Guy Fieri Times Square Restaurant Review: Here Is The Grade I Give It After I Tried It Myself

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After reading Pete Wells’ marvelously entertaining New York Times review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant, the eponymously named Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, I wanted to experience the place myself, simply to judge whether Wells was too harsh, or whether this dining experience was truly as poor as Wells claimed.

So I launched a campaign early this week to convince my five-person team at work to join me at Guy’s for a Friday lunch to remember. Much like my pre-Sandy obliviousness to the practice of folks who traffic in disaster porn, I was ignorant that ironic dining was already a hipster pastime. But an ironic dining outing, much like wearing tight pants when cycling long distances, is a hipster concession that we all must make for the good of mankind.

Our motley, open-minded crew (all dudes, as it happens) made the three-block trip to Manhattan’s armpit, better known as Times Square. Mind you, when I worked for MTV in Times Square, I had daily panic attacks that I’d die by terror or tourist trampling on my route between the subway and the office, yet neither situation came to fruition, and this was just my neurotic self at work. Typically, I painstakingly try to avoid going from my Bryant Park office those couple of northwestern blocks, unless there’s a Tony Award-winning Broadway show being performed, or if there is no other possible way for me to get to some Hell’s Kitchen destination. Also of note: Other than a trip to the Olive Garden 10 years ago when I was in high school, I have proudly avoided all Times Square restaurants. (Restaurant Row on 46th is as close as I’ll get to the area, or Shake Shack on 8th Avenue when some lowbrow accomplishment must be celebrated.)

Unfortunately, as in wine tasting, the nose goes a long way when delivering initial impressions. And the foyer to Guy’s smelled pungently like some type of food-based staleness. This wasn’t a false sense for those looking to criticize. It was very real. As real as the pigeon shit that nailed me last week. All of us prayed that it wouldn’t be our individual choice of food that would give off this odor. With that, we ignored the kitschy gift shop (trying to use the word kitsch only once in this article is an accomplishment!), and 30 seconds after our 11:45 a.m. arrival, we were promptly seated.

Choosing iced tea to drink put me in a bit of a quandary. This was because it was served neat (without ice), though there was a lemon. That said, the drink, which would more appropriately be recognized as “room temperature tea,” was served unsweetened, which was a pleasant surprise from a restaurateur whose sole purpose in life appears to be to make me die younger. (Tasting note: Interestingly, the tap water did come with ice.)

For starters, I tried the $14.50 sashimi tacos with raw ahi tuna, mango jicama salsa, wasabi, and sweet soy. What the four mini tacos lacked in size, they made up for in crispiness. That said, their insides were heavy on the salsa, ultra-light on the tuna, and heavy on sweet soy (which might as well be known as teriyaki or hoisin!).

Faring better were the nachos that Wells skewered (no pun intended) by writing, “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?” In fact, our group shared and universally loved these nachos. My only criticism was that the meat on them tasted a little funky, perhaps like the “cold gray clots of ground turkey” that Wells recalled. However, as a most-of-the-time pescetarian, I’m not in the best position to judge.

Regarding the calamari, Wells wrote, “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?”

My colleagues described the squid, in Zagatarian terms, as “OK,” and “it’s hard to mess up fried food” but it “didn’t really have any flavor.” So perhaps, again, Wells’ critique was warranted.

Onward to the entrees! While there isn’t much diet-friendly fare on the menu, I ordered the shrimp, with caramelized red onions, bell peppers, green apples, and crispy noodles topped with “Guy’s signature sangria glaze.” Yes, the shrimp were sweet. Yes, the jumbo shrimp were set atop a mound of rice (which was, oddly enough never mentioned in the food’s description). But perhaps these shrimp were too sweet. And it’s not worth $24.95, when a similar dish could be purchased at a run-of-the-mill Mexican or Chinese restaurant for half the price. But again, this seems to be the de facto Times Square tourist tax at work.

Our group’s vegetarian-in-chief went for the whole grain penne with fresh mozzerella, cremini mushrooms, onions, and a garlic cream sauce. Though he’s too polite to grumble publicly, he told me upon return to the office that he “feels sick,” citing that the entree, awash in its cream sauce, was horrid.

The pulled pork trio (three sliders, with bacon and coleslaw on top), paired with fries and fried onions didn’t fair much better. Our tester, a notable Bushwickian with a sophisticated palate, found them unmemorably mediocre. The same went for the “Big Dipper,” a steak sandwich, that is meant to be dipped in a watery “beef jus” gravy.

Now, when my hungriest colleague ordered the $31.50 steak diane, I knew he would have high expectations, as this is the most expensive menu item. Though it was served medium-rare as promised, the steak was smothered in the “brandy pan sauce” intended to accompany it. The sauce to steak ratio was approximately 3:1, making for a calorie-laden experience that was quite off-putting to my somewhat-health-conscious colleague.

We didn’t stick around for dessert.

