Today in Dinning: snarky self-aware comment or New York Times’ ironic editing?

I promised myself that I would wait until I had time to select a restaurant that had been review by multiple publications, assemble their reviews and go to the restaurant before commenting. I truly meant to avoid the simple grammatical and structural critiques that have followed my introductory recritique of Commerce. However, The New York Times has beaten me yet again, though at least it was not through the medium of Frank Bruni.

Look at the front page of the Times. Go to the bottom right. Find the normal location for its blurb about the food section. Snort at the DINNING section. Repeat.

There is the possibility, I suppose, that the editors have changed the section to the "Dinning" section, having recognized that it simply makes a din, and does not provide much information about dining and less about food. But I doubt it. Ironic editing error, though.


News Flash: NYC has run out of restaurants

I don't have the time at the moment to provide a more in-depth look at Bruni's opus pusillus (though I suppose that's a bit contradictory), but I did want to share my sadness that, apparently, NYC has run out of restaurants. All of the worthy restaurants that have opened since February 2007 have been reviewed. We have reach the bottom of the culinary barrel. Otherwise, why would Sr. Bruni have to repeat himself? I suppose we could posit that this is a review of David Chang, rather than Momofuku Ssam Bar, as Bruni seems to have a crush. But, if that is the case, at least change the title and own up to it!


R.I.B. Gael Greene

As some of you will have seen, Gael Greene, no longer the restaurant critic at New York Magazine, got the heave ho. For a restaurant review reviewer, this passes for gossip. Who could have known?

Although Greene had not been the restaurant reviewer at NYMag for some years now, she had remained a presence. Moreover, she created the feel of NYMag's reviews and their notable differences from the Times (i.e., more casual restaurants, other cuisines besides French); interestingly enough, Frank Bruni seems to think she was right to do so, as he has been doing the same at the Times recently. However, Greene's conscious choice to do so lacked the dumbing-down feel of Bruni, and so with a toast of early Thanksgiving champagne, I salute Sra. Greene for her years of service to the restaurant review industry. May you rest in the blogosphere.


Bruni’s Kurve Review

I don't even have to go to Kurve to criticize this review. Reading Bruni's scree, we might learn something about Kurve's d├ęcor. We might have learned something about its telephone issues. We learned that its DJ has eclectic taste in music. We might have thought he would discuss the food, after his teasing reference to spaghetti carbonara on an otherwise Asian menu, but Alas! Poor Bruni, I did know him well. We had to wade through more information about its servers' dressing habits (perhaps, they keep a milliner on staff?), before yet another tease about the menu. Finally, food?! No, no, a thousand times no.

If reviewing Kurve is "is shooting gills, fins and shells in a barrel," why can't I learn anything about the food?



Commerce (50 Commerce Street--West Village)

Reviews. Generally.

What is it about restaurant reviewers that make them discuss the architecture and service before the food? I suppose they could be on to something—most people go to restaurants for the "experience," not because they want good food—but they are abdicating their duty to educate the world about the glories and wonders of food. Maybe I'm just an optimist, but I think that some of the public actually goes to restaurants to eat.

My Take—Interesting Menu, intermittently Executed

The food at Commerce is fairly good. The menu is interesting with many well-conceived options. The execution is, however, sometimes flawed. By and large, though the only global comment on the food that I might offer is that the seasoning is uneven (principally in the appetizers, which seemed an odd habit). The winter vegetable stew provides the best example of this split personality. Winter vegetables with a poached egg is a lovely idea and quite appetizing on paper. We had visions of turnips, collard greens, perhaps, with a deliciously runny egg. The egg was nicely poached, but the entirety was woefully underseasoned and a bit undercooked. What was particularly odd about the lack of seasoning was that most of the other dishes that we ordered were energetically spiced, though some had their own flaws. For example, the pasta with odd things (again a lovely idea of innards) was slightly spicy, but the tomatoes included were quite uncooked—an almost fatal flaw. The other dishes that we had were nice (calves liver, roasted sweetbreads and the roasted chicken for two) and quite worthy of a repeat visit. But enough about the food—on to the reviews!

Frank Bruni—From a Speakeasy to a Showboat, April 30, 2008, NY Times

I'll give Frank a C+. He only spends 3 paragraphs before beginning to talk about the food, which is about average, and he had some reasonably apt things to say about Commerce. However, his complaint of "rankling dissonance" not permitted by a "frenzied atmosphere" could easily be directed at his overly flowery prose. Even ignoring that particular foible, there is plenty of grist for the mill. To begin, for the life of me, I cannot understand how sweet potato tortelloni with hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds are an "homage" to Italy; there is nothing Italian about sweet potato and pomegranate seeds are hardly a traditional Italian ingredient. Along the same vein, Spaghetti Carbonara is not supposed to have a peppery charge—Cacio e pepe is another roman pasta with which carbonara should not be confused. Finally, just because it may be hard to sell so many main courses for two does not mean they should not be offered. "Culinary quor[a]" aside, I like the individuality and options that joint dishes allow.

Restaurant Girl—Trying too hard can be trying, April 15, 2008, NY Daily News

RG gets an incomplete. Unfortunately, none of the dishes that she tasted were available when we went. However, the 3 paragraphs on history and the "chintzy plastic" coverings of the menus simply follow the trend of reviews that seem to consider everything but the food the most important subjects.

Jay Cheshes—Old-world comfort and new-money decadence make strange bedfellows, April 2-8, 2008, TONY

Jay gets a C. While his 4 introductory paragraphs outnumber his 3 food-related ones (including one dessert-based), those 4 have more insightful information. In the former, I found out that Grange Hall had only been around for a decade and that restaurant critics and art critics are not one and the same; in the latter, I found out that food makes Jay happy. The notes on chicken and caviar reveal that Jay's expectations controlled his enjoyment of the dish—one wonders if the menu had not mentioned caviar and/or foie gras whether Jay would have enjoyed the dishes more.

Adam Platt—Commercial Appeal, April 27, 2008, New York Magazine

Adam gets a B+. Only 2 paragraphs pre-food (though they are quite long), but a third was hidden after the first food-related paragraph. There was a reasonable amount of information about a variety of dishes and the general bent of the kitchen and the restaurant itself. A slight ding on the grade for confusing bacon with guanciale (and improperly pancetta) in the carbonara, but much love for recognizing that the "Visigoths from across the river" ruin restaurants. Too bad we don't have the Alps to protect us.