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By Grace Hoffman, Editorial Assistant

 

It’s rare to read a restaurant review that is brutal, compelling and downright strange! Pete Wells dug in and made it happen … but how?

The variety of tactics and his unwillingness to “go easy” on Guy Fieri’s restaurant is what makes this review rich material illustrating how storytelling techniques can elevate a piece of writing beyond the ordinary and expected.

Let’s break it down.
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As Not Seen on TV

By Pete Wells
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GUY FIERI, have you eaten at your new restaurant in Times Square?

This restaurant review is notorious for a reason. The sense of incredulity Wells experiences dining at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar and his visceral descriptions shine as an example of voice. Wells has set the tone here with a question directed right to the man responsible for this embarrassment: Guy Fieri.

Wells sets the tone with a pointed question to Guy

Have you pulled up one of the 500 seats at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar and ordered a meal? Did you eat the food? Did it live up to your expectations?

Did panic grip your soul as you stared into the whirling hypno wheel of the menu, where adjectives and nouns spin in a crazy vortex? When you saw the burger described as “Guy’s Pat LaFrieda custom blend, all-natural Creekstone Farm Black Angus beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion + pickle), SMC (super-melty-cheese) and a slathering of Donkey Sauce on garlic-buttered brioche,” did your mind touch the void for a minute?

Did you notice that the menu was an unreliable predictor of what actually came to the table? Were the “bourbon butter crunch chips” missing from your Almond Joy cocktail, too? Was your deep-fried “boulder” of ice cream the size of a standard scoop?

(What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense?

Compelling writing comes in many forms, but the easiest way to let the reader in is by keeping the language conversational. There is an earnestness to the kick-off of this bit, “What exactly …” as if the journalist is sitting across from Fieri over espressos and a biscotti trying to better understand what this restauranteur was trying to achieve with his “Big Bite Caesar.”

A review set up like a conversation with (or interrogation of) Guy

Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are? If you hadn’t come up with the recipe yourself, would you ever guess that the shiny tissue of breading that exudes grease onto the plate contains either pretzels or smoked almonds? Did you discern any buttermilk or brine in the white meat, or did you think it tasted like chewy air?

Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret — a lunch-only sandwich of chopped soy-glazed pork with coleslaw and cucumbers — called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?

When considering how the storytelling elements come into play within this article, they are often working in tandem. The comparison of the pork sandwich at this restaurant to a bahn mi then paired with Guy Fieri versus Emily Dickenson is an incongruent picture. The mismatched pairings are there to make a point. Guy Fieri in all his bleach-haired-flame-shirt-glory does NOT resemble the classical sad girl poet that is Emily Dickenson. The fact that they don’t match reiterates Wells’ thoughts on the sandwich and also throws humor (aka levity) into the mix!

Comparing Guy Fieri to Emily Dickinson will surely raise eyebrowsLevity is the killer app in business storytelling

When you have a second, Mr. Fieri, would you see what happened to the black bean and roasted squash soup we ordered?

Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?

Much like the writer, I am brimming with questions. Why is the watermelon margarita blue? The visual element of this beverage glowing “like nuclear waste” brings to mind the blue raspberry Slurpee from 7-Eleven. This is perhaps the least harmful association though … no one wants to consume a beverage that could be lethal.

Visuals accentuate storytelling

"watermelon margarita" from Guy Fieri's American Kitchen & Bar.

At your five Johnny Garlic’s restaurants in California, if servers arrive with main courses and find that the appetizers haven’t been cleared yet, do they try to find space for the new plates next to the dirty ones? Or does that just happen in Times Square, where people are used to crowding?

If a customer shows up with a reservation at one of your two Tex Wasabi’s outlets, and the rest of the party has already been seated, does the host say, “Why don’t you have a look around and see if you can find them?” and point in the general direction of about 200 seats?

Who knew numbers could be so visual? The use of quantification here is placing the emphasis on poor customer service. This place is huge (200 seats), and your host is not aiding us in finding our party. Wells is referencing another location, but makes plain this is his experience at the Times Square spot.

Numbers can bring shape to the intangible

What is going on at this new restaurant of yours, really?

