You know how when you have a choir, and you’re preaching to it and you’re all happy because everyone already agrees on what is being shouted in the congregation? Let’s say that “choir” in this case is New Yorkers who hate stepping foot in Times Square, much less any who would deign to dine in one of its restaurants. Is there a point in a high-minded restaurant critic taking down celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar, located smackdab in touristville, or is it just an exercise in elitism?
That’s the question we’ve been bandying about at Consumerist since yesterday’s much-discussed New York Times review, which admittedly, I enjoyed. How could you not chuckle at sentences like “Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste?” But in my mind, it’s like, why even bother reviewing a place your audience is probably not at all interested in? Is it worth it just for the fun of the smackdown?
I don’t think there has been a restaurant review that’s gotten so much attention since that earnest review of Olive Garden that enraged and delighted the Internet back in March. So I decided to have a chat with some of my fellows in the New York media to see where they fall on the “Is this necessary or just an excuse to get nasty?” question.
One media type I spoke to summed it up thusly:
“This review may be accurate — I don’t know as I have no intention of ever eating at the place — but it just smacks of a NIMBY, how-dare-you elitism and seems primarily intent on confirming the anti-Times Square bias of food snobs like me.”
Meanwhile, Dan Kois of Slate reiterated his stance on the review, one echoed in a great post (“that he would have given anything to have written”) he pointed me to on the blog Every Day Forever. Basically — Fieri does not get a pass for the exact reason that he is a chef who is supposed to celebrate this kind of everyday American food (as seen on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), not diss it with such lack of quality:
“It was a great takedown.There are certainly people whom I think it is not necessary to take down from a position of power like the Times. Due to anonymity, good intentions, etc. Guy Fieri is not one of them.”
The point here being — he failed the cuisine he purports to celebrate, and therefore he should be righteously kicked in the rump and made to answer for his failure.
Jeff Bercovici of Forbes is of similar mind, telling me that as a reader, he loves a good hard takedown. And if this particular rubbing of Fieri’s nose in the dirt was a bit more vitriolic? Well, so be it.
It was entertaining as hell to read, and if that’s what he really thought of the restaurant, then good on him for saying so. The world doesn’t need more critics who pull punches to spare feelings or maintain access. It did seem that there was an extra layer of vitriol in there that had less to do with the food than with what Guy Fieri stands for. I don’t have a problem with that, though. Again, it made for a more entertaining review, and the fact is the experience of food is all about the context.
My esteemed colleague Laura chimed in as well noting that it doesn’t matter who is going to eat there:
Tourists have access to the Times, too. And if that review is accurate, it constitutes a crime against food that shouldn’t be perpetrated anywhere, be it an Applebee’s in exurban Indiana or Times Square.
Then there’s my writer friend Mac. His opinion pretty much says it all:
“Necessary? No. Evil? Yes. Delicious? I went back for seconds.”
He went back for seconds of the review, to be clear. No one I spoke to has visited Fieri’s restaurant, but in the interest of knowing your subject, I think a field trip is in the near future.
Here’s a time when the comments section is missed, to be sure, but let’s see if we can get our feelings out via a poll, shall we? Go ahead and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a particular feeling to vent on the topic of scathing restaurant reviews as well.
*DISCLAIMER: The cat pictured has not, in fact, eaten at Fieri’s restaurant. That we know of.