A whorl of unanswerable questions have been encircling the hardbody of New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni. Keith McNally accused him of lady-hating. Phallic restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow accused him of pettiness. Now The Observer's Chris Shott accuses him of influence. Shott claims restaurants live or die by the Bruni review, a charge which Bruni accurately denies.
I have no way of knowing whether a review I've written hastens the death of any restaurant," Mr. Bruni told The Observer, "but I can assure you it's not my goal in writing a negative review to put a restaurant out of business. I'm just writing what I honestly think about the restaurant, with my principal consideration being readers and consumers."
It's a bit disingenuous for any critic to claim he has no way of knowing whether his reviews have helped or hindered the fortunes of NY restaurants. (Ask the theater critics the same question.) Surely as New York's critic of note, he must be aware that his negging on Varietal, Lonesome Dove, even Porchetta contributed to those restaurants' demise. On the other hand, whose fault is it really—the shittiness of the food or the shitty review? Because, seriously, Lonesome Dove was really shitty. It also doesn't help that former Times critic Mimi Sheraton pops up in the piece to contradict the thesis.
It's Brundle's job to catalog abominations as they emerge from the kitchen. Sure, that he does so with acerbic, populist cattiness is unusual—but essentially he is merely helping dying restaurants die and vital ones prosper. Think of him as a hospice-helper. The real Bruni Effect, perhaps, can be seen less in a city strewn with the carcasses of mediocre restaurants and more in the pages of The Observer, whose unmemorable restaurant critic pops up twice a month whether one likes it or not. —Josh