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T.G.I. Wednesday: The Bruni Digest

By Stett Holbrook

FOOTBALL FANS have Monday Night Football. Catholics have Sunday mass. And food lovers have the Wednesday food section.

Wednesday is game day for food lovers. It's the day daily newspapers across our land run their food stories, restaurant reviews, wine recommendations and other tasty bits. Alternative weeklies like your trusty Metro also publish on Wednesday, adding to the volume of fresh food writing.

To stay on top of my game, I spend part of Wednesday reading food journalism from around the country, online and in print. I start with the Chronicle and the Merc, check out what the excellent East Bay Express critic Jonathan Kauffman is up to and then head south to scan the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly food sections. After that I'll bounce around the country to read a few other choice food writers like Dara Moskowiz of Minneapolis' City Paper, Robb Walsh of the Houston Press and Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice. Then I'll settle into the New York Times' stately food section.

In addition to scooping up Kim Severson from the Chronicle, the Times' dining section recently hired Frank Bruni as its restaurant critic. While he has no previous experience as a food writer (he was formerly the Times' Rome bureau chief), he's plunged into the country's most high-profile restaurant critic post with gusto.

Sufficiently full, I make one last stop for dessert: the Bruni Digest. Part improv comedy, part literary critique, the Bruni Digest (www.brunidigest.blogspot.com) is the work of Jules Langbein, a 23-year-old Brooklyn comic and food lover. The Bruni Digest takes a Beavis and Butthead approach to Bruni's weekly reviews, skewering his sometimes, shall we say, overwrought language with humor that has me laughing out loud.

Langbein says she imagines Bruni to be "a Venetian count in a huge ruffled collar" who doles out stars "from the inside breast pocket of his brocaded chamber robe." She refers to him as "the Count" or "Brunes" when she's feeling chummier.

As funny as Langbein's writing is, it's the photographs she intersperses throughout her critiques that elevate her blog to the highest planes of hilarity. What she writes is dictated in large part by the photos she finds, giving the Bruni Digest an improvisational feel since she usually posts her recap shortly after Bruni's review hits the newsstand.

Before she launched her blog, she sent out choice bits of Bruni's reviews to friends, excerpts that she found "unbelievable."

"His writing is so anachronistic and old-fashioned, and other times he just goes overboard," she told me.

Those snippets led her to create the Bruni Digest, which is as much an outlet for her interest in New York City restaurants as it is for her comedy. Although she takes Bruni to task for his sometimes prolix purple prose, she's not a Bruni-hater.

"It's meant to be affectionate," she says.

Here's a sampling of her affection: "'Yuzu joins avocado, shallots and American caviar to goose a tuna tartare that's silkier and more sumptuous than most. A grapefruit vinaigrette bathes Dungeness crab meat.' Goose? I was pretty sure 'goosing' involved an unsolicited insertion of something unpleasant in someone's, eh, blowhole. Whatevs. Toot toot!"

Under "Amazing Brunisms of the Week" she cites a line from his review of Bistro du Vent: "This cake is oily in the center and crunchy at the edges to precisely the right degrees, like an order of hash browns that's been to finishing school and graduated first in its class." Then, in reference to a photo of McDonald's hash browns, she adds: "And below, her sister, who tested retarded at birth, went to public school, eats with her toes and farts at the table."

Langbein says she hasn't heard from Bruni, but according to her blog's site meter, she gets a lot of traffic from New York Times staffers.

I suppose some of my colleagues might take offense at Langbein's pot shots at Bruni, but food writing can fall quickly down the steep, adjective-crowded slope of overwriting and is ripe for some good-natured razzing. I'm sure I've abused my share of similes in an effort to avoid using the word "tasty." I'd hate for Langbein to take aim at one of my reviews. But I bet it would be really funny.

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From the May 18-24, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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