Has anyone ever told you that your high-wattage passion for no-collar American food makes you television’s answer to Calvin Trillin, if Mr. Trillin bleached his hair, drove a Camaro and drank Boozy Creamsicles? When you cruise around the country for your show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy, do you really mean it?

Or is it all an act? Is that why the kind of cooking you celebrate on television is treated with so little respect at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar?

Most people know who Guy Fieri is, but on the off chance that you’ve been on a media fast the past 15 years, Wells gives us a little context. Guy Fieri has made his name in praising and doing junk food right. With this in mind, how is it that Fieri has gotten it so terribly wrong? This is a rough one. Fieri is being called out on his authenticity.

The context of Guy's career makes this review all the more devastating

How, for example, did Rhode Island’s supremely unhealthy and awesomely good fried calamari — dressed with garlic butter and pickled hot peppers — end up in your restaurant as a plate of pale, unsalted squid rings next to a dish of sweet mayonnaise with a distant rumor of spice?

How did Louisiana’s blackened, Cajun-spiced treatment turn into the ghostly nubs of unblackened, unspiced white meat in your Cajun Chicken Alfredo?

How did nachos, one of the hardest dishes in the American canon to mess up, turn out so deeply unlovable? Why augment tortilla chips with fried lasagna noodles that taste like nothing except oil? Why not bury those chips under a properly hot and filling layer of melted cheese and jalapeños instead of dribbling them with thin needles of pepperoni and cold gray clots of ground turkey?

Opinion is the driving force in this piece of writing. I am highlighting it here, because the writer is going a step further and offering his thoughts on how the nachos (really … how does a person mess up nachos??) could be improved.

Wells' review of Guy's restaurant has no shortage of strong opinions

By the way, would you let our server know that when we asked for chai, he brought us a cup of hot water?

When you hung that sign by the entrance that says, WELCOME TO FLAVOR TOWN!, were you just messing with our heads?

Does this make it sound as if everything at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar is inedible? I didn’t say that, did I?

Tell me, though, why does your kitchen sabotage even its more appealing main courses with ruinous sides and sauces? Why stifle a pretty good bison meatloaf in a sugary brown glaze with no undertow of acid or spice? Why send a serviceable herb-stuffed rotisserie chicken to the table in the company of your insipid Rice-a-Roni variant?

Why undermine a big fist of slow-roasted pork shank, which might fly in many downtown restaurants if the General Tso’s-style sauce were a notch less sweet, with randomly shaped scraps of carrot that combine a tough, nearly raw crunch with the deadened, overcooked taste of school cafeteria vegetables?

“Undermine” tips us off here: the pork dish was unsuccessful. Failure in the traditional sense is a hallmark in storytelling because it is what keeps the action moving. If everything is going well, the story becomes stagnant, and the audience will lose interest. In this particular case, the author is using each failure as a plot point. We are left wondering, “What more could possibly go wrong?” Wells slyly answers, “Lots of things.”

No shortage of failure in this review of Guy's establishment

Is this how you roll in Flavor Town?

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?

As long as you aren’t Guy Fieri reading about his restaurant being torn to shreds, this review is fit to burst with levity! We can reasonably assume there is no “long refrigerated tunnel that the servers have to pass through …” but the suggestion that there MIGHT be and that it’s mandatory to use is hilarious! The lengths that Wells goes to just to say the French fries were bad is also part of the comedy. Heightening what could have been a small critique makes this sentence pop and gives us a case of the giggles.

Levity makes the review engaging, but maybe not for Guy

What accounts for the vast difference between the Donkey Sauce recipe you’ve published and the Donkey Sauce in your restaurant? Why has the hearty, rustic appeal of roasted-garlic mayonnaise been replaced by something that tastes like Miracle Whip with minced raw garlic?

And when we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?

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?

Drama is created when there’s tension or a roadblock that needs to be addressed, and I can’t let this one slide by … why does the toasted marshmallow taste like fish? This is a choose-your-own-adventure scenario where the reader is invited to imagine the worst.

A review of Guy's eatery, elevated to a drama

Did you finish that blue drink?

Oh, and we never got our Vegas fries; would you mind telling the kitchen that we don’t need them?

Thanks.

 

This review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square eatery unfurls a disaster from appetizers to dessert, the elements of storytelling engage us even when there is no traditional plotline to follow.

Bon appetit!


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