Guy Fieri takes his lashings, but was it fair?

Associated Press Published: November 15, 2012
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Guy Fieri may not realize it, but being ravaged by a New York Times restaurant reviewer might have been the best thing that could have happened to him.

Sure, the Food Network celebrity probably laments the lashings Pete Wells doled out this week to his 500-seat Times Square ode to down home grub, Guy's American Kitchen & Bar. And he might have taken it personally when Wells said the restaurant's roasted pork bahn mi resembles the authentic Vietnamese sandwich "about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson."

Even the upshots of Wells' review probably were tough to take. Such as, "The well-meaning staff seems to realize that this is not a real restaurant." Or this gem, in which Wells references what he says were the best cocktails on the menu: "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?"

Well, perhaps "best thing" that could have happened is too generous. But it may well turn into a good thing. And it certainly is a survivable thing. Here's why.

I'll be the one to say it — people who care about food, and people who heed the Times' reviews, were never going to eat there. Never. And Fieri knew this, or at least he should have.

You don't build a three-story monstrosity of a restaurant smack in the tourism heart of New York with the goal of attracting people looking for great dining. And you certainly don't fill your menu with things called Chinatown chicken crunch, unyawns Cajun chicken ciabatta and Vegas fries if your goal is to impress with your culinary chops.

People go to the restaurant, which opened earlier this fall, for an experience. Somewhat comically, that experience has morphed into a game of, "Is it really that bad?"

It's a question that burned on the web within minutes of Wells' review going viral Tuesday night, and undoubtedly will drive traffic to his tables. Even Fieri's fellow Food Network stars were jumping on that train. "I am planning on visiting Guy Fieri's NYC eatery this weekend because it can't be as bad as all those snooty New Yorkers say," tweeted Alton Brown, adding the hashtag "wishmeluck."

And maybe it doesn't matter if it is that bad. When your business model is based on tourists, you're not talking a lot of frequent-flyer customers anyway.

Of course, Fieri does indeed take issue with Wells' thrashing. Though he has acknowledged that the review gave him some things to think about, he stands by his restaurant's food and service.

"At my restaurants, we always try to live by a very simple notion: that food brings people together," Fieri said in an emailed statement. "I've learned that not everyone agrees with my style. The Times' critic, Pete Wells, clearly did not enjoy his experience. I normally do not respond to reviews or critics, however, given the tone of Pete's piece, it's clear to me that he went into my restaurant with his mind already made up.

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