Ever since the New York Times’s restaurant critic Pete Wells published his searing critique this week of Thomas Keller’s fine-dining beacon Per Se, the Internet has been ablaze with schadenfreude — or, as some nicknamed it, “chowdenfreude,” meaning pleasure derived from a restaurant’s misfortune.
The review closes with the critic stripping two of the restaurant’s previously awarded four stars and the suggestion that four-hour, multicourse dining may be out of step with today’s food trends.
In stories about the scathing review, fans of Keller’s came to his defense, while others delighted in the expensive restaurant getting ripped apart.
How the screed will influence the restaurant’s future popularity or service is yet to be determined. But it’s certainly not the first time a food critic’s wrath has garnered so much attention online.
Here are six restaurant reviews that took the Internet by storm.
Guy Fieri in his Vegas Kitchen at The Linq. (Photo: AP)
New York Times’s Review of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar
In a review titled “As Not Seen on TV,” Wells took on one of the Food Network’s most popular stars: Guy Fieri, whose Times Square restaurant, Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, left the critic questioning nearly everything he had eaten and experienced. As a result, Wells demanded that the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” host provide answers to his many queries.
“Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are?” Wells asked. “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?”
New York Times’s Review of Per Se
Wells’s viral takedown “At Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Slips and Stumbles,” asserted that not only is the nine-course meal presented by current chef de cuisine Eli Kaimeh undeserving of its $325 price tag — “I don’t know what could have saved limp, dispiriting yam dumplings, but it definitely wasn’t a lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon as murky and appealing as bong water” — but that Keller’s staff is often absent and unaccommodating, writing, “Servers sometimes give you the feeling that you work for them, and your job is to feel lucky to receive whatever you get.“
Photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images
New York Times’s Review of Ninja
Wells isn’t alone in his fury. In fact, the Times has a rich archive of moments when Big Apple dining establishments were given a dressing down. Former restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s sneering 2005 review, titled “Yelping Warriors, and Rocks in the Broth,” of the 6,000-square foot subterranean sushi lounge Ninja is one such gem.
“Ninja acts like a Disney ride — Space Mountain under a hailstorm of run-of-the-mill or unappealing sushi — but charges like Le Bernardin. It has a stringy crab dish served on a grapefruit that belches smoke, a ridiculous dessert in the shape of a frog and a whole lot of nerve,” Bruni fumed.
Photo: Getty Images
Guardian’s Review of Buddha Bar
Restaurant reviews are not a solely American practice, of course. Across the pond, blistering opinion pieces are part and parcel of the food world. So disgusted was Guardian restaurant critic Jay Rayner with the offerings at London restaurant Buddha Bar in 2008 that he called for the dining hall to be shuttered in his review, “Beyond Belief.”
“One of the curiosities of this week’s restaurant — along with ‘How do they live with themselves?’ and 'Why isn’t there a baying mob outside with pitchforks and burning torches?’ — is that it should be named after a deity whose followers are famed for their serenity and yet should be capable of engendering in me such a blind, raging, spittle-flecked fury. There will be casualties in the restaurant trade as a result of the current economic turmoil; I sincerely hope London’s Buddha Bar is one of them.”
Chicago Reader’s review of Promontory
In the Windy City, a 2014 review, “Purgatory at the Promontory,” of Hyde Park eatery Promontory by Mike Sula in the Chicago Reader left owners Longman & Eagle cold.
“Burgoo, as history has it, is a game stew so thick the spoon should stand up in the pot,” wrote Sula, “but the Promontory’s, which includes quail, rabbit sausage, and pork collar, is built on a thin tomatoey broth no Kentucky settler could survive on. Similarly, I don’t know how Escoffier would handle a server informing him that his classic filets de sole Véronique was traditionally served with toast, but the Promontory’s take on it features a piece of fluke topped with a blob of acrid foam, resting in what the menu describes as toast puree.”
(Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr)
Grand Forks Herald’s Review of Olive Garden
But not all restaurant reviews resonate with readers due to venom and vitriol.
In “Long-Awaited Olive Garden Receives Warm Welcome,” a longtime food writer for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota opined about the “long, warm breadsticks” at the new Olive Garden in town. The review touched the hearts of myriad diners across the country with its matter-of-fact detail. Reporter Marilyn Hagerty, then 88, wrote that the chicken Alfredo was “comforting on a cold day” and noted that a nearby fireplace “adds warmth to the decor.”
“All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks,” summed up Hagerty. “It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.”
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