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Frank Bruni's Column


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In yesterday's review of Country on Madison, Bruni mentions the high/low, front room/back room or secret room trend at Gramercy Tavern, BLT Fish, and Country. I wouldn't have considered Gramercy's to be the same as, say, Laboratorio and Minibar, since it's accessible, less expensive, and in the front room: a fancier version of a bar menu.

Would you consider front room/back room and the Lab as part of the same trend? And, for that matter, for noteworthy restaurants, is it new? Hasn't minibar and laboratorio been around for a couple of years? If it is new, is Washington among the pioneers of the trend?

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In yesterday's review of Country on Madison, Bruni mentions the high/low, front room/back room or secret room trend at Gramercy Tavern, BLT Fish, and Country.  I wouldn't have considered Gramercy's to be the same as, say, Laboratorio and Minibar, since it's accessible, less expensive, and in the front room:  a fancier version of a bar menu.

Would you consider front room/back room and the Lab as part of the same trend? And, for that matter, for noteworthy restaurants, is it new? Hasn't minibar and laboratorio been around for a couple of years?  If it is new, is Washington among the pioneers of the trend?

Not to mention Palena and Eve....

I thought it sounded like a desperate attempt to make something that wasn't very new sound new.

Jennifer

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Actually, Galileo is a caricature of this trend. It consists of four restaurants in one. The Lab, Galileo de Roberto Donna, Osteria and the lunch grill. You might consider Restaurant Eve to be a three-in-one affair with the bistro, tasting room and the bar. Palena has its front and back rooms with different menus. I'm sure there are many others. Whether this sort of configuration represents a trend or not and whether DC is in the vanguard, I can't say.

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Bruni seemed to credit Grammercy Tavern with starting this in the mid-90s, so unless we discount that, as someone did above, the trend may not be new. In Chicago, Rick Bayless' Topolobampo shares space, kitchen and restrooms with Frontera Grill.

Jean-Louis had Palladin in the space that is now Acquarelle, or whatever it is now. Citronelle has a bar menu, does it not? When Peter Pastan first wanted to "go casual" he opened that Blue Whatchamacalit across the street from Obelisk where Johnny's is about to leave. In Paris, several 3-star chefs have opened "bistros" next door where they only charge an arm instead of an arm and a leg. While these are not necessarily "upstairs/downstairs" the concept is not much different.

What we're seeing here now is the French chefs going country. Robuchon started this a few years back when he came out of retirement with L'Atelier and created the new (for the French!) idea of an open, arena-style kitchen. Brian McBride's Blue Duck Tavern seems to be taking a cue there. And Alain Senderens stripped off his Michelin stars and opened a "casual" restaurant - now we have Michel Richard and Robert Wiedmaier doing the same (although keeping their flagships). Gerard Pangaud seems to be trying to follow Senderens' example more closely.

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But what you're talking about there is completely different restaurants, which I'm sure is a much older practice, and, in fact, there is another thread just started about that in San Francisco.

Now if Landrum was to open a burger window in the back of the restaurant, that would fit the concept of the restaurant within a restaurant. And it would be pretty cool, too.

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Let's just say we are.  It's about time we take the lead.

But who was the first to do this here?  Was it Galileo / Lab?

When I went to college in St. Louis in the early 90's, Balaban's was already doing that concept - a formal dining room upstairs with a casual cafe with a somewhat different and more affordable menu downstairs. Sadly they changed chefs in '95 and the whole two menu concept was nixed.
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Don't know who started it, but I have to believe the trend got a huge push by Alice Waters when she opened Cafe at Chez Panisse in 1980, upstairs above Chez Panisse (which opened in 1971.) The Cafe has an open kitchen, pizza oven and an à la carte menu. A few years later she opened Café Fanny nearby that serves breakfast and lunch.

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Don't know who started it, but I have to believe the trend got a huge push by Alice Waters when she opened Cafe at Chez Panisse in 1980, upstairs above Chez Panisse (which opened in 1971.) The Cafe has an open kitchen, pizza oven and an à la carte menu. A few years later she opened Café Fanny nearby that serves breakfast and lunch.