While Wells discusses some ignorance, for us, the staff was nothing other than incredibly kind and helpful throughout. (A close friend of mine is the GM of another Times Square restaurant, and he always complains about how difficult it is to attract and retain decent staff … most of whom are actor types who are running off to auditions before, after, and occasionally during shifts.)

Regardless of how Fieri tries to position it, Guy’s is certainly a member of the TGI Fridays-Chili’s-Applebees-Ruby Tuesday casual dining family, and one shouldn’t be expecting Le Bernadin when walking into a place that has plastic American flags of the Betsy Ross variety, cans of cheap beer, and cast-iron moose heads lining the walls. But was Wells’ review over the top? In some ways he was fair, yet in other ways he was brutal. But it appears that Guy’s is already making changes: A well-dressed restaurant-consultant type did ask us some questions about our meal after we finished (and then took it upon himself to refill our untended-to empty beverages).

At the end of the meal, perhaps because of the five pounds I put on, I forgot my bag under the table. But I scarcely made it to the door before a kind busboy returned it to me, avoiding a potential disaster. That kind of attention to detail is appreciated, and once the chefs get their acts together, Guy’s will become the middle-grade American restaurant it is destined to be.

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29 Things I Learned in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

29, things, i, learned, in, the, aftermath, of, hurricane, sandy, 29 Things I Learned in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

As anyone who’s been following me on Twitter or is a Facebook friend knows, I’ve been quite obsessive in trying to coordinate relief efforts post-Sandy. I’ve now been to many of the most affected areas of New York, and I know that recovery will take years. In this list, I mix the funny with the serious, hoping that we can laugh and learn.

1. New York State Troopers need a fashion makeover, ASAP.

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2. LIPA is the worst power company on the face of planet earth!

3. Hurricanes don’t discriminate between rich and poor.

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4. There is no shortage of bottled water donations to Sandy victims.

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5. Your and you’re will always be difficult … (especially when trying to stop potential looters!)

6. People have shotguns on my sister’s street, and are ready to defend themselves.

7. People who helped others for many years can find themselves in need.

8. People keep a boatload of junk in their basements.

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9. A petition can be an extremely effective tool for change and media will take note! (Heck yes, we stopped the marathon!)

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10. Minimalism should always be in vogue, because nobody needs so much stuff.

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11. Some people will profit from disasters, but it’s okay, because it’s necessary.

12. Don’t take your favorite local brewery for granted! (We’ll get you back on your feet, Barrier.)

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13. When there is no power, communication goes old school. (I spent time distributing flyers around Long Island with the latest information, and at times, when there was no paper, people even had to act, essentially, as town criers.)

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14. You sometimes need to turn into a press conference into an angry rally to get stuff done. (And for this, I am proud of the citizens of Oceanside, my home town.)

15. People are generally good except for the 0.1% who are absolute scumbags. (People have become known as “regulars” at donation sites, as they’re clearly hoarders who are stocking up based on the goodwill of others.)

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16. If politicians try to place sole blame for the lack of response post-disaster on a power company, they should be booted from office in their next election (or sooner!).

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17. You don’t feel the pain when you’re not in an affected area. (When I’ve been at work in Manhattan, I would never know that 10 miles away there are people who are desperate.)

18. Nor’Easters suck, and so does that mid-word apostraphe.

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19. Rebuilding should be strong and take advantage of technology.

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20. We need oysters to protect us from the next big storm.

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21. Hopefully evacuation orders will be taken seriously in future storms.

22. Zipping around Manhattan on a bicycle out of necessity isn’t as scary as it would seem.

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23. There are so many individuals who have gone above and beyond their call of duty, who will never get the recognition that they deserve. (The folks who take care of my grandma, for one.)

24. Suburban areas that are incorporated as villages or cities face an easier time recovering from the storm because they have government and emergency officials on staff. (My hometown, Oceanside, only has a volunteer fire department, a school board, and a library to absorb all of the administrative efforts associated with what will surely be a long relief process.)

25. Tragedies do ignite a strong sense of community that would not exist otherwise.

26. The Occupy Movement has been able to re-brand itself as a force for tangible social good with Occupy Sandy.

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27. Don’t go swimming around here for a while.

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28. Lydia Callis, NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s interpreter, deserves a Tony Award.

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29. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is here to help (even though their name is un-PC).

NYC Marathon Cancelled: Why We Had to Protest the Bloomberg Decision to Hold the Race

When I first heard the news that Mayor Bloomberg was planning not to cancel the New York City Marathon, I was completely shocked. When I learned that 40,000 hotel rooms that could be used to house storm victims were allocated for out-of-town runners, I was more than shocked. When I learned that generators would be used for the race and medical staff provided for the runners, as people and thousands of locals businesses are still without power in all of downtown Manhattan, and residents of Staten Island are stuck without shelter, food, and other basic necessities, I was overcome with a disgust that I cannot ever remember feeling.

