Celebrity chef Guy Fieri is no stranger to jabs at his over-the-top persona. From his first appearances as a contestant on "The Next Food Network Star" to his cross-country speaking tours and swelling empire of restaurants across California and on Carnival Cruise Lines, the spike-haired, flame-shirted, gravel-voiced 44-year-old has been a ubiquitous and polarizing presence on the American culinary (or in Fierian parlance, "kulinary") scene.
Fieri has taken his share of heat from comics, fellow chefs and critics alike for his bombastic delivery and monumentally macho food fixations - but perhaps never so pointedly and deftly as in New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells' review of Guy?s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square.
Written in the stars: the art of the bad review
Wells' scorched-earth review - which not only gave the 500-seat restaurant zero out of a possible four stars, but also designated it as "poor" - blazed across the internet, with websites like The Awl, the Village Voice's Fork in the Road blog, Grub Street and Gawker rounding up the most brutal lines from the review and the fast, furious, and mostly gleeful response from Twitter.
A few highlights from the review, which consisted of 50 rapid-fire questions, save for the closing line, which was "Thanks."
"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?"
"Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?"
Everyone's a critic, some just call it their day job
Blistering quips, to be sure, but at the core of the review, was perhaps the most relevant question: Does Fieri's televised evangelism of "no-collar" cuisine actually translate to the food he's serving in his restaurant?
"How, for example, did Rhode Island?s supremely unhealthy and awesomely good fried calamari ? dressed with garlic butter and pickled hot peppers ? end up in your restaurant as a plate of pale, unsalted squid rings next to a dish of sweet mayonnaise with a distant rumor of spice?"
"How did Louisiana?s blackened, Cajun-spiced treatment turn into the ghostly nubs of unblackened, unspiced white meat in your Cajun Chicken Alfredo?"
Wells, in turn, was taken to task by Guy's fellow Food Network stars like Alton Brown and Michael Symon, as well as The Today Show for being too harsh and personal.
Others assert that Wells' perceived elitism got in the way of his enjoyment of the food, Fieri was an obvious and easy target, or that the restaurant itself shouldn't have been targeted for a New York Times review to begin with.
To that, Wells (a longtime friend of mine) responded in an e-mail exchange, "Sure, there are restaurants that should probably be exempt from the rigors of a New York Times review. Some little joint that is just minding its own business, servings its neighborhood without making any great claims for itself, for example. Times critics generally don't go out of their way to pan places that nobody's heard of. But this is not the case with Guy's American Kitchen & Bar."
And is he an elitist, indeed? Wells said...sort of. "If wanting nachos and fries that taste good and don't make you want to avert your eyes makes you an elitist, then I guess I am."
Are professional restaurant critics necessary?
One question remains: Will the negative review have any effect on the restaurant's business, or will Fieri's Kulinary Krew keep dropping dollars on Donkey Sauce-drenched fries and erroneously spelled Roasted Pork Bahn Mi sandwiches as they roll up to Flavortown?
No, seriously - this is a question we'd love to have you answer. Do you pay attention to professional restaurant reviews, negative or positive, and do they have an effect on where you decide to eat? Let us know in the comments below and we'll share your answers in an upcoming post.
Previously - Written in the stars: the art of the bad review
and Everyone's a critic, some just call it their day job and Are professional restaurant critics necessary?