From Bruni's article:

"Gramercy Tavern opened in 1994, three years before Jean Georges, and was an early example of this breed. But it wasn't a novel idea. It took a page from Paris, where chefs with Michelin-starred restaurants had begun opening "baby bistros," which allowed diners to experience their cooking, and bask in their luster, at lower prices, with less ceremony.

It also took a page from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., where, in the early 1980's, the chef Alice Waters appended a casual upstairs cafe to the ground-floor dining room, which had opened in 1971. Ms. Waters said she wanted to share the restaurant with people who hadn't been able to afford it."

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http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/weekinre...r=1&oref=slogin

Poor lobsters.

My favorite line excerpt: "Eric Ripert, the chef and a co-owner of the seafood restaurant Le Bernardin in Manhattan, said he made a point of killing lobsters not by throwing them into boiling water-- where, he said, 'it looks like they're suffering'-- but by slicing their heads with a sharp blade. 'I feel good about doing that,' he said in a telephone interview.

Smirks aside, interesting piece regarding how people rally behind the cause of geese and lobsters for example, but not chickens or another more commonplace animal.

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It is also a question of sheer hygiene. I'm reading Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them by Peter Kaminsky. The factory farmed pigs in North Carolina endure conditions that are beyond disgusting. They are forced to stand in their own urine and feces, and to breathe the toxic air that is the by-product of that filth. That air, of course, carries the toxins into the bloodstream and very flesh of the animals. Sows never see the piglets they nurse: indeed, they cannot see their own feet, as they are crammed into pens, never enjoying the camaderie of the "pigpile" or the chance to turn up the earth with their rooting noses. Between the antibiotics they are constantly fed, to the low caliber of non-organic feed, a factory pig's life is dismal and poisonous.

Two ranchers I know describe being able to "taste the shit" (pardon the crudeness, these are people who are otherwise not crude at all) in commercial bacon. To raise pigs on dirt and grass, as nature intended, costs more: a rancher friend said, "If I can't convince someone it's worth $18 a pound, I might as well eat it myself." North Carolina laws (and elsewhere, but they're the worst offenders) ensure cheap, polluted, abundant pork to the world. The antibiotics pretty much guarantee they'll have no immunity when some devastating disease comes along.

I think it's time all that changed. I'm not with PETA. This is about cleanliness, the environment, and the quality of food. While I may be a hypocrite for still eating "food from boxes" (which I try to avoid), I will never buy meat from the supermarket again. I'd rather do without—and luckily, working with two different ranches, I don't have to at present.

I do recommend Kaminsky's book: it is a delight. (Not the chapters on factory farms, but his passion for finding the perfect ham.)

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*** WARNING: CHAT ABOUT TO BE COMMITTED ***

Contrary to popular belief, pigs are unable to sweat; instead, they wallow in mud to cool down. Their mucky appearance gives pigs an undeserved reputation for slovenliness. In fact, pigs are some of the cleanest animals around, refusing to excrete anywhere near their living or eating areas when given a choice.
Pigs also carefully keep their sleeping area clean, and will designate a spot as far from this area as possible for waste. Even piglets only a few hours old will leave the nest to relieve themselves.
Those who know pigs can't help but be charmed by their intelligent, highly social, and sensitive nature. Like dogs, piglets learn their names by two to three weeks of age and respond when called. They are also very discriminating eaters, and are particular about their living space. Pigs enjoy novelty and are extremely active and inquisitive.

Oink.

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I have noticed a fair amount of pig worship here, and while I agree that pork is glorious in nearly all forms, it's on the list of things that I can't eat for another 20 or so years (when I hit 75, I am going to eat bread until it is coming out of my ears, and the next day, all the cheesecake, and the day after that....).

But I thought you would all enjoy the opening words of the most recent Bruni blog:

I’m not sure it’s possible to behave with much dignity around seven glistening pounds of pork butt, but on a recent night at Momofuku Ssam Bar, five friends and I weren’t even encouraged to try.

Servers didn’t bother to carve the mountain of meat. They didn’t give us any delicate way to do it, either. They just plopped it in the center of the table, handed out sets of tongs, left us to our own devices and let the pig scatter where it may.

It was an ugly scene, and it was a beautiful one. We lunged at the flesh. Tore at it. Yanked it toward ourselves in dripping, jagged hunks, sometimes ignoring the lettuce wraps on the side so we could stuff it straight into our mouths. We looked, I realized, like hyenas at an all-you-can-eat buffet on the veldt, and I wasn’t surprised to notice other diners staring at us.

