Let me preface this item by saying I am not the biggest fan of Guy Fieri, the Food Network celebrity with the bleached-blonde spikey hair who hosts Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. I pretty much lost all interest in him when he started doing ads for T.G.I. Friday's—are you honestly craving that Chipotle Grilled Steak Sandwich, the one with two kinds of cheeses, lettuce, tomato, onion, Chipotle mayo, and roasted plantains? You're actually eating a steak sandwich with bananas?
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is probably Fieri's most severe critic. As he told TV Guide, "I look at Guy Fieri and I just think, 'Jesus, I'm glad that's not me.' You work that hard and there's not a single show of yours that you'd want to sit down and say, 'Hey, I made that last week. Look at that camera work. It's really good, huh?' I'm proud of what I do." Bourdain recently mused that if tattoo artist Ed Hardy had sex with a juggalo, the result would be Guy Fieri.
Now comes a New York Times review of Fieri's Times Square outpost, Guy's American Kitchen & Bar. Restaurant critic Pete Wells, who previously issued a scathing critique of Le Cirque (now in search of a new chef), had much to say—and hardly any of it good.
Wells constructs his review in the form of a plaintive letter directed at Guy:
Did panic grip your soul as you stared into the whirling hypno wheel of the menu, where adjectives and nouns spin in a crazy vortex? When you saw the burger described as “Guy’s Pat LaFrieda custom blend, all-natural Creekstone Farm Black Angus beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion + pickle), SMC (super-melty-cheese) and a slathering of Donkey Sauce on garlic-buttered brioche,” did your mind touch the void for a minute?... What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense?
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?... And when we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?
While we may enjoy the scathing prose, reviews can have consequences. Critics are often vilified by restaurateurs who say such petty attacks are irresponsible and can shut a place down, leaving a lot of hardworking people jobless, not to mention investors in the red. But reviewers maintain they're responsible to the readers only—it's their duty to warn them away from places like Guy's American Kitchen & Bar.
And yet something tells me this restaurant will survive. It is, after all, located in Times Square. Sure, most New Yorkers avoid Times Square when it comes to dining. But the tour buses—this is where they all go. They open their doors and unload all those first-time visitors to the Big Apple who are overwhelmed by the neon lights and skyscrapers. "Where on earth are we going to eat? Hey, there's Guy's American Kitchen & Bar! I love that guy!"
I'll be the first to complain about the inauthenticity of the Olive Garden but years ago one of the company's executives reminded me that one of the most successful Olive Garden locations was in Times Square. The same can probably be said of T.G.I. Friday's. Come to think of it, Wells sounds like he reviewed a Friday's, doesn't it?
Guy Fieri is smart and successful. He owns several restaurant chains, not to mention his starring role on the Food Network. If I were his publicist, I'd tell him to wave that New York Times review like the bloody shirt. Expose them for the elitists they are. And show up to the restaurant, greeting those busloads of tourists. Maybe tweak that menu a bit. And under no circumstance serve a steak sandwich with bananas.