discerning palate

A New York City restaurant just got royally panned. Why it’s the best of Times for dining

November 15, 2012
November 15, 2012

The New York Times’ chief restaurant critic took a sharp knife to the soft lump that is television chef Guy Fieri’s new restaurant in New York City’s Times Square, causing a viral maelstrom unmatched since Tony Bourdain was mean to, well, nearly everyone else in the food business.

A bleached blonde-sometimes-game show host, Fieri is an easy target, but Pete Wells’ piece is a masterful example of top quality critical writing. It speaks volumes not just about how bad Fieri’s restaurant is but just how flat and undistinguished most Yelp and other public comment offerings have become. Useless yammering Yelpers may bring more democracy to the conversation but the result is a goulash of bad info. And while a review of a new Olive Garden by a small town golden girl may amuse and distract, it’s not going to affect dining patterns worldwide … or even just across town.

I’m not going to go line by line from the Times review—okay, here are two: “Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are?” and “Did you discern any buttermilk or brine in the white meat, or did you think it tasted like chewy air?”—but will say that in my and many others’ experience, the exuberant and careful food- and restaurant-loving Wells usually gets things right, having enough muscle in his literary repertoire to have little need of cheap trick or fudged fact.

That said, the piece was deadly. Smart New York restaurant pros don’t dumb down for an audience that may have fresher better food back home. Cats has closed and there are a lot more farmers markets in America now.

The multimillion dollar effort by the well-known Fieri is not only fair game (the Times reviewed Britney Spears’ restaurant during its brief life) but at the heart of a beat that in part seeks to protect the general public when not otherwise guiding them to new hot spots and great meals.  It’s also supposed to help sell papers.  Way to go, Pete Wells.

There aren’t a lot of good critics out there because there are just too many critics without credential—or palate or sharpened pen—a good editor, a team of fact checkers and some cranky lawyers wanting to avoid a lawsuit.

In fact, I’m guessing that the top result of this brilliantly crafted evisceration was to let the general world know that Fieri had opened a new place in New York.  (Who knew?) The second was to get more people reading the Times.

I don’t know Guy Fieri, but we have a lot of friends in common. I have only eaten once at Johnny Garlic’s in Santa Rosa, one of his restaurants in California, and had a dated but edible salad that probably benefited by it proximity to really good ingredients at generally affordable prices, not to mention generally nice and helpful folks on all sides of the table.  That’s not always the case in the middle of Manhattan.

So just after he fires the chef and the general manager, Guy Fieri really needs to take the opportunity to improve the baseline and just make his new joint friendly and fun.  New York loves a hit, a flop—and a comeback.  So far he’s got some of that covered pretty well.

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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