In Defense of Guy Fieri

Undoubtedly, many have already heard about or read The New York Timesscathing review of Guy Fieri’s new restaurant in Times Square.  The review consisted entirely of questions–34 to be exact–featuring such ringers as “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?”

The reviewer, Pete Wells, went on to insult not only the restaurant, but also Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives brand, describing the show as Guy “rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy.”  The review ended with a single word, that in any other circumstance would have seemed complementary.  But following two pages of seemingly endless swipes, the word–Thanks–only exuded snark.

While many applauded the review, hailing it a “critical masterpiece” and the “Best. Restaurant review. Ever. (No seriously: ever.),” few rose to Guy Fieri’s defense.  Appearing on the Today Show this morning, Guy mounted his own defense, asserting the reviewer probably had “another agenda” and calling the piece “ridiculous” and “overboard.”  Guy did acknowledge that his restaurant had its shortcomings, but nonetheless stood by his restaurant and food.  And to add insult to injury, word leaked that the NYT held a staff party at Guy’s restaurant the day that the review dropped.

I think I’m one of the few to side with Fieri on this one–and not just because I’m an unabashed fan of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I found the NYT review to be way over the top and under the belt.  Reading through the first few paragraphs, I’ll admit that I was mildly entertained.  But devoting over 1,000 words to snarky rhetorical questions denigrating not only the restaurant, but the low-country, “no-collar American food” this reviewer thinks Fieri and his brand represent, seemed, well, overboard to me, and certainly elitist.

Yes, the food and service at Guy’s was probably not up to par with The New York Times, or even most people’s, standards.  But I think restaurant critics, and critics of any kind really, should adhere to the old standby rule: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  That’s not to say critics shouldn’t critique; that’s their job, and there’s nothing wrong with some constructive criticism, or expressing an opinion, albeit a negative one.  What I have a problem with is unnecessary snark, sarcasm, and snobbery, and elevating one person’s view of what is or is not good food above all others.  And the NYT review did just that.

In all honesty, the review might actually be a boon for Guy.  They say no press is bad press, and Guy has certainly gotten a LOT of press for this.  More people might actually go to the restaurant, curious to find out for themselves whether the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders really do taste like chewy air or whether the slow roasted pork shank really does have “the deadened, overcooked taste of school cafeteria vegetables.”  In the end, maybe Guy Fieri is the one who should say “thanks” to the NYT–for asking so many insightful questions.

Update: Other reviewers are chiming in, and though what they’re saying is not great, at least it’s more of a fair shot. Here’s Serious Eats review of Guy’s American Kitchen.

Guinness Believer Tasting Lands in Philly

My friend Tarun and I were lucky enough to attend the Guinness Believer Tasting last night at the World Cafe in Philly.  When I first received the press release for the event, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical.  Described as a “unique multi-media event led by a Guinness ambassador,” I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But after attending the packed  event, I can wholeheartedly say Guinness has made a believer out of me.

The evening began with a lesson in pouring, in which the audience got to pour their own pints of Guinness Draught.  We learned that it takes one minute and 19 seconds to pour the perfect pint.  For the perfect pint, tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle and fill the glass about halfway, pulling the handle towards you.  Once the foam settles, straighten the glass and fill it to the top, pushing the handle away from you, until the head is proud of the rim (meaning that the foam curves just over the glass, but doesn’t spill over).

Following the pouring lesson, our Guinness ambassador came out to start the show.  Both he, and the show, were quite entertaining and informative.  We raised (several) pints, chanted slàinte!, and learned about the history of Guinness.  Some interesting facts: Arthur Guinness, the founder, signed a 9000 year lease for the brewery at St. James Gate in Ireland, which is still the location of the Guinness brewery today.  And to those who’ve heard that Guinness is like a meal in a glass, apparently 12 oz of Guinness only has 125 calories.

We also sampled 2 other Guinness brews.  The Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was rich with a decadent chocolate flavor, reminding me of a more refined version of chocolate sodas from an old-fashioned soda fountain.  The Guinness Black Lager was lighter, with a heavy coffee flavor and slight bitterness from the hops.  Both were new reincarnations of the classic Guinness Draughts that I’d never tasted before, and I really enjoyed both brews.