But what I saw on their faces wasn’t disgust. It was envy. I’d venture that more than a few of them returned to Momofuku for their own pig-outs. The restaurant, after all, sells about two whole pork butts — a term that refers to part of the pig’s shoulder, not to its rump — every night.

These are times of bold temptation, as well as prompt surrender, for a carnivorous glutton in New York.

And I expect that this may prompt the organization of a DR pilgrimmage to NYC:

Last year Daisy May’s BBQ U.S.A., which opened in 2003, began serving not only whole pork butts but also whole pigs. They weigh 30 to 35 pounds, are meant to feed a dozen or so people and cost $480. Adam Perry Lang, the chef and co-owner of Daisy May’s, says that he sells at least two of them a night.

It’s some ritual. Before the platter of pig appeared before the group I’d assembled, a server set up two perpendicular wood braces to support it. They formed a cross, a reminder — as if we would need one — that something died for the deadly sin dearest to us.

That something was pretty much intact: snout pointed straight toward me, two little ears, four little hooves and a profoundly bronzed hide. The server carved into that skin and peeled away flaps of it, exposing a lustrous layer of fat and a deep reservoir of meat. The rest was up to us, a few sets of plastic tongs and some dull plastic knives.

“This really puts you in touch with your barbaric self,” said a woman in our group as she tugged at individual ribs along the pig’s midsection. Her fingers were slick with grease.

Do you think pork will keep for 24 years (she asked wistfully).....

Ellen

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I have noticed a fair amount of pig worship here, and while I agree that pork is glorious in nearly all forms, it's on the list of things that I can't eat for another 20 or so years (when I hit 75, I am going to eat bread until it is coming out of my ears, and the next day, all the cheesecake, and the day after that....).

But I thought you would all enjoy the opening words of the most recent Bruni blog:

I’m not sure it’s possible to behave with much dignity around seven glistening pounds of pork butt, but on a recent night at Momofuku Ssam Bar, five friends and I weren’t even encouraged to try.

Servers didn’t bother to carve the mountain of meat. They didn’t give us any delicate way to do it, either. They just plopped it in the center of the table, handed out sets of tongs, left us to our own devices and let the pig scatter where it may.

It was an ugly scene, and it was a beautiful one. We lunged at the flesh. Tore at it. Yanked it toward ourselves in dripping, jagged hunks, sometimes ignoring the lettuce wraps on the side so we could stuff it straight into our mouths. We looked, I realized, like hyenas at an all-you-can-eat buffet on the veldt, and I wasn’t surprised to notice other diners staring at us.

But what I saw on their faces wasn’t disgust. It was envy. I’d venture that more than a few of them returned to Momofuku for their own pig-outs. The restaurant, after all, sells about two whole pork butts — a term that refers to part of the pig’s shoulder, not to its rump — every night.

These are times of bold temptation, as well as prompt surrender, for a carnivorous glutton in New York.

And I expect that this may prompt the organization of a DR pilgrimmage to NYC:

Last year Daisy May’s BBQ U.S.A., which opened in 2003, began serving not only whole pork butts but also whole pigs. They weigh 30 to 35 pounds, are meant to feed a dozen or so people and cost $480. Adam Perry Lang, the chef and co-owner of Daisy May’s, says that he sells at least two of them a night.

It’s some ritual. Before the platter of pig appeared before the group I’d assembled, a server set up two perpendicular wood braces to support it. They formed a cross, a reminder — as if we would need one — that something died for the deadly sin dearest to us.

That something was pretty much intact: snout pointed straight toward me, two little ears, four little hooves and a profoundly bronzed hide. The server carved into that skin and peeled away flaps of it, exposing a lustrous layer of fat and a deep reservoir of meat. The rest was up to us, a few sets of plastic tongs and some dull plastic knives.

“This really puts you in touch with your barbaric self,” said a woman in our group as she tugged at individual ribs along the pig’s midsection. Her fingers were slick with grease.

Do you think pork will keep for 24 years (she asked wistfully).....

Ellen

Ellen--too bad you missed the picnic and the sight of us human hyenas, when the whole lamb came out of the Caja China. You don't have to go to New York. Just put on a picnic for Rockweilers and invite ADM and Not Quick Draw to come with their magic bbq box.