When thousands of police officers are used to block roads (of course, at overtime rates, shattering the economic benefits of the race argument), and the only methods of transportation from outer boroughs are sealed off completely, it is mortifying that a public health hazard is taking a back seat to a recreational event. People will die because they cannot reach hospitals during this race. Mayor Bloomberg, along with his advisers and the sponsors of the race, will have blood on their hands.

I fear that Mayor Bloomberg’s government has become an authoritarian force that is not acting in the people’s best interests. When government steps on the will of the people, in this case to benefit the few at the expense of the many, it is the job of the citizen in a democracy to stand up and do something. So I created a StopTheMarathon page and a petition (for all of you to sign and spread, my dear fellow millennials!) encouraging the mayor to rethink his poor decision.

(Should the mayor proceed, we should form a human chain to prevent the marathon from being run, but that’s only a last resort if the mayor and his cronies don’t change their decision immediately.)

Supporters of continuing the marathon have cited the philanthropic efforts that are underway to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. It’s quite clear that $500,000 coming from ING (the race’s sponsor) and the rebranding of the marathon as the “Race to Recover” is just corporate social responsibility nonsense which fails to correct a poor decision. ING should cut their losses. But we know why they’re doing it: ING, along with real estate developer Jack Rudin, who donated $1.1 million to the recovery efforts in the name of the race, will happily be claiming their tax write-offs for their philanthropy in a couple of months.

I’m not saying that they should cancel the 2012 marathon forever. But this is the the worst week ever to run it. If the city waited a mere two weeks, the event would have greater integrity, be more safe, and be less damaging to the city.

Of course, Michael Bloomberg lives in a bubble. If you were a multi-millionaire mayor of a major city, you would too.

A large part of New York City is still without power. People are lacking food and water and other necessities. It is a stark reality that critical New York City resources will have to be diverted to permit the marathon to be run. In what rational world can we justify benefiting 40,000 individuals as millions suffer? Imagine if instead we put all of the runners to work helping storm victims rebuild their lives.

In 1980, the United States boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow, Russia, because we stood up for what we believed in. Would we have held a marathon less than a week after 9/11? Would we have held a marathon less than a week after Hurricane Katrina? Of course, the answers to the above questions are no and no.

New York will always be a tourist hub. Yet it is unthinkable that there are millions of people without power, and thousands of businesses that are currently closed while a small number of people take part in a recreational activity. Citizens must band together to prevent this marathon from being run. We have 48 hours to make our cause known to the world!

Hurricane Sandy Damage: Long Island Suffering Without Aid, Local Leadership to Blame

We’ve all seen pictures and video of President Obama and New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie putting partisanship aside just days before the 2012 elections. While New Jersey has been devastated, the South Shore of Long Island, where I grew up, has been hit just as hard. (Yesterday, I started a petition to get President Obama to visit our devastation too.)

However, because of inept political leadership on Long Island, and an inability to make our problems known to the outside world, Long Island is still suffering. Just this morning, I started to read reports of looting as desperation sets in. Supermarkets are empty, gas lines are endless, and fear is running rampant. What does Long Island’s political leadership do? They host Halloween parties. Nassau County executive, Ed Mangano, went to a Halloween Party and then, four hours later, issued a Public Health Warning.

We already knew that Long Island’s Republican leadership is an old boys club with a mafia-like mentality. If Long Island dares to re-elect a person like Ed Mangano after this, then the consequences are only the fault of its electorate. The Nassau County GOP’s website hasn’t been redesigned since 1998 from the looks of it, despite being one of the most affluent counties in America. Instead of supporting a young, progressive, well-qualified, moderate Republican (Frank Scaturro), the party chose to support Francis Becker, a man with few ideas in my district’s Congressional race, just because he’s part of the establishment.

After Irene, Long Island was far from unscathed. Thus, this time around, Long Island officials should have been more prepared. Although I was across the Atlantic during Irene, and in Brooklyn for Sandy, from reading friends’ Facebook status updates it became clear that the police and local fire departments have been working around-the-clock. For that, I and the citizens of Long Island are grateful.

That being said, why has Long Island been overlooked by the media? Why has there been so much suffering with so little information? Where is the National Guard? Where are the water pumps? Where are the generators? Where is the food? Where is the water? Where are the medical supplies?

Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, is to blame as well. To fully disclose— I’ve freelanced for them in the past, but don’t expect to be doing so any time soon.) While the New York Times lifted their paywall during and after Sandy to keep citizens up-to-date, Newsday (while not of the same stature as the Times) should have done the same, because it is a responsibility of the media to keep citizens up to date. They still could have made money from ads even without the paywall.

In short, Long Island was ill-prepared for this mess. Apparently not enough precautions were taken. In the aftermath of Sandy, efforts have fallen flat to help people. It’s not too late, but there must be leadership. Who is up for the task?