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How much did Frank Bruni love o ya?

Posted by Devra First  March 5, 2008 03:19 PM

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Frank Bruni's "Survivor"-style reviews of 10 "intriguing new restaurants outside of New York" continue today in The New York Times. This week, Bruni looks at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Vegas (No. 8), Coi in SF (7), and Fraiche in Culver City, Calif. (6). (He's picked the 10, now he's reviewing them in order of preference, building up to No. 1.) Last week, Nos. 10 (Central Michel Richard in D.C.) and 9 (Tilth in Seattle) were revealed.

Kinmedai sashimi at o ya.

This means o ya, the Boston restaurant Bruni wisely singled out, is still in the running for No. 1. (It might be a good idea to make a reservation. Right. Now.)

What other restaurants remain? Cochon in New Orleans, Fearing's in Dallas, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami, and Ubuntu in Napa, Calif.

Cochon stands a chance at the top slot for its pedigree (same owners as the revered Herbsaint) and pure porkiness of menu (pork ribs, pork tongue, crispy pig ears, ham hock, cochon with cracklins), and as a show of Crescent City support. A chef's chef building a salute to the food he grew up eating could be a sentimental favorite. And the midrange value consciousness of the Cajun spot can be interpreted as a sign of the times. It all adds up to comfort and joy. Of course, o ya does comfort and joy plus refinement and creativity. But it is expensive, something Bruni says he's taking into account. I'd imagine he means in the "is it worth it?" sense, and I think o ya is.

Fearing's in Dallas was named restaurant of the year by Esquire for 2007. It sounds oversize and Texan and splendid, and I can see Bruni having a not-so-secret love of cowboy boots. He might just love drinking at the Rattlesnake Bar. Fearing's takes Texan and refines it in such dishes as pan-roasted "BBQ spiced" filet and chicken-fried Maine lobster on queso fresco corn potatoes and Cynthia’s spinach enchilada. Whew, that is a mouthful! If it's pulled off in a way more elegant than purely extravagant, Fearing's stands a real shot. But Bruni won't want to give his top slot to the place Esquire gave a nod to unless it's that much better than everything else.

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink gets glowing reviews, and Gourmet singled it out as one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the country in its October 2007 issue. This approach is admirable and appealing -- it's the "trend of the moment," Gourmet points out. But then, it's the trend of the moment. Does Bruni have localsustainableorganic fatigue yet? We shall see.

And if he does, Ubuntu doesn't stand a chance at No. 1. Its website says it serves "daily-harvested organic food, with a focus on farm-fresh produce, much of it from our own biodynamic gardens. Ubuntu, briefly stated, is 'humanity toward others,' which is the basis of this community-focused restaurant." It's a bit hard to imagine Bruni giving a vegetarian restaurant the top spot, even if it offers, as he writes, "inspired, exhilarating cooking of a caliber I couldn’t have imagined." Ubuntu's in a yoga studio, for God's sake. How crunchy is too crunchy for Bruni? This is the man who just last week expressed exasperation with skinny diners.

So I'd say o ya stands a real chance at the top slot. In his intro to "Restaurant Survivor," Bruni didn't even mention it. Is that like avoiding someone because you have a crush on him/her? The suspense builds. Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter. What matters is that o ya is excellent, and it's ours.

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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