It’s usually no fun to write a bad restaurant review. But in this case, I think Pete Wells of The New York Times must have gotten satisfaction, at least, composing this blistering bash of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar. The Internet lit up immediately with quotes of favorite lines from the piece, like “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?”
That sentence was followed immediately by this memorable fury: “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?”
Oh, and in the very next paragraph, this: “Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret — a lunch-only sandwich of chopped soy-glazed pork with coleslaw and cucumbers — called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?”
I assume Wells took a personally tougher tone on Fieri, a national celebrity who brings a lot of attention to the restaurants he celebrates on his TV show, than he would have taken with your average mom and pop business.
Yelp reviewers — in theory the bane of the professional critic — actually gave the place 2.5 stars, a lot better than the Wells rating of ‘poor.’ ( Another NYTer tweeted that he didn’t even know the dining section had a ‘poor’ rating.) But if you look at the text, the Yelpers generally weren’t any kinder in their descriptions: “I’m nauseous. We didn’t expect much but we got even less.”
I reviewed some disappointing Seattle restaurants in my years as a critic, but never came across one that deserved a skewering as severe as this. (Are they out there now?) And I particularly liked this take by Helen Rosner of Saveur on why the Wells review was more than a cheap shot: It’s because that particular restaurant is more than a restaurant:
“(Fieri) changed the way literally millions of people thought about dining. He taught people to readjust their judgment of “quality” from an axis of cheap-to-expensive to an axis of undelicious-to-delicious, which is–get real now–precisely how the world should be,” Rosner wrote.
“And then here is Fieri’s actual restaurant, the first of his many ventures that actually bears his name over the door, and in its extraordinary culinary ineptitude–its disrespect for both its product and its patrons–undoes every bit of that incredibly powerful, very pro-food, very pro-human-scale action that Guy has engendered with his television show and his public presence…
“This isn’t a restaurant review, it’s a referendum on Fieri himself, a man whose brand was built on his unreserved praise for food and people deserving of that praise, and who in entering the arena himself revealed a hollowness that threatens to undermine everything he’s done.”
File photo of Guy Fieri by Jeff Christensen/The Associated Press