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Review Preview: Flex Mussels and Harbour

Record to date: 0–2

I used to think I had a feel for what Frank Bruni was going to do, but we’re oh-fer-two since Review Preview launched a fortnight ago. With a double-review coming up, we’ve got the chance either to level-up or to dig ourselves an even deeper hole. Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Flex Mussels on the Upper East Side and Harbour in Hudson Square.

The Skinny: The general rule with double-reviews of new restaurants (not before reviewed in the Times), is that Bruni must not think either one is especially important. He has never given three stars in a double-review, unless he was upgrading a restaurant previously reviewed. That’s not the case here, so we start with two stars as a ceiling for both of these places.

Flex Mussels hasn’t been on our radar. It has been open for at least six months, but none of the other star-bestowing critics have reviewed it. We’d entirely forgotten (or never noticed) reviews in the New Yorker, Village Voice, and the Insatiable Critic until we looked them up just moments ago.

Bruni doesn’t usually review restaurants in out-of-the-way places only to trash them, and for him Flex Mussels, at 82nd and Lex, is a major detour. At the same time, most of his two-star awards go to places that are already very well known, which Flex Mussels is not. That leaves one star as the most likely case here.

With Harbour, we have a bit more to go on, as we had dinner there just this past weekend. Although we gave two stars to our meal, some of the dishes seemed over-wrought. Frank Bruni is liable to call them “fussy,” a word we abhor in this context, because of his over-use of it. My girlfriend said, “Frank Bruni is not going to like this food.” In Harbour’s favor, Adam Platt awarded two stars in New York and Restaurant Girl three in the Daily News. Platt’s rating is often a good predictor of what Bruni will do.

The folks at Flex Mussels probably won’t mind a one-star review—they could probably use the exposure—but for Harbour one star could be devastating. That has never stopped Bruni before, but Harbour is one of those places he could have skipped reviewing altogether. We’re not at all sure about this, but our guess is that if he’s bothering to review Harbour, he finds it at least modestly promising.

The Prediction: We predict that Frank Bruni will award one star to Flex Mussels and two stars to Harbour.

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