The Guinness Believer Tasting was certainly a success in Philly, and it may be coming to a city near you soon!  Next week, they will be heading to Washington, DC, and to Chicago the following week.  Best of all, this event is free to all; just make sure to RSVP in advance.  Join Guinness enthusiasts and rookies alike to raise a pint in your city–slàinte!

Win Tickets to the Third Annual Cheesesteak Challenge!

Calling all Philly cheesesteak fanatics!  This Sunday, from 2-5pm, City Eats and Hotel Palomar will host the Third Annual Cheesesteak Challenge: High Steaks! Block Party at the Hotel’s restaurant, Square 1682.  Chef Guillermo Tellez, along with 12 of the city’s top chefs, will present their own renditions of Philly’s iconic sandwich.  Radio host Matt Cord and cheesesteak legend Tony Luke will judge the challenge and crown the cheesesteak champion.  Attendees will have a chance to sample each chef’s version, as well as local beers from Victory Brewing.  Live entertainment will also be provided by Technical V.

Tickets are on sale for $17, with proceeds going to Philadelphia Academies, a nonprofit organization that aims to expand life and economic options for Philadelphia public school students through career-focused programming.

But thanks to City Eats, The Unpaid Gourmet has free tickets to give away to 3 lucky readers!  To win a free ticket, be one of the first 3 readers to leave a comment, telling me your favorite spot for cheesesteaks in Philly. Each winner will receive 2 tickets to Sunday’s challenge and will be notified by email.  Good luck!

Serious Coffee at Shanghai’s Sumerian

Though replete with cafes, Shanghai is still lacking in serious, high quality coffee. Sumerian, which opened this past summer in Jing’An District, successfully fills that void with its emphasis on Fair Trade beans and sophisticated brewing techniques.  All of the beans are roasted in-house by owner David Seminsky, ensuring a fresh, high quality cup of coffee.

Upon walking into Sumerian, patrons are greeted with a sunny, clean, modern interior.  The main counter is lined with Japanese siphons, which slowly drip intense cold brews, perfect for iced coffee.  There is also a small pastry case filled with delectable looking baked goods, some of which are imported from the U.S.

On all of my visits to Sumerian, I ordered the Kyoto ice drip coffee (RMB 32).  Smooth and light, with pronounced chocolate flavors and subtle sweetness, it was the perfect iced coffee.  Even now that I am back in Philly, the land of La Colombe, I still dream about the Kyoto iced coffee from Sumerian.

Though coffee junkies like me are certainly willing to pay a premium for great coffee, many customers in Shanghai are more reluctant.  In an effort to educate their customer base on the virtues of third wave coffee, Sumerian offers weekly cupping classes on Saturday afternoons, from 12-2pm.  Cupping, which is very popular here in the States, is quite rare in Shanghai, and I’m really glad that Sumerian provides this service.  For coffee geeks seeking serious coffee in Shanghai, look no further than Sumerian.

Sumerian
415 Shanxi Bei Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu
陕西北路415号,近北京西路
136-2174-0969

Ci Fan Tuan: Shanghai’s Breakfast of Champions

You may be thinking to yourself, “What on earth is that ungodly glob in the photo?!”  Well, my friends, that ungodly glob is called ci fan tuan, or rice roll, and is one of the tastiest breakfast foods that I encountered in Shanghai.

Chinese breakfasts tend to be savory rather than sweet, with the most ubiquitous dishes including rice porridge, or zhou, topped with thousand year old egg and scallions; long fried crullers called you tiao dipped in warm soy milk; and baozi, steamed buns filled with pork or fresh veggies.  For the longest time, my favorite Chinese breakfast dish was jian bing, Beijing’s version of a crepe, which typically comes with a fried egg, scallions, garlic, a crispy tofu sheet, hoisin sauce,and lots of chile sauce inside.  However, upon discovering ci fan tuan in Shanghai, I might venture to say that jian bing has been dethrowned of its top spot in my Chinese breakfast food hierarchy.      

When sampling ci fan tuan, it’s important to note that not all of them are created equal.  The best one that I ate in Shanghai was at a stand located behind Plaza 66, on Fengyang Lu and Xikang Lu.  You’ll recognize the stand by the long line of customers every morning, awaiting their beloved ci fan tuan.  

