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 takes a pulse check on TriBeCa standout The Harrison under new chef Amanda Freitag. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):
Zero Stars: 10-1
One Star: 6-1
Two Stars: 3-1
Three Stars: 5-1 √√
Four Stars: 12-1
The Skinny: It may not be fair, but chef changes at existing restaurants don’t get the same press as brand new restaurants, even where the change is fairly dramatic. The Times is the only paper in town that at least makes the attempt, however irregularly, to re-review restaurants where there has been a significant change of personnel—and indeed, sometimes when there hasn’t been.
When Amanda Freitag took over at The Harrison, owner Jimmy Bradley told Grub Street, “We were doing French cookery in a New American style, but with Amanda the menu is going to be lusty, soulful, rustic Mediterranean-inspired cookery.” That’s enough to make The Harrison, for all intents and purposes, a brand new restaurant. But as it’s still called “The Harrison,” the rest of this town’s critics have basically ignored it.
So I don’t have any kind of critical baseline to go on here. I can tell you that William Grimes awarded two stars shortly after The Harrison opened in 2001, with the Little Owl’s Joey Campanaro in the kitchen. Bruni wrote a favorable Diner’s Journal follow-up after Brian Bistrong took over.
I can also tell you that I’ve loved The Harrison both times I visited. The chef has changed, but what hasn’t changed is Jimmy Bradley’s sure-handed touch, which was good enough to attract a generous two-star Bruni review for Bradley’s other restaurant, The Red Cat.
Eater is taking the three-star odds, betting that Bruni will award three stars for the same reason he did at Dovetail: for the price, The Harrison is very good indeed, with appetizers mostly below $15 and entrées mostly in the mid-twenties. We also realize that Italian or Italian-influenced menus, if they are good, often get a “bonus star” from Bruni.
Against that, we haven’t heard the kind of raves about The Harrison that we heard about Dovetail, and we subscribe to the theory that three-star restaurants usually don’t hide in plain sight. Our gut tells us that if Freitag were turning out three-star food, lots of folks would have noticed by now. Bruni has given out a lot of three-star ratings this year: at some point the average needs to return to normal.
The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award an enthusiastic two stars to The Harrison.