It’s not often that a restaurant review becomes a pop culture artifact, but Pete Wells’s takedown in The New York Times of Guy Fieri’s new place in Times Square has done just that. Wells wrote his review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar entirely as questions. It’s a one-sided Socratic debate, which as it builds, absolutely razes Fieri’s brand.
This is an awesome development, and not just because Fieri has long stood for every dick you’ve ever hated, the guy in high school with mirrored sunglasses who called you “faggot” or “babe.” It’s awesome because this could be a turning point for American restaurant criticism, the moment it turns away from ponderousness and becomes fun. Its moment to become modern, the way it did in the 1960s, when young writers like Mimi Sheraton and Nora Ephron challenged New York’s double-breasted gastro oligarchy.
London food critics know how to have fun, and how to slay pretentiousness. Jay Rayner is a fierce writer who knows how not to be boring, something most American critics haven’t grasped. (Most American critics write by a formula that goes like this: intro-décor-first course-second course-dessert-wine list. Bleh.) I remember one savage and hilarious review by Giles Coren half a decade ago in The Times, in which he refused to give the address of the place because the food was so appalling. What American editor would ever let a critic get away with that?
Granted, Fieri is a unique case. But other Wells reviews—Talde, say; certainly Mission Chinese Food—have demonstrated a yearning to break free of convention. With his Fieri column as a statement of principle, Wells may have just liberated a new generation of American food critics from earnestly writing about the napery.
Photo of Guy Fieri with brewmaster Kelly Taylor from Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar / Facebook