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Ellen--too bad you missed the picnic and the sight of us human hyenas, when the whole lamb came out of the Caja China. You don't have to go to New York. Just put on a picnic for Rockweilers and invite ADM and Not Quick Draw to come with their magic bbq box.

My husband. He works in an organization that has a multistory building, and if anyone anywhere in the building is having a group feed, or had a group feed with leftovers, my husband can just "sense it" right through the walls and the floors. So I'm thinking that if I set up a spit and start roasting the oinker, Rockweilers will magically show up from the bi-state and un-state area...

I also re-read the Bruni blog (which is here: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/200...-of-the-plate/) sorry if I did that wrong, and found this astonishing description:

"...probably no higher than the new restaurant Resto, where some genius — and I am most certainly not being facetious — decided that deviled eggs aren’t sufficiently rich on their own. No, they need amplification, and of course they need meat, so they’re placed on rectangles of pork jowl. One more thing: these rectangles are deep-fried. At a certain point, I suppose, there’s no turning back."

All this, and then David Hagedorn's article today about his heart attack. Like I said, when I hit 75, I am going to start eating whatever I want, as much as I want, and if I have a heart attack, well, I'll have had 24 more years of great birding in the interim, and, well, some things are more important than food. I can live without food, but I can't live without birding. I hope that admission doesn't draw a crowd to my house tonight with a kettle of tar and a rail....but if it does, please allow me a last meal and bring lots of pork, bread, cheese, and cheesecake.

Ellen

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When reading Bruni's take down of Ago, I asked myself who in the New York restaurant biz does not know what Frank Bruni looks like (hint he sort of looks like this). Then I came across a piece from June 5th where Kate Krader, the restaurant editor for Food and Wine, described being a guest at the very horrific meal described by Bruni. Is it that they are not even going to try to get good press, or are they just that arrogant?

Frankly I still want to know what "Rack-of-Lamb veal chop" tastes like.

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When reading Bruni's take down of Ago, I asked myself who in the New York restaurant biz does not know what Frank Bruni looks like (hint he sort of looks like this). Then I came across a piece from June 5th where Kate Krader, the restaurant editor for Food and Wine, described being a guest at the very horrific meal described by Bruni. Is it that they are not even going to try to get good press, or are they just that arrogant?

Frankly I still want to know what "Rack-of-Lamb veal chop" tastes like.

I thought the review, as horrible as the place sounded, was hilarious - starting with the Tsunami of Sauvignon. It does take a special kind of balls to make a known restaurant critic wait an hour for a reserved table in a restaurant that large.

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When reading Bruni's take down of Ago, I asked myself who in the New York restaurant biz does not know what Frank Bruni looks like (hint he sort of looks like this). Then I came across a piece from June 5th where Kate Krader, the restaurant editor for Food and Wine, described being a guest at the very horrific meal described by Bruni. Is it that they are not even going to try to get good press, or are they just that arrogant?

Frankly I still want to know what "Rack-of-Lamb veal chop" tastes like.

Thanks so much for posting the link to the review! i hadn't seen it and it made me laugh out loud. my favorite bit was the vegan friendly veal. I sent it to a friend, who told me that in the past bruni has done equally amusing reviews that were basically rants about restroom issues.

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Thanks so much for posting the link to the review! i hadn't seen it and it made me laugh out loud. my favorite bit was the vegan friendly veal. I sent it to a friend, who told me that in the past bruni has done equally amusing reviews that were basically rants about restroom issues.

Just in case you hadn't seen this, Frank had his very own blogger/stalker/parodist for a while. (Not for the timid; put down hot liquids)

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I love to read Bruni when he's ripping the facade off of a phony overpriced place like Ago:

"This restaurant isn’t in the hospitality business. It’s in the attitude business, projecting an aloofness that permeated all of my meals there, nights of wine and poses for swingers on the make, cougars on the prowl and anyone else who values a sort of facile fabulousness over competent service or a breaded veal Milanese with any discernible meat."

or this deservedly frank dismissal of Kobe Club:

"ATMOSPHERE A dimly lighted theater of about 100 seats that’s part samurai fantasia, part torture chamber and packed with chunky guys on expense accounts."

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