Early Thursday morning, the President-elect took aim at one of his many favorite media targets, Vanity Fair, on his most favorite platform, Twitter, calling out the magazine’s “really poor numbers” and its editor in 138 inane characters. “Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!” Trump’s tweet read, predictably petulant and one syllable short of a Haiku.
The apparent provocation was a scathing review of Trump Grill, the restaurant inside Trump Tower, front and center on Vanity Fair’s website. It was a critical piece de resistance, as restaurant reviews go, on how the dining experience at Trump Grill—sloppily over-the-top, a “cheap version of the rich”—perfectly encapsulates its “namesake landlord.”
The headline read like a PSA: “Trump Grill Could Be the Worst Restaurant in America.” And the fantastically biting review hit a nerve, as these things often do. While it doesn’t take much to expose the president-elect’s fragile ego, Vanity Fair went about it artfully rather than gratuitously, giving readers a taste of the tragicomedy (sad!) that is Trump Grill.
Vanity Fair’s takedown joins a long list of food critics’ greatest hits. In 2012, New York Times’ Pete Wells penned a devastating review of Guy Fieri's new American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square, written as a series of incredulous questions needling the celebrity chef. On the beverages: “Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste?” And the food: “Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret…called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?”
Wells’ hatchet job went viral (some declared it “the most brutal review ever”) as the battle between the food critic and the Food Network star took on a larger narrative, with non-New Yorkers viewing Wells as the snooty East Coast elitist and Fieri as the ruddy face of America’s Heartland.
Even as the food fight was overly politicized, plenty delighted in Wells’ acid tongue, just as they’d done when Frank Bruni called Ninja New York “a kooky, dreary subterranean labyrinth that seems better suited to coal mining than supping” in his 2005 New York Times review; when William Grimes sharpened his knives over the Asian fusion at Roy’s New York, “a parade of exotic ingredients, confused and overpowering sauces, and ideas piled one on top of the other until the recipes simply collapse under their own weight.”
AA Gill was perhaps the most prolific and unsparing master of the hilariously bitchy restaurant review (in the UK Sunday Times). Theo Randall’s namesake, upscale Italian restaurant in London was “so perfectly bland and devoid of personality, it could be a late-night DJ on Classic FM,” Gill observed acidly in a 2007 review, before remarking that a pasta dish “looked as if all the ingredients had been fed through an office shredder with half a pint of water and kept under a hot lamp since lunchtime.”
There is an art to these waspish critiques, which might seem plain nasty if they weren’t so wickedly fun to read. Where the restaurants lack style and the meals substance, the critiques are an embarrassment of riches.
In the annals of acerbic restaurant reviews, Vanity Fair’s take on the Trump Grill doesn’t disappoint.
In all its gaudy, phony splendor, the restaurant “features a stingy number of French-ish paintings that look as though they were bought from Home Goods. Wall-sized mirrors serve to make the place look much bigger than it actually is,” the author writes before heading to the restrooms, which “transport diners to the experience of desperately searching for toilet paper at a Venezuelan grocery store.”
The menu, like the restaurant’s owner, “would like to impress diners with how important it is, randomly capitalizing fancy words like ‘Prosciutto’ and ‘Julienned’ (and, strangely, ‘House Salad’).” Once dared to eat roasted pig’s eyeball, the critic notes that it tasted better than the Trump Grill’s “Gold Label Burger, a Pat LaFrieda-branded short-rib burger blend molded into a sad little meat thing, sitting in the center of a massive, rapidly staling brioche bun, hiding its shame under a slice of melted orange cheese.”
One wonders if the president-elect picked up on this delicious metaphor while reading the review—if he was able to make it past the second paragraph before angrily sputtering about Vanity Fair’s “poor numbers” and its editor (“no talent!”), with whom Trump has a long-running feud.
The Vanity Fair piece is as much a character indictment of Trump as it is a brutal review of his restaurant. It flayed and provoked the establishment’s owner just as Wells did Fieri, who was so threatened by Wells’ review that he counterattacked in an interview with Today’s Savannah Guthrie.
“I just thought it was ridiculous,” Fieri said, dismissing the Times’ critique as unnecessary hyperbole and suggesting that Wells must have had “another agenda…It’s a great way to make a name for yourself: go after a celebrity chef that’s not a New Yorker that’s doing a big concept in his second month.”
Gordon Ramsay was similarly provoked in the late ’90s, before he was a celebrity chef, after Gill panned one of his restaurants—then was kicked out of another Ramsay establishment.
Ramsay was so ruffled by Gill that he wrote an op-ed smearing him in The Independent, insisting that food critics in France, where he’d previously lived for three years, were more professional than the likes of Gill and “don’t make vindictive personal remarks…I have made it quite clear that [Gill] is not welcome at my restaurant. I don’t respect him as a food critic and I don’t have to stand there and cook for him.”
Gill, unsparing as ever, responded that Ramsay was “a wonderful chef, just a really second-rate human being.”