What the Hell Should I Order?

I admit it. I loved reading Times critic Frank Bruni’s reviews. Not only is he an incredibly entertaining writer, but he could be unabashedly brutal. Hey, it’s New York — they’ve got to live up to that whole if-you-can-make-it-here-you-can-make-it-anywhere mantra. Before Bruni stepped down from his post as Kingmaker to promote his new book, Born Round, he left his loyal readers with some parting words in a NY Times piece oh-so cleverly called “Good Tips at the End of His Meals.”

One question that particularly caught my eye was, "Is there any best, safest way to navigate a menu?”

Here’s Bruni’s answer:

*Scratch off the appetizers and entrees that are most like dishes you’ve seen in many other restaurants, because they represent this one at its most dutiful, conservative and profit-minded. The chef’s heart isn’t in them.

*Scratch off the dishes that look the most aggressively fanciful. The chef’s vanity — possibly too much of it — spawned these.

*Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil. (I love this.)

*Choose among the remaining dishes. 

For fun, I asked our food critic, Karen Deutsch, how she navigates a menu when conducting a review. Here’s what she had to say:

Seasonal ingredients are probably my first concern. No one wants to read about short ribs in June and no one can get fresh corn in December. After that my interest falls to the restaurant’s identity: if the soul is French than I want confit and consommé; if it’s Southern than I’m looking for collard greens. If there seems to be no identity whatsoever then I’m already lost (as are they). But the underlying thrill for me is creativity and technique. And by creativity I don’t necessarily mean modern — New York City’s Craft is still creative in that it approaches things with such unabashed simplicity. And that relies heavily on technique. But inspiration takes many forms: the concept of a dish, the pairing of ingredients, the love for a region, a dedication to doing things right. I’m always looking for that — the opportunity to see something differently or to be introduced to something familiar.  

Go forth and eat (wisely).

P.S. For more from Karen, check out her interview with Jenna in the most recent edition of The Dish.