I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but after Pete Wells’ scathing New York Times review of Guy Fieri’s new restaurant in Times Square, I couldn’t resist paying a visit to Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar to see if the hateful hype was true. After reading Mr. Wells’ litany of rhetorical questions, which, in my opinion were a bit mean-spirited, I sat down to a meal that was just as entertaining and predictable as Mr. Wells’ review.
Here’s the setup: like a car crash that attracts throngs of onlookers, Fieri’s cavernous three-floor, 500-seat eatery was packed with tourists, fans, and a few curious locals on Saturday. I was handed a pager and proceeded to wait 45 minutes for a table. After three quarters of an hour spent perusing Guy Fieri’s tchotchkes for sale (a set of $24 stone Flavor Town coasters, anyone?), the beeper buzzed and I went to the host, only to be told, "Sorry. We gave you the wrong pager. Your table for two isn’t really ready." I was handed another pager and told the wait wouldn’t be too long. Back at the merchandise wall, I watched as one middle-aged woman after another snatched up "Kulinary Krew" T-shirts — were they actually going to wear those or sell them on eBay, I wondered. Another 45 minutes passed. At 8:30 p.m., I went to the host to inquire about my table. "Oh, you can just go downstairs," he said blankly. Seriously?
So down the industrial staircase I went, past the open kitchen where a kitchen crew was busy churning out rotisserie chickens and deep-fried mozzarella sticks, or "stix," as they’re referred to here. I entered the basement-level dining room, which looks like any other restaurant that is trying too hard to not look like a Ruby Tuesday.
Still optimistic that the 90-minute wait would be worth it, I scanned the menu: pepperoni mozzarella stix with marinara ($11.95), Ain’t No Thing Butta Chicken Wing ($13.50)… sigh, it’s usually not a good sign when "hip" restaurants try to impress diners with a menu full of alternative spellings and slang. This should have clued me in that letters wouldn’t be the only thing missing from the dishes I reluctantly ordered.
The cedar plank salmon with jalapeño apricot glaze ($27.50) arrived resting on a shard of cedar basted in brown glaze, but the jalapeño was MIA. Ditto for the Salted Whiskey Caramel Fool ($12) dessert. The "fool" in the name must have been referring to the diner who orders the promising dessert of "sea salt whiskey caramel sauce, macerated strawberries, toasted house made pound cake, fresh whipped cream + hazelnut brittle." Pretty sure the other Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives fans seated around me were expecting what I was — a "kool" version of strawberry shortcake. Instead, a gargantuan parfait arrived (sans pound cake and caramel) that can only be categorized as the world’s most absurd definition of "deconstructed" if ever there was one. The woman at the table next to me, a tourist and fan of Fieri’s, oohed and ahhed at the beer mug that held my dessert. "I wanted to order that, but he [gesturing to her husband] doesn’t like caramel," she said, envious of my disheveled dessert. I nodded and took a bite — hmm…that’s funny. That gooey pale brown stuff in between the gloppy "strawberries" doesn’t taste like caramel, or whiskey for that matter. You know what they say: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me — for ordering this slap-in-the-face sweet.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something positive about my time in Flavor Town. After all, I’m a glass-is-half full kind of person, so here goes. Our server, Lorianne, was upbeat, efficient, and knowledgeable; you can’t help rooting for well-intentioned folks like her who are trying to hawk food that would never get featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
Lauren Mack is the Travel Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @lmack.