Bring it on, Bruni!
And bring it, he did. Oh yes, the fight continues between NYC restaurateur and NY Times chief restaurant critic Frank Bruni in this week's "Dining" section.
As I have written here and here, there is a war going on between Danny Meyer and Frank Bruni. In his book on the restaurant business, "Setting the Table," Danny Meyer laments how Frank Bruni awarded Meyer's most ambitious restaurants, Eleven Madison Park and The Modern, only two stars. Mr. Meyer felt Mr. Bruni did not give them a chance to evolve before (relatively) slamming them.
Alas, two weeks ago in The New York Times, Mr. Bruni awarded these two restaurants three stars. Hooray! Except Bruni took the opportunity to demote Meyer's most famous restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe--a back-handed compliment if ever I have seen one.
In last week's "Dining" section, Mr. Meyer's friends came to his aid by trumpeting, in an ad, the first "six star" review ever in the history of The Times: three stars each for Eleven and Modern. And now, in today's "Dining" section, Bruni lobs a grenade.
In his article today entitled "You May Kiss the Chef's Napkin Ring," Bruni excoriates the latest trend of chefs to conduct their restaurants as temples to themselves. By promoting ten-course tasting menus and blasting their iPod playlists, chefs are preoccupied with their own predilections and desires, not those of their accolytes--I mean, customers. Somehow, although Mr. Meyer is not a chef, Mr. Bruni makes him a prime target of his article, even including a picture of Tabla as Exhibit A in the hubris of restaurant people.
Mr. Bruni whines:
After the restaurateur Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table” was published last fall, he propped up copies right inside the front doors of Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park and Tabla, where the book was also displayed above the bar, just to be safe.
Mr. Meyer isn’t a chef. He’s essentially a host, renowned for his humility and hospitality, for rounding out your meal with a prettily wrapped coffeecake for breakfast the next morning.
And yet he set things up so that when you walked into one of his restaurants, your first encounter wasn’t necessarily with a host or a hostess saying hello or taking your coat. It was with a photograph of him on a self-flattering book (“America’s most innovative restaurateur,” trumpets the cover) about how he always puts you, the customer, first.
For one thing, Mr. Meyer is an excellent, skilled writer, and I would put him to test with Bruni any day. For another, how does Meyer's promotion of his book oppose or even exclude his concern for his customers? I'm sure many of them over the years have wondered about how he has done such an amazing job in such a tough city, and many would be interested in learning his philosophy.
Bruni's direct challenge of Meyer's "humility" is ad hominem. I am interested to see where Meyer takes this mano a mano next.