Know Your Shillers: Bullfrog and Baum

The restaurant world is fueled by shadowy PR organizations, a culinary world version of the Office of Strategic Influence. These buzz-building machines, invisible to your average diner, are responsible for much of what you eat, how long you wait to eat it and just how long you'll eat it for.

Jennifer Baum is the mercurial leader of PR company Bullfrog and Baum, which reps some of the most-popular restaurants in the city: everything from the vaguely speakeasy-ish La Esquina to the Montauk-on-Bedford Ditch Plains. But despite a stellar track record, a recent flurry of closings and disasters force us to ask whether Baum has lost her touch. Is the Bullfrog is ready to croak?

In 2006, Bullfrog claimed 4 of the 5 top new and noteworthy restaurants in New York magazine's Best of list: Jovia, Bar Americain, Cookshop and Maremma enjoyed the happy accolades. In 2007, in the latest semi-hot off the presses issue of New York's Best Of, Ms. Baum's restaurants don't see the light of day. She gets zero representation in the best new restaurants and little else. Ok, the triply stellar L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon gets best bread, David Burke and Donatella gets best PB+J, and two of her places—Aquavit and Cookshop—are tapped for one of ten best brunch spots. But.

And what of her star ponies of last year's list? Let's go to the tale of the tape. A quick search of Eater archives reveals a tail of closure and disaster. Jovia's Josh DeChellis abandoned the Jovia ship. Maremma, Cesare Casella's insanely overpriced Tuscan steakhouse, seems doomed to eternal emptiness. She's been Deathwatched and un-Deathwatched more times than Terry Schiavo. Dona, Dona Arpaia's individual stab at a legacy, was 86'd, due to rent problems, and Lucy's Latin Kitchen may soon find itself without a chef.

Bullfrog's newest stable of clients also seems to be faltering. JG Vongerichten's 66 is criminally under-performing; Cronkite, Michael Ayoub's pizza joint in the LES, is more reminiscent of a creepy high school basement than a bustling pizza place and one hardly needs to tell the sad tale of BLT Burger, which Peter Meehan called a "cynically contrived approximation of a [honest burger joint.]"

So what becomes of admittedly one of the most charming PR firms in the city? Bullfrog and Baum needs to roll with the punches. A look at Bullfrog and Baum's client roster reveals a heavy reliance on steak and burgers: Michael Jordan's 23, BLT Burger, Prime, and Steak, Bobby Flay Steak, Burger Bar, Maremma etc. A look at any recent press, including many best of's, reveals that pig is the new steak and steak is the new meh. Jennifer, stop asking where the beef is and start bringing home the bacon.