Question?

After reading Pete Wells’ scathing review on Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant, and the ensuing controversy it has caused, I have been reflecting on my own restaurant review process, as well as trying to make sense of all the drama and discussion.

Taking advice from a former food critic, in reviewing a restaurant, criticizing the food service or ambiance is a responsibility of the journalism, but to outright bash a place serves no purpose.  It is better to write no review at all than to destroy a restaurant.  This holds true for many reasons.  For one, livelihoods are at stake.  It is one thing for celebrity chefs or investors to plunk down tons of money into a restaurant project.  They know what the risk is and have deep pockets.  But the people who rely on the work as their livelihood, now that is a different story.

Pete Wells’ review would have been more credible if it were less sarcastic and smug in tone.  Outsiders (non-New Yorkers will red it as NY snobbery).  Guy Fieri has many mainstream fans who will defend his idea of American comfort food.  The tourists who come to New York City and visit Times Square will also patronize Guy Fieri because of his personality and television exposure.  The probability is that most of these tourists don’t read the New York Times as a source of information anyway.

I can understand the choice to review Guy Fieri’s restaurant given the location, two blocks from the NYTimes headquarters, the celebrity status of Guy Fieri, and all the press.  But if Pete Wells’ agenda is to place that restaurant and its concept on par with any fine dining establishment which the column was created for in the first place, he has missed the mark.  There are so many hard working people who run restaurants that deserve reviewing.

The point is not to review Olive Garden, TGIF and other chain restaurants, or to inform people on how bad the food is for your health, taste buds or wallet.  These are obvious facts to any educated consumers, much less NYTimes subscribers.  No New Yorker worth his/her foodie moniker would eat at these establishments for free.  But an indictment on Guy’s resto is more than just criticism on a a celebrity chef phoning it in, it speaks to the average American DDD diner as a whole.  Your palate stinks, you eat too much junk and if you want to eat at this crapshoot you get what you deserve.  Indeed people do.  Many, if not the majority of people, will continue to eat fast food and guzzle 64 ounce beverages, and dare I say it, vote Republican.  The truth is that people have the choice and actually like it.

I have reviewed a few restaurants on my blog, and have stopped doing so for a couple of reasons.  For one it is expensive to go to a place three or four times to be fair about the totality of the experience on a personal budget.  Two, I often find myself disappointed or on the other side of popular opinion.  I think New York City dining is a fad driven culture with many people who don’t actually reside in New York forming opinions simply because it is cool to be in a hot new place.   If the media tells them it is good, foodies will follow.  I have eaten at scores of places where I was not treated well by the service, the hostess, the food was sub-par, the wine service was spotty, and the bill not worth what I received in value.  Instead of destroying the place in some type of personal review of my experience, I simply don’t recommend it to people I know.

In this blogging age, anyone (including myself) can be a food writer, I proffer that just because one has an opinion doesn’t give licence to be mean, hurtful, untruthful and damaging in their words.  This is the problem with YELP, as no one can police the site’s vitriol and garbage, and no one can verify the authenticity of the reviewer.  When someone writes that the pasta special sucked one night, when no such special existed on the menu, YELP does not fact check, and what does that remind you of?

I contend that Pete Wells should never have used the top restaurant column to review such an obvious restaurant.  He could have blogged about it or written a piece under the travel section.  But since he did see fit to review it, then he should have treated it like he would any other restaurant.  Talk about the food and drinks critically, the quality of service and the ambiance.  His words and questions only serve to infuriate the masses of tourists who come to New York to spend money.  There are many ways to indicate to the NYT readership that this is not a place for them, and perhaps would be better off at Le Bernardin.

I liken it to how I approach wine.  I might not enjoy a 15% new world, oaky Zinfandel, but I will not bash it.  I will assess its qualities and simply choose not to drink it.  Some people may in fact like pretzel chicken fingers and nuclear blue watermelon margaritas.  A reviewer’s job is to judge the quality of the subject, even if it goes against personal taste.  There is a good probability that Pete was right about his experiences with the food, drinks, and service.  My taste is more aligned to his than someone who would prefer that type of cuisine.  But not taking a palate other than his own into consideration, or treating the review seriously shows a biased, ugly disposition.

Hopefully Guy and his staff will work out the kinks, and Pete can get it together for future reviews.