Who’s Replacing New York Times Restaurant Critic Frank Bruni?

Holy. Shit. Restaurateurs, chefs, service industry-ites, foodies, and Eater are inevitably (simultaneously?) celebrating, freaking out, or mourning this morning’s announcement that New York Times chief restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, will be retiring his position. Bruni’s going to be promoting his upcoming book and moving to a position as a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine. Personally, I love Bruni, and this makes me really, really sad. That being said, we must look to the horizon, because we’re speculative bloggers with nothing better to do. So: Who will replace Frank Bruni? Unqualified speculation, go!

Grub Street suggests that they could (maybe, possibly) go for a blogger! To which we say: DO NOT WANT. Sorry, Danyelle Freeman, take your trademarked, faux-Rachel Ray ass and GTFO of the Times. You don’t bring Nuke LaLoosh up to the majors without taking him/her on the road, first.

You want someone you know could get the ball past the plate? First name that comes to mind: Adam Platt, obviously. But would he leave his cushy gig at New York for the pressure and expectations placed upon him by NYT readers? Well, chief New York Magazine theater critic Jeremy McCarter bounced from New York to Newsweek last September—leaving the place for a larger national plat(t)form wouldn’t be entirely unexpected.

What about Bloomberg‘s guy, Ryan Sutton? He’s young (30), smart, knows his way around a plate, and is still faceless. Maybe too young for the Times, though, but then again, star Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin is only 32. Sutton’s got a pedigree from a publication that’s not hemorrhaging money, though, and the Times (who is) could be owned by a Mexican Dude Named Slim sometime soon. He might not be so eager to leave the coop, where he knows he’s got a steady gig. “Insatiable Critic” Gael Greene? Old-school, too well known, currently kinda jobless, and the Times just ain’t her thang. The Times isn’t talking to anybody who “brands” themselves as anything, anyway (see Restaurant Girl).

GQ’s Alan Richman is (A) probably read more right now than he’d ever be at the Times, and (B) probably has carte blanche at GQ. Not our favorite pick, though. Neither is Steve “The Cuozz” Cuozzo, who has the kind of crunchy chutzpah New York Post readers need in their reviews.

What about the dark horse contender? The relentlessly asskicking, hard-boiled, put-your-face-in-curb-and-make-you-taste-the-bottom-notes Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice deserves to be in a far better place than he is, and the Voice seems to be ousting anybody worth their salt, anyway. He could no doubt introduce Times-only readers to far more eclectic stuff than they’re used to, and the dude takes absolutely no prisoners whatsoever. That being said, his language isn’t as flowery as the Times‘ usual skeeze, and also, he’s from the Voice. Too “downtown?”

Okay, fine, we admit it: we have absolutely no idea who the front runner possibly could be, or if one even exists. That being said, my pick goes to bringing back former Times “$25 and Under” writer Peter Meehan. But when Meehan left last year, he sounded ready to hit the road from being a restaurant critic while speaking the high praises of Nick Fox and Nina Lalli. So if we can’t get our man Meehan—who’s reviewed some of our favorite restaurants in New York, and given them great ink, no matter what the opinion—we’ll go for his proteges.

The Bruni Breakdown: Our Guide to Frank Bruni’s Guide to Recession Dining

You could read all of Frank Bruni’s article (and supplemental blog post) on the sad ways restaurants and their respective owners are coping with the downturn (by offering customers various deals to help lure them in), or you can read our simple guide to the guide. The choice is yours, but we know what would save more time. Savings we pass along to you, the otherwise hapless consumer.

Chanterelle – A management consultant notes: “You can go to Chanterelle at the last minute now, in a way that you couldn’t nine months ago.” ● WD-50 – Anyone who orders the $140 tasting menu can get a bottle of wine — any bottle of wine — off of their wine list for half price. ● The Modern – Bottles under $50 are now appearing under a special section on the wine list as “wines for our times.” ● Perry Street – A $35 three-course menu that runs on off-hours (from 5:30-6:30 p.m. and 9:30-11 p.m.). ● Nougatine – Also, a $35 three-course menu that runs from 5:30-6:30 p.m. and 10-11 p.m. ● Matsugen – A $35 seven-course menu that runs all hours. ● Del Posto – The infamous 20-course meal price went down from $225 to $175; a nine-course went from $175 to $125. ● Daniel – From 5:30-6:30 p.m., three courses, with wine: $98. You need a reservation to get this one. ● Cru – Through 6:30 p.m. nightly, a $49 three-course menu. ● Compass – A lobster “sample sale”: a grilled three-pounder for $39, lobster salad for $13. ● TOM – Now open as Damon: Frugal Fridays, with $10 dishes cooked by Craft’s executive chef. ● Lever House – A $35, three-course menu going through March. ● Eleven Madison Park – Still has a two-course lunch that goes for $28.

And NYC Restaurant Week is getting extended by a bunch of the places that were original participants, including Le Cirque.

Kinder, Gentler Frank Bruni Reviews Corton, But What of Hooters?

A few months back, we put on display New York Times chief restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s knife-wielding side — as everyone knows, he’s at his best when the claws are out. This week’s review of TriBeCa dining hotspot Corton, however, shows the softer, possibly Boy George-listening side of Bruni.

