I love the reviews by Frank Bruni, the restaurant critic for The New York Times. He's smart and a great writer. What some call overwriting, I call a gift with metaphor.
Last week, he panned Freemans, writing in the Dining section of the hip Lower East Side hideaway:
Twice I had poached chicken with celery and carrots, and twice it tasted like the remnants of a stock that was supposed to have been the promising genesis of a dish, not the sorry conclusion.
Baby back ribs longed for succulence, while grilled trout with thyme and lemon cried out for a dash of excitement and a dew drop of moisture.
As for service, well, let’s get there by way of one of Mr. Somer’s pre-Freemans commercial enterprises. He designed T-shirts with cheeky messages. One said, 'My girlfriend is out of town.' Another: 'Emotionally unavailable.' That’s the shirt that should be worn by some of the servers.
I can see why Mr. Bruni didn't like the place, a two-year old restaurant tucked down an alley off of Rivington Street and just east of the Bowery on New York's Lower East Side. He didn't like it because he's paid to review restaurant cooking, while what's presented at Freeman's is essentially costly home-cooking. My mother could have cooked the EXACT same meal, and it wouldn't have cost $100/person (price raised because we occupied a FULL room, as part of a gathering. That's prime Losaida real estate, yo). But I see the restaurant's point, in a way, because the mothers of the Oklahoma hipsters who frequent Freemans are far, far away and sorely missed by their modish offspring.
As Bruni notes, the artichoke dip is excellent, though again, my mother makes a slightly better version, because less salty, which she found in a cookbook my grade school put together in 1983 for a fundraiser. Bruni writes that "the people jamming the entrance, eager to see what the fuss is about, need to know that what awaits them isn’t a memorable feast. It’s iceberg with ranch dressing under a stuffed boar’s head." True, but, the iceberg they use isn't exactly a plastic-wrapped bulb of Foxy from Met food. It's a kind of, I'm sure, boutique iceberg and the ranch is ungloppy buttermilk ranch. Plus, fresh, thinly sliced radishes, grace the dish, thereby elevating it. The filet mignon with horseradish cream that Bruni called "fine" was indeed so, though again, it was kind of what a friend could put together for a dinner party, and again, when you're paying a lot, you anticipate more.
James pointed out that the appeal of the current craze for anti-glamour has its limits. Used to be that dining out meant luxury and gracious service, whereas now the aloofness of the staff increases with the price of an entree. I dig the taxidermy animals on the wall, and having a room for our party was private and nice. But to get there I had to walk through a room of people who are kind of my worst nightmare: younger than I and with exactly the right facial hair (men) and raised ponytails , dark eyeliner, and stovepipe jeans (ladies). Though I have to say turning onto Freeman's Alley, at the end of which the restaurant is located, is cool, if disorienting. For one thing, I try not to make a practice of walking down alleys in the city, so doing so is breaking a taboo. For another, when do stucco walls adorned by crucifixes (an art project I assume sponsored by an adjacent gallery) grace a city alley? I felt like I could be walking down a street in Italy--well, no, maybe--Poland.