Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pete Wells’ Review Of Guy Fieri’s Restaurant Sheds More Heat Than Light

Whoa! I would NOT want to be one of Guy Fieri’s investors. Actually, I take that back. After The New York Times’ Pete Wells gave Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square the WORST review in most people’s memory, Guy is stoking PR fires all over the place.

Never has someone (with such spiky hair) taken something so negative and tried to spin it so positively so quickly. The review was in yesterday’s paper. It was also mentioned on the NBC Nightly News that night. Apparently Brian thought it was noteworthy enough to include it on the broadcast the same day as the President’s first news conference in 8 months (and the first one after his reelection). Too bad Obama wasn’t asked about the review.

Then Guy was on the Today show this morning in 2 different segments. The first was when Savannah interviewed him in his restaurant. So what did Guy think of the review? He said, “I just thought it was ridiculous... It went so overboard it really seemed like there was another agenda… I think we all know what’s going on here.” I guess he was referring to Pete Wells welcoming the opportunity to skewer a celebrity chef who is also, yee-gads!, NOT a New Yorker.

But Savannah did mention that Yelp had given him only 2 1/2 stars out of five and she pointed out that it wasn’t really “knocking their socks off”. He said after 2½ months he wouldn’t have expected that to be the case. He added, of course, that they’re TRYING as hard as they can to do things perfectly, but he said, “Let’s see where we are in SIX months.”

That seems a little lackadaisical, which I actually don’t think Guy is. Apparently he brought in his own “team” from California who trained the folks in the New York restaurant, both in front and in back of the house. It seems clear that either they opened too soon or they needed better training or BOTH.

There is one thing I strongly disagree with Guy on. He questioned Pete Wells visiting the restaurant ONLY 4 times before doing his review. Guy’s point was that that was not enough for “a restaurant of this size”.  I think 4 times is a lot, and certainly more time than a regular paying customer would give to a restaurant that had been such a bad experience.

But wait, there’s more. The Today Show said they were going to be taste-testing his food. I was excited. I thought they’d bring on some local chefs or culinary professionals to add their learned opinions to Pete Wells’ blasting of just about every aspect of every dish. (Obviously it couldn’t be anyone with a Food Network connection.)  But, no, they had a doctor (oh wait, it was Dr. PHIL…does that count?), a lawyer and an ad professional. The last one, I get, but the first two?  AND it wasn’t a real food tasting either. They just sat around eating a bit of the dishes before their segment was on.  

What did they think? Donny Deutsch, the ad guy with the tight pants, was thrilled for Guy and the publicity this was bringing him. He said put a big sign in the window for critics to stay out. Lawyer Starrrrrr Jones hated that the review was mean-spirited. That I can’t disagree with. 

And Dr. Phil? He said something about a rabbit hugging a hound and that the review was more about the reviewer than the restaurant. I can’t disagree with that either…except maybe the rabbit part. (That MAY have been his comment on the next story about General Petraeus, but I’m sure it could apply here too.)

Frankly, I could argue bother sides here. A truly crappy restaurant may deserve to be called out, so folks don’t waste their hard earned money on an experience that will clearly disappoint them. But I would also say that I generally read reviews to find places to go and NOT to avoid. (That’s what Yelp is for.)

I can't comment on the accuracy of Pete Wells’ claims, because I haven't been there. But I do think this choice of restaurant to review is a bit odd for the New York Times. 

I don’t NEED a review of a “fast casual” restaurant or whatever they call this segment of the restaurant business. Even though Wells thought the prices were high for the quality of the food, I depend on other palates ESPECIALLY when I’m going to be spending a lot of money and I want to know if it’s going to be worth it

Plus I like having a preview of the dining experience and tips as to which dishes are the most successful – again, because if the restaurant is pricey, I don’t want to regret my choice. 

Most of us don’t have unlimited dining dollars. We depend on reviews, especially in New York and in the New York Times, to guide us to reliable places. There is a place in the paper for reviews of less fancy places, so that’s where this should have gone, if it was to be reviewed at all. 

And I do agree that the sarcastic question form that the review was written in felt a little personal. Actually, a lot personal. It included passages like these:
"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?"
“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?”
Please! If it was really that bad, then did the review really belong in the pages of the New York Times? (I like this question thing!)  I’m pretty sure that the majority of people reading restaurant reviews are interested in learning about places they SHOULD go, not the opposite. It’s almost like giving a recipe that you know is bad…just to demonstrate that someone gave you a bad recipe. What’s the point?!!

