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Ending his sometimes controversial five-year tenure as the New York Times‘ restaurant critic, Frank Bruni announced today that he is stepping down from his post as the most powerful food critic in the country. According a memo posted this afternoon on the Diner’s Journal blog, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said Bruni’s departure is only logical, given the forthcoming release of his memoir, “Born Round: the Secret
History of a Full-Time Eater

Writes Keller:

In his spare time, between aerobic eating and the requisite gym time to burn it all off, he has managed to produce a memoir of his lifelong, complicated relationship with food. Recognizing that the book is certain to seriously compromise his ability to be a spy in the land of food, Frank picked this as a natural time to move on. He will be turning in his restaurant-critic credentials when his memoir, “Born Round: the Secret History of a Full-Time Eater,” is published in late August.

Following a book promotion tour and a vacation, Bruni will become a writer-at-large for the New York Times Magazine, which will no doubt please restaurateurs like Jeffrey Chodorow, who went on a public offensive after Bruni trashed his high-end steakhouse. Despite criticisms from Chodorow and others who didn’t like Bruni’s lack of culinary experience before taking the job, Keller praised his departing critic:

When we recruited Frank Bruni from the Rome Bureau to be the restaurant critic of The New York Times, there was a quizzical buzz in the food-o-sphere. Sure, Frank had shown himself to be a gifted reporter on subjects domestic and foreign. Yes, he was indisputably an exquisite writer. And there were unmistakeable clues to his affinity in his travel pieces, with their vivid evocation of Italian food, and in other features – the profile of the makers of Italian grappa, the visit to the University of Gastronomic Science in Polenzo. But he lacked what the foodie establishment would regard as suitable credentials. He was not the obvious choice.

Five years later, the choice seems not only obvious, but inspired, proving that sometimes editors get one really right. Not content to review his way around New York with authority and brio, not content to blog discoveries that do not yet merit a fullblown review, he has also performed more ambitious feats of criticism: his unforgettable cross-country tour of the iconic fast food joints of America, for instance, and his quest for the best brand-new restaurants in all of America.

Keller says the search for a new critic “begins now.” If Y&H were a betting man, he’d place a wager that the Post‘s Tom Sietsema will be in the running for the Times job.

Who’s on your short list?

UPDATE: The commenters on Eater.com are quickly developing a short list for Bruni’s replacement.