It’s odd to walk into a restaurant on the day it got incredibly slammed by the New York Times. There is a hush to it, almost as if you are doing something daring and bold for walking through those condemned doors. Last Tuesday, that’s exactly how it felt when I checked out Guy Fieri’s first New York restaurant, Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, which opened two months ago in Times Square.
As we sat down in one of the immense, plush booths, I couldn’t help but wonder if the food would turn out as bad as restaurant critic Pete Wells made it seem in his now infamous NYT review. So, we started with that “blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste” and a caliente margarita. The former tasted like a watermelon Jolly Rancher and the margarita had no heat, but where they terrible? Not really. I mean, I don’t really want to drink a beverage that sweet, but I don’t like appletinis either.
But, many people do like appletinis, and it’s obvious that those are the people Fieri’s restaurant is catering to. Lest us not forget, he opened the 500-seat eatery in Times Square. As to the food Wells complained about, true, the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders aren’t very awesome and lack any hint of smoked almonds or salty pretzel, but they didn’t exude “chewy air.” The Guy-talian Nachos taste like an Italian hero was dumped on chips and heated up, and Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar salad proved uninspired and definitely not a “big bite,” but it is a side salad, and on that note, a huge portion.
Actually, all the portions are hefty, just like many Americans want them to be, and the food, while not spicy enough for me and way too sweet, is actually the flavor profile many Americans crave—especially Americans traveling to New York to eat in Times Square.
Last week I ate there as their guest, so on Saturday I decided to pop in on the sly to see if the food remained decent. Short answer: yes. The only real difference was the service, but where during the week it remained quiet, it was packed with people waiting to sit down on the weekend. And of those, not one person I spoke to lived in the city.
At the bar, a woman from Colorado and her 16-year-old daughter waited for a table, they had come to celebrate the teen’s birthday. On my left, an older couple from Philadelphia was visiting and wanted to check out the restaurant because they love Fieri’s show. The woman shook her head and commented on how mean the review was and her husband elegantly pointed out, “This is fun dining, not fine dining.”
No one in the culinary world is really standing up to say Guy’s American Kitchen is a great restaurant, but I don’t believe anyone ever thought it would be. After all, it’s cut from two molds: Food Network stardom, and Heartland Brewery’s corporate model. It’s like Applebee’s or, as the clever mock-paper The Onion pointed out, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. It’s not a place meant to be taken seriously, and it appears Wells did, or does, or whatever. FierI told The Today Show that he felt Wells had an agenda, and even if that’s true, the real question is, should the New York Times be reviewing a place like this? It’s hard to say, but one thing is for sure: now curious people are flocking to check out Fieri’s spot, for better or for worse.