Ci fan tuan is definitely an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of a dish.  Warm glutinous rice engulfs a whole soy braised egg, pork floss, ground pork,  black bean sauce, and a fried cruller.  It’s a symphony of flavors and textures in every bite: saltiness from the black bean sauce, sweetness from the pork floss, crunch from the cruller, and chewiness from the rice.  With so many ingredients and flavors, ci fan tuan is certainly filling and delicious, which makes it Shanghai’s reigning breakfast of champions in my mind.

To find ci fan tuan in Shanghai, go early in the morning and look for the roadside stands and small family-owned shops serving breakfast foods.  My favorite stand is behind Plaza 66 on Fengyang Lu and Xikang Lu, and there is another one on Xiangyang Bei Lu and Fuxin Lu.

Beaujolais & Burgers Really Are A Perfect Pair

I was lucky enough to attend the press tasting for last week’s Beaujolais & Burgers event, hosted by renowned wine merchant Georges DuBoeuf and wine writer Mark Oldman.  The event was quite a success, proving that Beaujolais and burgers really are a fantastic pairing.

The press tasting was very comprehensive, as we sampled 6 varieties of Beaujolais, paired with burgers from 4 excellent Philly restaurants: Alfa, 500 Degrees, Rouge, and Spiga.

Mark Oldman began the tasting by explaining Beaujolais’ flavor profile, describing it as  a white wine straddling a red, meaning it has a lighter mouthfeel than most reds because it has less tannins. Beaujolais also tends to be very fruit forward, with notes of raspberry, cherry, strawberry, and black currant.  Unlike most reds, Oldman also recommends serving Beaujolais chilled, further highlighting its similarity to whites.

Of the 6 wines we tried, my favorites were the Georges Duboeuf Brouilly 2011 (pronounced broo-ey, $14.99) and the Georges Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Jean Descombes 2011 ($15.99).  Both are examples of affordable yet high quality wine.  The Brouilly was on the lighter, refreshing side, while the Morgon was full to medium bodied, with more pronounced red and black fruit flavors.  Both the Brouiily and Morgon paired nicely with the burgers, cutting through the richness of the meat.

And now, onto the burgers.  My two favorites of the night were 500 Degrees and Spiga.  500 Degrees cooked their burger to perfection, leaving the thick patty a lovely pink in the middle.  Topped with arugula, bacon, tomato, and a sunny side up egg, it was definitely very decadent and not for the faint of heart.  Spiga’s burger offered a completely burger experience.  With a much thinner patty, topped with herbed goat cheese, a sweet caramelized onion mostarda, applewood bacons, and sauteed spinach, Spiga’s burger was a success.  I was surprised that all of the accompaniments worked so well together, and did not overwhelm the flavor of the burger.  For more detailed descriptions of all the burgers, see Two Eat Philly and Burger Eaters‘ takes on the evening, who frankly, might be better qualified to evaluate these burgers than me!

Many thanks to Georges Duboeuf, and CRT/tanaka for organizing such a great event!  I definitely left with a much deeper knowledge of the wonders of burgers and Beaujolais

Win Tickets to Beaujolais & Burgers in Philly!

Attention all Unpaid Gourmet readers, burger and Beaujolais lovers in Philly!  On Monday, September 17, Georges Duboeuf, the renowned “King of Beaujolais,” will host a fabulous event in Philadelphia that is sure to excite foodies and winos alike–Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais & Burgers: A Night of the Perfect Pairing.  Wine expert and prolific writer Mark Oldman will lead the tasting at The Walnut Room, which will feature handcrafted gourmet burgers from 500 Degrees paired with different Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais wines.

While tickets for the event are $15, with all proceeds benefiting the hunger relief organization Philabundance, ten lucky readers of The Unpaid Gourmet can win tickets right here!  How can you win a coveted ticket to the event?  Join my Facebook page between September 7-10, and you’ll be entered to win.  Winners will be notified via email or Facebook message on September 11.

For more information about Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais & Burgers: A Night of the Perfect Pairing or to purchase tickets, click here.  Start liking The Unpaid Gourmet on Facebook to enter the giveaway, and I look forward to seeing all of you at the event!