Last week, Times food critic Frank Bruni panned perennial Midtown media hangout Michael’s: “California cuisine?” he sneered. “More like gloppy, affected pub grub.” Though Mr. Bruni did acknowledge that “food is no longer the point of Michael’s," it shouldn’t be resting on its laurels as a go-to power lunch and breakfast spot: “Michael’s presents itself as a serious restaurant and charges like a serious restaurant…It should perform at the level of a serious restaurant. These days, it usually doesn’t.”
All this displeasure is fine for Mr. Bruni, whose myriad dining options will soon flush the taste of “arid ricotta cannelloni” and “repellently chalky hamachi” from his palatte, but what about the legion boldfaced name regulars of the cultish restaurant? How did it play with those who, for professional or personal reasons (the lines blur with this crowd), simply can’t stay away?
New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia, a frequent presence, took issue with the idea that Michael’s would be reviewed for the food at all. Of Mr. Bruni’s piece, he told the Daily Transom, “It’s ridiculous! People don’t go for the food—not that the food is bad—but because of what it represents to the media community and publishing community. It’s like a clubhouse. God knows who you’re gonna see there every day… It’s an extraordinary restaurant because of the clientele. It’s a very attractive restaurant, and the service is very friendly.”
What does he order when he’s there? “In the summertime, they have a wonderful gazpacho that I love. It’s very crunchy, very tasty. I often eat the appetizers because I try not to eat too much for lunch. I’ll have the crab cakes [Bruni: “Mushy texture and watery taste put me in mind of confetti after a rainstorm"], the chicken Cobb salad—today I had the cheeseburger, which I really like.”
Before hanging up, he did some philosophizing: “With Bruni going after the menu, well…I don’t eat things the way Mr. Bruni eats things. I’m incapable of criticizing it. I don’t have the palatte like he does. But, Bruni’s very bitchy–he did the same thing with Cipriani, which also attracts a very interesting clientele.”
Page Six’s Liz Smith, who penned the introduction to the Michael’s cookbook, told us, “I have said from the first moment that people don’t go there for the food. They always defend their food, but that has nothing to do with Michael’s popularity.”
We wondered, then, if she could explicate Michael’s famous alchemy. “I’ve said that nobody knows–it’s just mysterious. It’s a lot of things. It’s the greeting, the organization, the physical situation. You keep going back because you see everyone you know. This is one case where a bad restaurant review means nothing.”
So what’s her superfluousness of choice? “I try to order the roast chicken–dark meat. Then, I try to get them to put it on a flat plate because they like to serve things in bowls where you can’t cut them. And I always get French fries and little spinach. Most people order the Cobb salad [“Less a salad than an entire ecosystem, vast and verdant, with enough avocado to feed three I.C.M agents or five Vogue editors,” Mr. Bruni admitted]–they don’t know what they’re eating anyway.”
Publishers Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson explained, “Anybody who goes to Michael’s for the food is…from out of town. There are breakfasts that are actually fine. Lunches are fine if you know what to order. I haven’t been to dinner in a long time. I would also say if you go there for dinner, you’re from out of town. There are some tricks to know. You ask for special things so it’s not too soggy. I saw someone order a Cobb salad with iceberg lettuce so that it was less droopy. Burgers are great.”
And what does Ms. Nelson usually order? “Now that I’ve learned that a Cobb salad with any kind of lettuce is not diet food, I’ve started to try other things. I try in the warmer months to order the tuna Nicoise, which is not bad.”
And finally, Men’s Health editor-in-chief and man about town David Zinczenko cut right to the chase: “Why concentrate on the food? It’s hard enough to keep track of conversations at other tables.”
Follow Caroline Bankoff via RSS.