Record to date: 3–2
The Skinny: Spice Market currently carries three stars, thanks to Amanda Hesser in 2004, when she served as interim critic before Frank Bruni arrived. The much-ridiculed and much-lampooned review began with these memorable bon-mots:
As you approach Spice Market, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new restaurant on West 13th Street, the stench of blood and offal from the surrounding meatpacking district intensifies. It’s hardly an olfactory amuse-bouche.
It turned out that Vongerichten had written a gushing jacket blurb for Hesser’s book, Cooking for Mr. Latte, which the Times admitted that Hesser ought to have disclosed. (Vongerichten later claimed that he had never met her.)
No one thought that Spice Market was a three-star restaurant then, when it had Vongerichten’s full attention, and it certainly isn’t one now. When I visited two years ago, I gave it 1½ stars, an option not open to Bruni, as his system lacks half-stars.
I am not saying that Bruni will demote Spice Market because this blog does not consider it worthy of three stars. It’s because nobody does. There have been no intervening events that would justify a return visit, except to correct the rating, and it has only one direction to go: down.
Bruni has done this to Vongerichten before, when he double-demoted Vong and Mercer Kitchen, knocking two stars off the rating of each. The only question here is whether Bruni will give Spice Market the full-body slam (one star or even zero), or if he’ll leave Vongerichten with a shred of dignity intact (two stars).
We can see it going either way, but we have to go with a full-body slam. Let’s charitably assume that the original rating should have been two stars. Does anyone doubt that the restaurant has gotten sloppier over the years, and that it has less of its owner’s attention than any in his large empire? How could the rating today not be lower than the “correct” original rating? Now add Bruni’s well known disgust for the whole Meatpacking Scene, and the blatant cynicism of the place, and the odds point to a monumental smackdown.
The Prediction: We predict that Frank Bruni will give one star to Spice Market.