavors were so deep and the gnocchi so light. I agree with your critique of EMP. The egg with uni and the fish were outstanding, the wine pairings were superb. I found that the pacing of the dishes at EMP was uneven and by the time I got to desert, four hours later, with all that wine, I could barely eat and wanted to put my head on my plate and pass out. I will go back to EMP (after the review madness) and go for the a la carte dishes. For my lifestyle, I prefer the informality of the BRM and love the ability to taste many small dishes, but I'm not Bruni.

The review would have been much fairer had he reviewed The Modern restaurant together with EMP. I just don't get Bruni. His reviews aren't even fun to read and the stars he delivers after the text are bizarre. Then there are the recommended dishes at the end that he never mentions in the text of the review. Why the long, irrelevant intros and why so little time devoted to wine and desert? Of all the reviwers at The Times since Claiborne, I find him the least informative, with his reviews prejudiced by his personal tastes.

Edited by pups224 (log)
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At least he seems to have "gotten it" regarding the food/concept at EMP. That said, I agree with pups224 that Bruni seems the least knowledgeable reviewer about food in the NYT since I've been following it (Mimi Sheraton and on).

Remember, they went through a few other offers before Bruni accepted (others turned it down) and before this job, he was the Rome bureau chief, and before that, wasn't he a movie critic for the Detroit Free Press? I mean that as no insult, but I don't know that he had a background in food before this job.

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Bruni's star ratings only make sense when you realize that he must weigh price heavily. 

My own theory is that classic formality bores him, and he has too little comprehension of the food to distinguish great cuisine from tasty comfort food. The pork chop at The Little Owl and the Bluefoot Chicken at Alain Ducasse are pretty much the same thing to him. It's entirely typical that the suckling pig at EMP was the dish he raved about the most, and while I've no doubt that it's very good indeed, I'll betcha anything it's not what Chef Humm considers his best work.

I think the Bar Room is a two-star restaurant. While I've no doubt Danny Meyer's crew are floating on air this morning, when the dust settles, they have to face the preposterous fact that the main dining room is at two stars while the bar is at three.

I also feel like it shortchanges Daniel Humm and Eleven Madison Park. They deserve not to be caught up in Bruni's half-baked theories of the Union Square Hospitality Group.

I'm not sure I understand the comment. I don't know anyone who thinks Union Square Cafe is the real flagship of the operation these days (except in name only), and we all know that Gramercy Tavern is in transition. These comments seemed to me unremarkable.
I wouldn't want to be then next poor sap up for review. It's bound to be a zero or one star bludgeoning.

I don't think there's any pattern that after a 3-star review, the next restaurant in line gets bludgeoned. It's unlikely to be 3 stars, of course, simply because that rating isn't given out very often. Edited by oakapple (log)
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