Defending Manhattan From America: Pete Wells and Guy Fieri

Last night, or in “today’s paper” if that is how you roll, Times restaurant critic Pete Wells bombed Guy Fieri’s new garbage hut in Times Square with a zero-star review and the Internet kind of exploded over it with glee.

This food shack does in fact sound truly terrible! I fortunately already knew that I would not need to eat there, long before the Times saw fit to inform me. Which, then, I have questions: is there a service component to this kind of criticism? As you generally expect from a restaurant review? Not at all, really. You were going to eat there, or you weren’t. You likely weren’t, except as ironic torture.

So it’s actually culture criticism, and a New York-specific kind. There’s a time and a place for a New York publication to throw down some boundaries about what we will and not “allow,” as snobby New Yorkers. (Although, “businesses” and the City have been complicit in making Times Square into New York City’s Gross-Out Zone, complete with walking tip-begging Disney puppets, and that consolidation keeps the rest of New York safe. By the time Condé Nast moves into the New World Trade Center (ha ha, enjoy!), there’ll be nothing left in that American nightmare funhouse.)


This assertion of New Yorkness has some precedent, apart from “most of the career of the New York Observer“:

Back in a different age—2009!—Cintra Wilson made the case in the Times that that kind of American masstige polyester blend had no place in Manhattan.

So the gloating can be seen largely as a mostly correct kind of New York snobbery. It is defending the borders of New York. (It can also be seen in a more ugly light; of rich people harshing on poor people and their gross food and/or clothes, essentially. I’m not sure I’m totally on board with that: this restaurant is also an expensive bad restaurant.)

The glee looked like this, in general:

There were dissidents to this overwhelmingly popular viewpoint. (Go figure.)

(My main objection is that the whole review is in the form of a question? Which I find exhausting? And tonally tiresome? But that device is something I should be used to by now?) But we love a hatchet job. There’s a reason it feels good. And then there’s… this.

NOT QUITE BUYING THAT ANALOGY, though I would enjoy that happening, and it might be truer than I think.

But also. This is a case in which this snobbery is expressed at the bluntest, most obvious manifestation of Garbage USA incursion into Manhattan. This is the easiest stone to throw.

And it’s celebrated because that stone is coming from a traditionally stodgy institution that doesn’t often see fit to throw stones. Plenty of blogs have called this terrible place terrible, at great length and with much glee. But come from the allegedly esteemed pulpit of the Times restaurant reviews, it becomes “official.”

One of us, one of us, etc. But who’s us?