[This post will probably not be very interesting for the thousands of chowhounds who never go near Manhattan. My apologies for my parochialism).
Frank Bruni is the reviewer for the New York Times, and he's useless.
The man reviews restaurants that don't need reviewing. Did the world really need a non-reappraisal of Le Bernadin? Or Cafe Boulud? Or Eleven Madison? The Times has published two reviews of Masa in the past year. As Andrea Strong pointed out, last week he reviewed a diner.
Or take today's take-down of the Modern. Not two months ago Frank Bruni pronounced (actually, he repeated the -- I think unfair -- received wisdom ) that Danny Meyer restarants never go for anything special, they just meander along will good-but-not-spectacular food. Then today we find that the Modern is too ambitious, that it shoots for great things and occasionally misses. We are also told that it has not yet found its stride, and that it will no doubt be another triumph for Meyer (in which case it might have been a good idea to wait a little longer before reviewing it). We find in a separate article that what really got Bruni's bladder in a bunch was the bathroom.
The man loves to repeat the little jokes his servers tell him, as if this somehow reflected "the service." I know that detail is important, but
1. Bruni's details are so specific that one would have to have the exact same server to have a similar experience, and
2. Bruni rarely factors in the fact that he is, by now, easily recognized.
[In the bathroom article, Bruni recounts an episode where he carries a glass of wine up a spiral staircase to go to the bathroom. That's just bizarre.]
In general I think the New York Times's star system doesn't make sense. With Michelin, the stars are for food and food only; anything else you have to read the copy. With Zagats, you get itemized indexes of decor, food, and so forth. But with the Times, stars reflect some ephermeral index of the reviewers experience. So Aix, Cafe Sabarsky, and Aureole all get the same rating. Bruni has not helped matters. Apparently if Batali would turn the music down a little, he'd get four.
I will give Bruni this -- I like his writing. If his job is to fill up newspaper space with readable copy, then he's doing it. I think it is funny that BLT Fish might have something to do with Oprah's book club. Alas, I have no idea what that means. To the extent that Bruni is responsible for communicating useful information about restaurants in New York, he's useless.