After reading Peter Wells’ New York Times review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square, I felt compelled to visit it.
Wells described a nightmarish purgatory of a restaurant, using only questions. The review went something like this:
“Somewhere within the yawning, three-level interior of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, is there a long refrigerated tunnel that servers have to pass through to make sure that the French fries, already limp and oil-sogged, are also served cold?”
“Is the entire restaurant a very expensive piece of conceptual art? Is the shapeless, structureless baked alaska that droops and slumps and collapses while you eat it, or don’t eat it, supposed to be a representation in sugar and eggs of the experience of going insane?
Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?”
I wanted to taste this insanity.
Armed only with my iPhone and my taste buds, I sallied forth to New York on Friday. To note my credentials, I am the kind of person who spent a lot of time in my youth obstreperously demanding to be taken to Wendy’s to experience the “Mozzarella Chicken Supreme.” I am, in other words, a connoisseur. I believe, as Voltaire said, that the best stomachs are not those that refuse all food.
The ambience was delightful. Some restaurants have intimidating white tablecloths and are very quiet and whenever you order anything the waiter sighs as though he remembers when he was young and foolish like you and made such naive wine selections, and several times in the course of the meal they send a reproachful man with a little metal scooper to get rid of your crumbs and glower at you, and all in all you feel that you are bringing the establishment down by your mere presence and slink away before anyone even offers you dessert.
Guy Fieri’s restaurant is nothing like that! Everyone there is glad to be there. At the bar with me were several tourists eager to taste what the New York Times had decried. The waitress was friendly. The ambience was in no way misleading. My only quibble with the decor was that the chandelier that proclaimed “Livin’ It! Cookin’ It!” could have used a few more G’s. But, again, this is a minor complaint.
At Guy Fieri’s, you feel confident that you are in a Times Square restaurant under the auspices of Guy Fieri. His name hangs large outside the window. Nearly everywhere you look is a TV playing the Food Network, even in the women’s restroom, which I think shows admirable commitment.
The food tasted like food, which was almost disappointing. I got there expecting to taste disappointment, or conceptual art, or what it was like to go slowly insane, and instead there was chili and some fries with garlic on them that were very crispy (almost like hot tasty rocks!) and almost aggressively well-heated. These fries had clearly read their review, and they wanted to prove that there was more to them than that. This is why you should not read your own reviews. Their desperation pained me. I took them away in a doggy bag.
Since this is a food review of sorts, I feel that I am expected to say something dignified about the nature of the “Dragon’s Breath” chili. It was, I think, a good challenging chili, furtive, yet pensive. I pursued it. It eluded me. At one point there was a giant chunk of meat that came as a nice surprise. If I were Guy Fieri, I would have been proud to put my name on it, especially after that meat chunk, and I am not sure why he did not designate it as a signature dish.
The waitress was intensely pleasant. She refilled my water as many times as necessary. The water, I should note, was excellent, and they did not waste precious glass space on large chunks of ice.
In fact, if I had any complaint it would be that the waitstaff were too solicitous, making me increasingly skittish as the meal went on. There is nothing like asking six times if everything is all right to make you suspect that “Yes,” is the wrong answer.
Look, I’ve had much worse food in my time. One time, I went to a barbecue restaurant and there was a long black hair in my lemonade. Once I ordered onion rings at a rest stop PopEye’s, and they forgot to bread them and brought me some hunks of onion that were suppurating in about half an inch of oil. I was expecting something more like that. I expected food that was transcendently bad.
Instead, this was just food.
Even the Baked Alaska was a disappointment. I sat down hoping for King Lear and got The Sound of Music. It tasted nothing like insanity. It tasted, if anything, like lemon. It was even wearing a tiny slice of lemon as a hat. I like food with a hat on it.
In conclusion, I give Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar in Times Square EIGHT STARS! Peter Wells, if this is a poor dining experience, you are a fortunate man.