Pete Wells, take note: This is how you do a scathing restaurant review.
Writing in the New York Observer, Joshua David Stein goes ham—or make that cries fowl—on Birds & Bubbles, a new Southern-themed Lower East Side eatery built around a fried-chicken-and-champagne conceit.
Stein wastes no time letting readers know what to expect from his review, going in on the racial implications of a fried-chicken-and-champagne gimmick right from the start, invoking Ferguson and "16,000 devastating words by Ta-Nehisi Coates" in his opening paragraph. He goes on (and on, and on):
Then this, more fucking fried chicken, here cheekily paired with champagne. I get it, it's high-low. Or as the restaurant says, "an elevated take on Southern classics." But really, is that all it is? Fried chicken is, when considered, one of America's great freighted foods. For hundreds of years made primarily by black women in the South, it still bears a racial connotation, under that regional one.
Five paragraphs later, he's ready to move on from a cultural critique into a more concrete complaints about Birds & Bubbles's comfort level.
Slotted into a space so narrow it feels extruded, in a basement so deep it can't help but feel penned in, the restaurant has some major flaws. But it also offers moments of real pleasure. Especially when one soldiers past the narrow bar and dining room and into an expansive back garden with tabasco pepper trees and strings of light, twinkling on a crisp fall night. Especially when one avoids the fried chicken.
DAMN. That's gotta burn. That single line dismissing the restaurant's signature dish could have stood on its own, but where would the fun be in that? Stein continues:
There was no subtlety of flavor or spice, or even variegated texture. The deep fried coat was as dark, heavy and out of season as a mink stole on an August day. Over-fried, it tasted only of fry oil. The bird was edible but barely and scarcely enjoyable.
DAMN DAMN DAMN! HOT DAMN!
Speaking of HOT DAMN! (and also of burns), an absolute gem of a line is inspired by a terrifying run-in with a pimento cheese croquette. (Emphasis mine.)
Pimento cheese croquettes ($7), the appetizer that sounds most appetizing, were the size of golf balls, nearly as hard and even more dangerous. Biting into one, which took force, yielded an explosion of scorching hot pimento cheese, which had liquefied into a dangerous pool in the bottom. Often dishes aren't delicious but they're rarely as treacherous. It was my Liebeck vs. McDonald's moment.
Is it possible to fall in love with a sentence?
Stein does dole out a few words of praise, giving a nod to the well-chosen wine list, and the aforementioned outdoor space. He also praises chef Sarah Simmons's treatment of shrimp, noting that her crawfish étouffée, shrimp and grits, and shrimp rillette are all winners.
But overall, this is one hell of a scorching review. Which is, of course, what makes it entirely perfect. Go read it.
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