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The Payoff: La Sirène

Today, Frank Bruni awards one star to an “oddly compelling little bistro,” La Sirène:

I don’t want to oversell La Sirène, which opened last spring. It operates on a shoestring, doesn’t have a liquor license and doesn’t ace many of the dishes on its relatively short French menu…

And drawing attention to La Sirène runs the risk of overcrowding it. It has only about 25 seats and not an inch to spare, so if your table isn’t ready you have to stand outside, where you’re treated to an intimate view of cars streaming into the Holland Tunnel.

But this scrappy restaurant, where you can hear the bell every time a dish is ready and heat from the kitchen steams diners’ eyeglasses, will charm many people turned off by the vacuous polish and higher prices elsewhere. With no corkage fee, it’s a solid option for wine drinkers seeking liberation from restaurant markups.

Though he loved the place, only five paragraphs mention the food. The rest is about the cramped ambiance and chef Didier Pawlicki’s penchant for responding personally to Internet critiques on sites like citisearch.com.

But I loved the review anyway. It was one of the rare Bruni reviews that called attention to a worthy restaurant that all the other critics had missed. Usually, he just follows breadcrumb trails already well paved by others.

And it was one of the rare one-star reviews that was actually positive. Too often, Bruni’s one-star reviews read like a list of regrets that he couldn’t award a higher rating. One star is supposed to mean “good,” and there ought to be no shame in that.

Lastly, as I mentioned yesterday, this seems to be the first time that Bruni has actually gone out of his way to review a French restaurant. I don’t want to celebrate prematurely, but perhaps he is finally expanding his interests beyond Italian, Asian and Steakhouses.

In the betting department, we’re a loser again this week. We acknowledged that one star was the most likely outcome, but with Eater offering 15–1 odds on the higher rating, we couldn’t help but take the chance, though we must admit it’s a betting strategy that has never yet worked. But because this was such a good week for Bruni, we actually don’t mind losing. The review was at the higher end of one star, as we expected, but one star nevertheless.

Eater wins $4, while we lose $1.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $74.50   $85.67
Gain/Loss +4.00   –1.00
Total $78.50   $84.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 34–14   33–15

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