Worst. Restaurant review. Ever.
I first got wind of what the New York Times did to Guy Fieri from a "Today" show tease Thursday morning.
When News Director Jon Byman chimed in, I had to see it for myself.
It's one of the most scathing restaurant reviews I've ever seen, one that not only takes apart the menu, food and service at Fieri's New York eatery but questions the cable TV star's motives and passion for the type of American cuisine he celebrates through his many platforms.
Fieri tries punching out of the corner in USA Today Thursday morning. There's a school of thought that says negative reviews should be ignored and that the LAST thing someone on the receiving end of a such a diatribe should do is call attention to it.
This, though, is not your ordinary critic vs. chef fight.
This is a battle between the nation's newspaper of record and one of the country's hottest food celebrities. Can a bad review in a big paper take the shine off a powerful personality's latest culinary effort? Will the public heed what it reads, or will it settle for sub-par fare just because they like the name of the guy who's name is above the front door.
Is Fieri's new place really THAT bad? Is there more to this story, since the critic doesn't only go after the offerings--he goes after Fieri personally, questioning his reason for being. That's a hint that more may be at play here.
Fieri is being pro-active. Aside from his USA Today response, he went live on "Today" Thursday to defend his place.
Fame is a spotlight one minute and a bulls-eye the next. Fieri built himself a mighty fine empire, but that makes him a target That brings challenges--like snarky reviews in large national newspapers--and opportunities, like the chance to fire back in USA Today, or to sit and spin next to "Today's" Savannah Guthrie.
That's not the case for other restaurateurs who don't have a Fieri's media footprint.
I've seen locally what a favorable review can do to a relatively obscure eatery--we used to do them on the old "Reitman and Mueller" show on WKTI. "Milwaukee Magazine" critic Willard Romantini never skewered anyone--he didn't want to, choosing instead to shine the light on local places doing a great grub. One of the local papers did more traditional reviews, mixing good with bad. I saw personally what a negative review did to a place owned by a friend of mine, a family-owned affair that I'd shared with buddies and relatives because of what I thought was it's stupendous food. Others must've agreed--the place was usually packed, especially on weekends. The place caught the eye of a local critic, and his review was, well, less than flattering. He questioned the food, for sure, but really lit into the service, saving particular anger for a waitress who didn't keep his glass of iced tea filled. The review didn't kill the place, but it sure didn't do anything to build it's customer base beyond where it already was.
My friend wasn't Guy Fieri. He couldn't fire back in a national newspaper, or do a live shot on a network TV show to save his place. Did the Times really think the food was that bad, or did it it want to go after a media icon? Is Fieri an ambitious fake, or low-hanging fruit?
It's one helluva food fight, and it's playing out in front of everyone.