Food Critics Swallow Pounds and Punishment

Bruni, who occasionally wrote about the culture of eating out, reminded his readers that even the most glamorous restaurants, like the food critic's job, have a seamy side. He wrote about well-heeled patrons who get loaded after too many martinis and too much wine.

In a 2007 column, "Fine Diner to Riffraff: Tipsy Tales of 4-Star Benders," Bruni described a woman at New York City's pricey restaurant Daniel, "making like a dancer on a pole at Scores."

"Just as she was getting to her bra, the maître d'hôtel got to her," he wrote. "Thus her drunken, wobbly stint as a stripper ended, and so did her dinner."

The story, he writes, is "a reminder that a 1985 Burgundy casts the same dark spell as a 2007 peppermint schnapps."

Bruni, like all critics, gets the last word and when things go wrong the words can be caustic. Like these choice tidbits from his reviews:

After waiting nearly an hour for a table at Ago in New York City (June 2008): "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 or a breaded veal Milanese with any discernible meat. The one I had one night was pounded so thin that the breading on top met the breading on the bottom without pausing for much of anything in between. A vegan could have made peace with it."

Of the New York eatery Ninja, he wrote in 2005: "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."

Just a handful of restaurants earned Bruni's four-star rating, and for these the praise flowed just as copiously: For New York's Jean Georges, he wrote in 2006: "Eating is seldom this absorbing, this bracing. To lend needed excitement to beef tenderloin, some foie gras had been placed on top. But the crucial, less predictable flourish was a rhubarb foam on top of that. It cut the fattiness of the liver. It snapped the palate to attention. So did a wedge of cured lemon that was strategically placed alongside broiled squab and foie gras in another dish."

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