Pete Wells, the New York Times' chief restaurant critic, has been criticized himself this week, for teeing off on Guy Fieri's new 500-seat restaurant in Times Square. Wells wrote his review of Guy's American Kitchen & Bar as a series of questions to the television star, highlighting the distance between the tasty American food he's known for celebrating, and the culinary acts committed in his name.
"Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are? If you hadn’t come up with the recipe yourself, would you ever guess that the shiny tissue of breading that exudes grease onto the plate contains either pretzels or smoked almonds? Did you discern any buttermilk or brine in the white meat, or did you think it tasted like chewy air?"
I don't think it'll hurt his business a bit. The people drawn to Guy's when surrounded by New York City's dining choices are not the people who make decisions on where to eat by reading the Times.
Reviewers offer opinion (gut-level reaction) and analysis (larger conclusions argued from facts), so when you have a place that seems like a good example of the darkest excesses of American eating, why not swing away? It was fun to read, and I read reviews for sport.
As a restaurant reviewer who has sat on his couch wishing I was smart enough to land a megamillion-dollar gig enthusing about delicious dishes across America, I can well imagine that nothing helps you limber up your smiting arm like a dash of envy. Getting the opportunity to point out the Grand Canyon between Fieri's television persona and the food sold in his name would be deeply satisfying.
I don't think the reviewer's a snob. Pete Wells enjoys deep-fried American glories like everybody else. He pleads for basic nachos standards of excellence, a cause I also stand behind:
"How did nachos, one of the hardest dishes in the American canon to mess up, turn out so deeply unlovable? Why augment tortilla chips with fried lasagna noodles that taste like nothing except oil? Why not bury those chips under a properly hot and filling layer of melted cheese and jalapeños instead of dribbling them with thin needles of pepperoni and cold gray clots of ground turkey?"
That's right, the caviar-scooping, truffle-sniffing top critic for the Times yearns for a "properly hot and filling layer of melted cheese and jalapeños" on his nachos. There ain't an Applebees customer that would argue.
From reading reviews other than the Times, it's the consensus that Guy's cooks and serves food that varies from decent to despicable, while presenting itself as a temple to blue-collar excellence.
But at least Wells doesn't use the review to argue that Guy Fieri himself is a pox on America.
The first real large-caliber assault on Guy's was five weeks ago, by Joshua David Stein in the New York Observer. Its opening paragraph, the first count of its indictment, notes that the television presenter was born Ferry but changed his name to "the more ethnic-sounding Fieri."
Wells aimed at the food. Stein goes after his soul.
"In January of 1968, the beginning of a year when the world caught on fire, Guy Ferry was born in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio. And in that moment, though America would not realize it for years to come, she had welcomed into her heartland perhaps her greatest homegrown besmircher, the seed of her undoing. A baby then, now a middle-aged man, Ferry would go on to gain weight, change his name to the more ethnic-sounding Fieri, frost the tips of his hair blond, wear his sunglasses on the back of his head, become a Food Network star and open, at the beginning of September, Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar in Times Square, a restaurant that would be indicted for crimes against humanity, if only that crime fell within the Department of Health’s purview."
Yea verily, for something there is about Fieri that draws out the biblical in others, including Gawker commenter DivanRex:
"His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire behind sunglasses;
And his shirts like unto fine paisley, as the Beatles wore in 1968; and his voice as the sound of much chrome trim clanging;
And he had in his right hand seven mewleries: and out of his chin went a sharp two-edged goatee: and his countenance was as the Thunderbird shineth in its retro glory.
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as insensate.
Guy's American Revelations, 1. 14"
- Andrew Z. Galarneau
taggedFood and Drink