Entries in Jody Williams (4)


The Payoff: Gottino and Terroir

In today’s Times, Frank Bruni hands out a pair of one-star cupcakes to Gottino and Terroir, two fine restaurants masquerading as wine bars:

Both are trawling an easygoing confluence of Italian soul and finger food. And they’re reeling in enough— both menus have dozens of options beyond salumi and cheese — to force the question, are Terroir and Gottino restaurants in wine-bar drag?

Ms. Williams seems terrified by that notion. On the phone recently she caught herself using the words lunch and dinner and quickly reversed course, saying she didn’t want customers looking to Gottino for an actual meal.

“Just squeeze in, eat and drink, because it’s not a restaurant,” she said. “I don’t want people to have restaurant expectations. But if I tell people just to squeeze in, eat and drink, it’ll all be O.K.”

Since the “Restaurants” column doesn’t normally review wine bars, we figured Bruni would choose two that he liked. He acknowledged the “very real limitations and discomforts of both Gottino and Terroir, where space is tight, the mood is agitated, reservations aren’t accepted and you could easily wind up standing and waiting 45 minutes for the privilege of straddling a stool.” Also, “overall dining experiences are abbreviated, and not suited to many occasions.”

But make no mistake about it: Gottino and Terroir are those rare establishments that could be happy about a one-star review. Most likely, they were designed with no expectation of a starred Times review at all. It helps that both lend credence to Frank’s favorite meme, namely, “the increasing degree to which distinguished cooking pops up in the unconventional, informal settings that many food lovers often prefer.” Their menus are “unfussy compendia,” and they don’t “play by mustier rules.”

It also helps that both are Italian, which is always a guarantee of Frank’s attention—though not necessarily his love.

We took the one-star odds on both restaurants. On hypothetical bets of $1, we win $3 at Gottino and $2 at Terroir for a total of $5. Eater, which predicted zero and one star respectively, loses $1 at Gottino and wins $2 at Terroir, for a net of $1.

              Eater          NYJ
Bankroll $90.50   $110.67
Gain/Loss +1.00   +5.00
Total $91.50   $115.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 42–20   45–17

Rolling the Dice: Gottino and Terroir

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni files a wine-bar twofer, looking in on Terroir (East Village) and Gottino (West Village). The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 2-1
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 6-1
Three Stars: 50-1
Four Stars: 10,000-1

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 2-1
Two Stars: 4-1
Three Stars: 50-1
Four Stars: 10,000-1

The Skinny: We bettors are out of our element today, as neither of these is a traditional review target. It’s not even clear what the star system means when applied to a wine bar. But His Frankness has chosen them, so we’ll place our bets.

In our view, one star is the floor for both of these places. Bruni doesn’t normally review wine bars at all. With so many to choose from, why waste space on one he doesn’t like? The question is, could either of them get two?

At Gottino, the chef is Jody Williams. Her last experience with the star system is one she’d rather forget: a one-star hazing at Morandi that read like zero. (She has since left the restaurant.) We don’t think Bruni will pick on her again. Besides, the other critics have actually liked Gottino, including the Underground Gourmet for New York (three hollow stars out of five), Jacqui Gal for MetroMix (3½ stars out of five), and Robert Sietsema for the Village Voice.

Terroir is the work of two really smart guys, Marco Canora and Paul Grieco, who have two terrific restaurants already to their credit, Hearth and Insieme. Here as well, the reviews have been positive, including Ed Levine at Serious Eats and Paul Adams for The Sun. We liked it too, though our visit was on opening night, so we didn’t assign a rating.

The ceiling for Terroir is set by Canora and Grieco’s other two restaurants. Bruni awarded two stars to the more ambitious Insieme, while Amanda Hesser did the same for Hearth, which actually actually supplies many of the items that Terroir’s non-existent kitchen can’t produce itself. Terroir is lots of fun, but unless Frank is crazy it has to be a star lower than the other two places.

With Gottino, we have less to go on, but we’re having trouble imagining what a two-star wine bar would be like.

The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award one star apiece to Gottino and Terroir.


The Payoff: Morandi

In today’s Brunology lesson, Professor Frank hands out what must be the weakest one-star review in New York Times history. To be sure, we expected no better than a weak star for Morandi, but we never imagined that Keith McNally could be trashed this badly, and still escape with his manhood intact:

Morandi’s overworked Chianti bottles and its canopy of brick arches — no matter how old the brick — aren’t whimsical; they’re just clichéd. Unlike Balthazar and Pastis, which Mr. McNally cunningly sculptured to look old before their time, Morandi can simply feel tired before its time, and not quite worth the struggle to get in and stay upright in the scrum.

Frank did find a number of dishes he liked (which saved it from the goose-egg), but we don’t recall a one-star review as harsh as this one. But then, Frank has never goose-egged an Italian restaurant, has he?

We were prepared to take the long odds that Morandi would indeed get zilch, so we lose $1 on our hypothetical bet. Eater took the one-star wager, and wins $2.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $20.00   $27.67
Gain/Loss +$2.00   –$1.00
Total $22.00   $26.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 8–2   8–2

Rolling the Dice: Morandi

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Morandi, Keith McNally’s foray into Italian cuisine. Eater’s official odds are as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 5-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars:
Three Stars: 90-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: Morandi had a shaky start, with many critics finding the food uneven, the service scattered, the crowds unbearable, the décor inauthentic and claustrophobic. I can only take Eater’s word for it that things are getting steadily better at Morandi, because frankly, nothing I’ve read has made me eager to go there.

The Brunologist loves Italian food, and some of his most generous ratings have gone to Italian restaurants. But it’s the one genre in which Bruni can’t be fooled. I have to think that when he wrote his love letter to Esca last week, it was with the certain knowledge that the Morandi review was up next. I therefore expect to find a noticeable contrast between the two, with Morandi earning a weak one star, at best.

The Bet: We are inclined to agree with Eater that one star is the most likely outcome, and that is normally how we would bet. But with the oddsmakers offering only 2–1 odds for that choice, we are going to roll the dice on zero stars, which at 5–1 odds is the more attractive wager.