Today, Frank Bruni delivers identical one-star verdicts on BarBao and The West Branch:
Both the West Branch, a mostly Mediterranean brasserie, and BarBao, which interprets Vietnamese cuisine, deserve to make it. While their kitchens aren’t consistent enough or their menus quite original enough to brand them destination restaurants, they have real talent in their DNA and bring serious food to a patch of Manhattan that, for all its recent strides, could still use more of it.
This was one of Bruni’s better reviews. The text was consistent with the rating, and the rating was consistent with the general buzz about these places, and in the case of BarBao, with my own observations. And he resisted the temptation to give two stars to The West Branch merely because it is inexpensive.
Bruni liked BarBao a tad better than The West Branch. Yet, he thinks we may be heading into a burgers-‘n’-fries era, which could work to the latter restaurant’s favor. He found The West Branch consistently full, but BarBao always had empty tables (as it did when we visited). However, it could be less about the recession, and more about the fact that Tom Valenti is already well known in the neighborhood, thanks to Ouest, his other restaurant nearby.
We went home quite unsure about our hypothetical wager with Eater.com, given that either one of these places could have earned two stars. But our sense was that if either place had struck Bruni as a destination restaurant (which is essentially what two stars means), he would have granted it the courtesy of its own review.
As we correctly predicted one star for both restaurants, we win $5 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets. Eater was correct for BarBao (winning $2), but not The West Branch (losing $1), for a net of $1.
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