Just when we thought we had Frank Bruni figured out, he uncorked one of the weirdest reviews of his tenure, awarding two stars to Bar Q:
In terms of its variability from one stretch of the menu to another, Bar Q is a riddle, but it’s a riddle with a solution: don’t pay too much attention to the restaurant’s name, which alludes to barbecue, or to the culinary direction in which that name points you.
With the exception of pork-stuffed spare ribs, richer than a Russian plutocrat and sauced with an elementary school’s worth of peanut butter, the dishes that veer the closest to conventional barbecue or that give you bones to grab and gnaw on are among the least enjoyable and impressive.
Let us be clear: our complaint isn’t that Bruni awarded a different number of stars than we predicted. That has happened plenty of times. And our complaint isn’t that Bruni liked a restaurant we didn’t. That has happened plenty of times, too.
The trouble is that this review, even on its own terms, doesn’t read like two stars. We can’t recall a review in which he had so many complaints about the food and still awarded two stars—unless it was a “three-minus,” such as Gilt or Gordon Ramsay. Bruni’s critics sometimes bellyache about exceedingly casual places he elevated to two stars—Sripraphai and Franny’s come to mind—but at least he made the case for them as passionately as it could be made. With Bar Q, he didn’t even try.
It makes nonsense of the current rating at Annisa, Anita Lo’s other, and infinitely better, restaurant nearby. Annisa carries the same two stars (Grimes, 2000) as Bar Q, a misguided judgment Bruni shows no signs of remedying.
Lastly, he also commits a cardinal no-no, at least in my book: complaining about the tough life restaurant critics (and those who dine with them) lead:
A restaurant critic’s most practiced companions know that the questions to be asked in advance of a meal go beyond the address, the hour and the (fake) reservation name.
More important bits of information: is the visit to the restaurant a first one or a follow-up? And if it’s a follow-up, what are they in for? Is the critic doing them a favor, or are they doing him one?
As I ushered several of my most loyal and keenly inquisitive sidekicks into Bar Q for Visit 2, I tiptoed around the answers. I stressed that I was paying the check: drink up! I emphasized that Bar Q belonged to Anita Lo, whose cooking at Annisa can be sublime.
We know that full-time critics have it rough (I know I couldn’t hack it), but keep it out of the review.
Eater and I both predicted a one-star review. We both lose $1 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.
Eater NYJ Bankroll $91.50 $111.67 Gain/Loss –1.00 –1.00 Total $90.50 $110.67 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Won–Lost 41–19 43–17