Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.
The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews the newly-retooled Gramercy Tavern, with Blue Hill alumnus Michael Anthony now in the kitchen. Eater’s official odds are as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):
Zero Stars: 9-1
One Star: 8-1
Two Stars: 3-1
Three Stars: 7-2 √√
Four Stars: 400-1
The Skinny: Eater is clearly as conflicted about this wager as we are. Only a half-point separates the most probable outcome (3½–1) from the next-most probable (3–1). To the best of our recollection, the Eater odds on two different outcomes have never been so close. Indeed, the careful Brunomics watcher can put together a quite compelling case for two stars or three.
The case for two stars. In Bruni’s infamous six-star double-review of Eleven Madison Park and the Bar Room, posted just five months ago, he drew a highly unfavorable contrast to the other restaurants in Danny Meyer’s empire:
I prefer them to Tabla, to Union Square Cafe and definitely to Gramercy Tavern, whose luster had dimmed some even before the chef Tom Colicchio officially severed his ties in August. It’s anyone’s guess how it will emerge from its current state of transition, which isn’t pretty. During a meal there last month a fillet of cod was a mealy catastrophe. Servers tried to deliver another table’s entrees to ours, then tried to deliver the same desserts twice.
Restaurants seldom get a second chance with Frank Bruni. Once he gets a negative impression, it tends to persist. His comments in the double-review are significant for another reason. The whole premise of the review was that the torch had passed from the former flagships of the Meyer Empire—Union Square Cafe (for which Meyer’s corporate umbrella is named) and Gramercy Tavern—to the Bar Room and Eleven Madison Park. If he gives three stars to Gramercy Tavern, he can’t help but admit that the whole premise of the earlier review was, if not wrong, at least premature.
On top of that, Bruni loves to slay sacred cows, and few restaurants are more sacred than the perennial Zagat leader, Gramercy Tavern, which is currently tied for the best food in New York City—as it usually is—at 28 out of 30. And lastly, a number of critics have been less-than-wowed by the current incarnation of Gramercy Tavern, suggesting that Michael Anthony simply hasn’t maintained the magic of the the Tom Colicchio era.
The case for three stars. Frank Bruni is a man of predictable habits and predilections. And he definitely has a predilection for Michael Anthony’s food—or at least, the kind of food Anthony is known for. He awarded three stars to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, when Anthony was sharing the helm there with Dan Barber. And he did it again last summer, awarding three stars to the original Blue Hill in Greenwich Village. Anthony was gone by then, but by all accounts he has brought the same cooking style with him to Gramercy Tavern.
And the smart money says that, with a few months to work on it, Danny Meyer surely will have smoothed out the service glitches that Bruni complained about in January.
Our conclusion: The three-star case definitely seems weaker. On top of that, Bruni is seldom wowed by the luxury service that high-end restaurants like Gramercy Tavern offer. He is liable to give no credit for service (unless it is absolutely pitch-perfect and unfussy), and then to penalize a $76 prix fixe, on the grounds that substantially the same food is available at Blue Hill for considerably less money.
If Bruni does award three stars, we suspect it will be with significant reservations, and not the exuberant three stars that the Bar Room and Eleven Madison Park (or, more recently, Esca) received
The Bet: We hate to do it. We really hate to do it. We are kicking ourselves for doing it. But we just can’t bring ourselves to believe that Frank Bruni will award three stars to Gramercy Tavern—much as it may deserve it. We are placing our money on two stars.