That old expression about something shedding more heat than light applies here. The major purpose of the review seemed to be to stir up controversy and not to provide useful information. We didn’t learn about a great new place to eat; we found instead just how nasty and arrogant a reviewer could be.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Clearly this reviewer did have an agenda. He wanted to give a big F.U. to both the Food Network and its dumbed down personalities as well as to big-box restaurants. He was giving the finger not just to the restaurant but to Guy, and Sandra, and Rachael, and Applebees, and Friday's, and Olive Garden, and every other purveyor of processed restaurant meals and shortcut cooks.

Did the restaurant deserve this? I'm sure many people say it did. Bad food should be called out before people waste their time and money, right?

I think it's a foregone conclusion that a restaurant of this size is not going to be good. Mass produced food never is. I don't think the kind of people who would read NY Times food reviews would expect anything great from this type of restaurant. I get the impression that this is not the restaurant for NY-Times-Reading foodies. In fact, it seems there is a backlast among the FN-loving crowd who say, "Let's eat here and give a finger back to the elitists."

I do find myself disrespecting Guy for doing this project. His personality annoys me as much as most of the FN cooks do. However, watching his show, I don't think he's a half-bad cook. He's better than many of them. He seems to have good knife skills. He cooks things from scratch and doesn't seem to care if they take a long time. I even saw him make homemade spaetzle once. How many other FN cooks would do that? Then there is his DDD show, where he showcases small-town, mom-and-pop restaurants. Here is a man who beneath his FN-manufactured persona is someone who cares about homemade food and small business.

So what does he do? He opens a big-box restaurant where I'm sure they are probably preparing flash-froze, reheated food like any other big-box restaurant. He's not in the kitchen himself cooking homemade food. His place is just a tourist trap that seems to go against everything he was trying to do over the past few years. In that respect, this restaurant really does need a takedown!

Anonymous said...

I disagree, Sue, the review absolutely belongs in the food section as legitimate look at a celebrity-owned business that looks to capitalize on the reputation of the owner. Just like it was perfectly OK to have a review of Shake Shack in the food section too. The disdain is perfectly in proportion to Fieri's arrogance in thinking he should be able to coast on his reputation. Did he go on the Today show and say "Wow, the review was a little harsh, but we have to take this kind of criticism seriously -- I take full responsibility, and we'll be doing better right away?" No. He preferred to try and indict the reviewer by innuendo, and brush off legitimate questions about poor customer reviews. Here's my prediction -- he will improve things quickly, and the bad publicity will have Fieri fans flocking en masse to eat there and defend him. Since the place will be better almost immediately (because he's not stupid enough not to take this seriously) he'll be able to say "See, they guy just had it in for me." Commence smirking in three, two, one...

Dhow Cruise Dubai said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue said...

You put it so well. The restaurant is pretty bad. Pete Wells has it in for Food Network types and "fast casual” food and everything in between too. And you’re right that Guy has the chops, he just chooses to use his powers not for good, but for evil. It’s all true.

I guess the thing that bothered me about the review was that it sounded so personal. There was more than enough to write about as far as the bad food and horrible service. Why not keep it to that? I get that he was so appalled by the whole thing that he couldn’t help himself.

But to your point about the review being in the New York Times in the first place – I am a reader of the paper and I go to lousy places sometimes for convenience or whatever, but I don’t look to the New York Times to tell me that even the salads at the Cheesecake Factory could feed a sumo wrestler or the Chicken Stir Fried Whatever at PF Chang’s (which does have unusually good service, I think) is going to make my clothes reek of oil. I want to discover either small, off the beaten track type of restaurants in thoughtful reviews or places that are real investments of time and money.

Am I wrong? Of course, even the simplest place should strive for excellence, but Wells was just too gleeful in saying Gotcha! and I really felt the review was as much about him as Guy.

Sue said...

It’s funny, Tom. When I said I could either way on this whole thing, I really meant it. I don’t disagree with most of what you said and I could definitely take Wells’ point that the entire enterprise is a scam and an assault on the dining public of Times Square.

But I hated Wells’ attitude. More than WHAT he said, I disagreed with HOW he said it. He sounded so superior and unpleasant and snotty. (He should be really careful, because isn’t that exactly the type of person that gets his food tampered with in the kitchens of JUST this type of restaurant?)

I’m a New York Times reader and, number one, I read the restaurant reviews to find places to actually go to, and, number two, NOT for this type of restaurant.

I’m really not a Guy-lover. I hate how he fake-pronounces his name and how half the people do it that way and half don’t. But, like Rachel, I have seen some real skill there – somewhere under all those spikes. I think this whole discussion would have been better on Twitter or as a “piece” in the Huffington post than in a place where people look to find a good place to go for dinner.

And, you're right, how could Guy NOT rush to improve what can be improved and FAST!