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The Bruni Thread


Guest Aaron T

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To Sneak: Oh, I've nothing against placing a chef within his/her wider context. It just seemed to me that Bruni had not much to say in this review and had to spell out Flay's other projects.

 

Even kind of repeats himself.

 

"At the same time the margin for clumsiness at Mesa Grill is narrower than ever. The restaurant can no longer lean on novelty; its Southwestern swirl of peppery rubs and smoky glazes, of tropical sweetness and desert fire, has been popularized to the point of cliché. It informed the menus of Chi-Chi’s, Chili’s and Chipotle." (p. 1)

 

"But some meals at Mesa Grill devolve into a redundant, vague haze of smokiness and syrupiness, the heat-with-sweet effects delivered in a blunt fashion." (p. 2)

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Right. Flay works with smoke, heat - typically from dried chilis, and sweetness - typically from corn or molasses. That's his signature combination, and well-executed it's enjoyable. Sure, it isn't always well-executed because Mesa and Bar Americain in particular are way too busy.

 

If I were advising him, I'd tell him to continue serving the cuisine he's known for, whether or not the Times critic is bored with it.

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Right. Flay works with smoke, heat - typically from dried chilis, and sweetness - typically from corn or molasses. That's his signature combination, and well-executed it's enjoyable. Sure, it isn't always well-executed because Mesa and Bar Americain in particular are way too busy.

 

If I were advising him, I'd tell him to continue serving the cuisine he's known for, whether or not the Times critic is bored with it.

 

Mr Flay was not pleased with the review, it would seem.

 

Mesa Grill GM fired?

 

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On a more general note, I assume Mr Bruni will be reviewing Daniel soon. It's the last of the NYT current four stars not confirmed or inaugurated by him. The review dates from March of 2001, and was given by Mr Grimes.

I don't think he's in any rush to re-review Daniel, as it poses a bit of a problem for him. He would almost certainly demote it to 3 stars, as he's made clear that he doesn't really like the place. But that would leave only four 4-star restaurants, which I believe would be an historical low.

 

Now, there's no magic number of 4-star restaurants that the city must have, but it makes the category seem moribund if he takes more restaurants out of that level than he is putting into it. Time and again, restaurants aspiring to the top level have opened, and Bruni hasn't liked them—or at least, he hasn't liked them enough to award four stars. The last new four-star restaurants, Per Se and Masa, actually opened before he started in the job.

 

Unless he names a new one by May, Bruni will set a NYT record for the longest time without a new four-star restaurant. I don't see anything on the horizon that could get four stars, unless he changes his mind about a place he's already reviewed. Ducasse? Not likely. Liebrandt (assuming it even opens)? Not likely.

 

I am guessing that, to avoid making it appear that the four-star category is dying, Bruni will not re-review Daniel until he feels he can replace it.

 

There are probably a few 3 stars still standing from prior to 2004, as well.

I think there are more than just a few of them. Generally, he doesn't re-review a restaurant unless he believes something significant has changed since the last review.

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oakapple, thanks for your comments, and welcome to Mouthfuls.

 

I wonder if Bruni and the NYT will consider expanding the definition of "NY" to include Stone Barns? It would make some sense to push the boundary of Times fine dining beyond Manhattan and close-in Brooklyn.

 

The other question is whether the Times would consider creating increments within stars, such as "3 and a half" stars? That could nicely address the breadth of some three and two observed establishments

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"I am guessing that, to avoid making it appear that the four-star category is dying, Bruni will not re-review Daniel until he feels he can replace it."

 

Why do you think he'd want to avoid that? It's just true.

Well, all four stars means is, "extraordinary". I hope you're not suggesting that, in a city of 20,000 or 30,000 restaurants, nothing is extraordinary. The meaning of this will, of course, change over time. Forty years ago, no one would have conceived of a place like Jean Georges. But at any given time, something is the best.

 

 

oakapple, thanks for your comments, and welcome to Mouthfuls.

 

I wonder if Bruni and the NYT will consider expanding the definition of "NY" to include Stone Barns? It would make some sense to push the boundary of Times fine dining beyond Manhattan and close-in Brooklyn.

 

The other question is whether the Times would consider creating increments within stars, such as "3 and a half" stars? That could nicely address the breadth of some three and two observed establishments

Bruni did review Stone Barns (three stars). I believe that's the only time the paper has ever awarded stars to a restaurant outside of the five boroughs. The Times does review restaurants in the broader NY region, but other writers cover those beats, and they don't award stars. I doubt that would ever change. I don't speak for Bruni, but I suspect he would tell you that keeping track of the NYC restaurant scene is more than enough to keep one person busy. Bruni has been somewhat more willing to venture outside Manhattan than his predecessors, but I don't foresee him doing so any more frequently than he does already.

 

I would be massively in favor of half-stars, as it would clear out the mess of dissimilar places that have been awarded two stars. When Resto and Le Cirque both have two stars, what does it mean? But the Times has had the same basic system for about four decades. If Bruni has any misgivings about the system, he has kept mum about it.

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From the Pete Wells Q&A: (July 2007)

 

Q. How does the restaurant star rating system work? Is there some kind of written guideline that critics are expected to follow? Is there an attempt to be consistent from critic to critic?

 

A. Ah yes, the star system. I knew somebody would ask and so I had Frank Bruni standing by with an explanation. It's actually pretty straightforward:

 

'The only written guideline for the rating system is the one shared with the public in the boxes that accompany reviews. One star means good, two stars means very good, and on up the ladder, with those assessments incorporating questions not just of food quality and appeal but of service, atmosphere and cost. And there's no predetermined percentage: service counts for x much, atmosphere for y amount.

 

I'm guessing that each critic has looked at the work of his or her predecessors and tried to get a sense from it of how frequently or rarely the newspaper has, over time, doled out the different star ratings. But to my knowledge there's never been a mandate that a critic do so, and it's clear — and inevitable — that each critic has his or her own approach in this regard.

 

And I personally think that's fine, because with any change of critic, there's already a much bigger shift happening. The new person's reaction to restaurants is going to be his or own, and in large part subjective, just as reactions to books, movies and the like are. That's the nature of criticism.'

 

Frank's last point is really the key. We demand honesty of our critics. That means we want a critic with integrity, somebody who's incorruptible. But it also means somebody who can be honest with himself, who can write his own opinions rather than writing what he thinks is expected. We want a critic who calls 'em as he sees 'em (I really am going to send the sports metaphors to the showers after this). If everybody else in town thinks a restaurant's terrific and the critic doesn't, he's got to say that. And that applies to the stars just as much as to the way a review is written. The star system, being numerical, might give the illusion that there are objective mathematical guidelines — add up the scores for decor, service and food and get the total number of stars — but the stars are ultimately subjective, and the star system simply can't work any other way.

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