Take, for example, a “relatively straightforward” foie gras dish capturing Bruni’s imagination. One would think there would be some pretty strong language for it, no? Instead, we get: “In the end it was the creamy, sublimely prepared foie that got me and my companions.” It “got” you, Frank? No good. But we get the feeling that even Frank finds moments of discontent with having to stay within the parameters of, well, being nice. In his December 3 re-review of Momofuku Ssam Bar, Bruni admits to the inherent contrarian nature of critics, calling readers to “think about how those of us dishing out the praise feel. We’d love to move on to a more original object of adoration and would be happy to pronounce (Momofuku restaurant empire chef David Chang) overrated or just plain over — we’re cranky and contrary that way.”

You can tell the guy is achin’ to get his hate on. And we wouldn’t want him to go around bashing hard-working restaurants that try, in earnest, to serve up a good meal to New Yorkers of all epicurean stripes. But we couldn’t agree more, Frank. Our solution to your problem? Start reviewing shittier restaurants. We have some decent places to start. For example: wouldn’t you love to see Bruni take on the Captain Crunch Chicken Tenders at Planet Hollywood? Or give a serious examination towards some of the food at BlackBook writer Ryan Adams’ favorite digs, Republic? Bruni took on the steaks at the Penthouse Executive Club, but what about the “buffalo shrimp” at the New York City outpost of Hooters? Yes, Frank, we know we’re onto something here.

Frank Bruni vs. Frank Bruni vs. Frank Bruni

New York Times dining critic Frank Bruni’s recent savaging of Ago — the Italian restaurant in part owned by Robert De Niro — was the source of water-cooler chatter and foodblog amusement this week. Like most critics, Bruni is always most entertaining when he’s got his claws out. So how does his trashing of Ago compare with one of his most legendary bad reviews, that being a ritual execution of Ninja, a ridiculous theme restaurant with a readily guessable motif? Let’s discuss! And just for comparison’s sake, I’ll throw in Bruni’s high praise for Robert’s Steak House, the widely acclaimed meatery nestled in the voluptuous folds of the Penthouse Executive Club. Yes, it’s steak with a side of strippers. Go ahead and pretend that bothers you.

SETTING

Ago: “[Owners Agostino Sciandri and Robert de Niro] teamed on an initial Ago in West Hollywood, another in South Beach and yet another in Las Vegas. New York is getting their sloppy fourths, emphasis on sloppy. … The table was pressed so close to a column that I couldn’t lower my right arm all the way, and if my wine-drenched friend leaned back in her chair, the column obstructed her view of me and mine of her.”

Ninja: “Ninja New York deposits you in a kooky, dreary subterranean labyrinth that seems better suited to coal mining than to supping. … An American offshoot of a restaurant in Tokyo, Ninja intends to evoke a Japanese mountain village inhabited by ninjas, a special breed of stealthy warriors. In this case they come armed not only with swords and sorcery but also with recipes, which may be their most dangerous weapons of all.”

Robert’s @ Penthouse Club: “You can find bliss in the soulless cradle of a strip mall. Why not the topless clutch of a strip club?”

SERVICE

Ago: “This restaurant isn’t in the hospitality business. It’s in the attitude business, projecting an aloofness that permeated all of my meals there, nights of wine and poses for swingers on the make, cougars on the prowl and anyone else who values a sort of facile fabulousness over competent service … A food deliverer conflated veal and lamb into some hybrid beast, the juveniles of two species in one.”

Ninja: “In the service of table-side derring-do the restaurant spotlights what it calls a meteorite pot, a milky brew with Thai seasonings and slices of pork loin. A ninja cooks it in close, sizzling proximity to diners by heaving a large, hot rock into the broth. It’s a soup and a sauna, not to mention a pointless effort for the thin, dull outcome.”

Robert’s @ Penthouse Club: “[A house stripper] said she was running low on cabernet. I took the cue and asked if I could buy her a fresh glass. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘And you can pour it on my toes.'”

MENU

Ago: “It has stabs of ill-advised invention, like a starter of gummy juniper-smoked swordfish with misshapen, oddly frayed wedges of orange and other citrus. … And no pig should perish for a pork chop as dry as one at Ago.”

Ninja: “It has a stringy crab dish served on a grapefruit that belches smoke, a ridiculous dessert in the shape of a frog and a whole lot of nerve. … In the name of ‘new style sushi’ Ninja employs rice cakes as beds – or sometimes graves – for a rectangle of truffle-flecked omelet (it tasted like soggy French toast), a sliver of sautéed foie gras (pleasant, but how could it not be?) and a finger of seaweed-crowned mackerel (fishy in the extreme). … It trots out a golden tower roll, which inexplicably embeds uni in spongecake, and a spring snow roll, which engulfs eel in an obliterating puck of sweetened cream cheese.”

Robert’s @ Penthouse Club: “At Robert’s Steakhouse I got char, richness, depth and a more pronounced degree of aging, an unmistakable tanginess that accentuated and stretched out the beef’s flavor. … cream and bacon turn a side of brussels sprouts into something naughty, though not as naughty as the most unusual dessert. It’s called a buttery nipple, and it involves one of the women straddling your lap, tilting your head back, pouring a combination of Baileys Irish Cream and butterscotch schnapps down your throat, and squirting Reddi-wip into your mouth.”

HAPPY ENDING

Ago: “… nearby … diners … looked miserable.”

Ninja: “It should also advise its ninjas that it’s not nice to brag about having entertained a Hollywood celebrity who, by the account of the ninja in question, was the apparent beneficiary of recent breast augmentation.”

Robert’s @ Penthouse Club: “The [stripper] coated her hands with moisturizer and, less seductively, antibacterial gel.”