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Review Preview: Minetta Tavern

Are you feeling withdrawal over the death—or at least, suspension—of Eater’s BruniBetting, and the end of our weekly competition? Yeah, us too. As recompense, we launch “Review Preview” (pronounced “REEview PREEview”), in which we’ll showcase the weekly Times review, either by Frank Bruni or his successor.

This week’s subject: Keith McNally’s Minetta Tavern makeover, and Bruni’s first review as a lame-duck critic.

The Skinny: We’re not sure how Keith McNally got to be so good at turning out one hit after another. Fine dining ain’t his thing—his restaurants hover somewhere in the nether-regions between one and two stars. But somehow, wherever he lands, he attracts a gaggle of celebrities, often to neighborhoods not previously considered dining destinations.

And his restaurants stay hot, years after he opened them. We’ve still never been to his flagship, Balthazar — the trouble of getting in just never seemed to be worth it. Our one visit to Pastis left us unimpressed. We walked by Schiller’s Liquor Bar recently, and kept right on walking, deterred as we were by the ridiculous crowd.

McNally has never had a failure in New York (at least that we’re aware of), but his Italian restaurant, Morandi, has never caught on the way the other ones did. McNally is still smarting after Bruni slammed it with one star. He accused Bruni of hating women chefs, but he fired the chef, Jody Williams, anyway.

At Minetta Tavern, McNally takes no chances. The restaurant has been in the heart of Greenwich Village since before most of us were born. Formerly an undistinguished formula Italian place, McNally acquired it, spruced up the décor, and installed the same kitchen team that runs Balthazar.

McNally must be the only guy who could replace one formula restaurant with another, and still have a big hit. Service probably has a lot to do with it. We were impressed with the coddling we received when all we did was order a burger at the bar.

The Prediction: One or two stars are the only plausible outcomes here. Most of the critics have been impressed with the Minetta Tavern reboot. Frank Bruni seldom goes against a solid consensus, so we assume he’ll be impressed too. We predict that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Minetta Tavern.

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