Heart of Darkness on 44th Street

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Krista-@-GoodiesFirst-2.jpg">Guy's American Kitchen and Bar is too flashy and doesn't have much heart.

The arrival at 220 W. 44th St. of Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, aka The Guy Fieri Restaurant, was for some the final nail in the coffin of the old Times Square, that halcyon place of peep shows and slashers, flashers and freaks. For others it represented something even larger, the decline of the state of cuisine in North America. If a man who has made his name not as a chef but as a cross-country tourist of the novelty hamburger is able to open a 500-seat mess hall in the flashiest neighborhood in the city, they cry, we've brought the indigestion upon ourselves, like one of the lesser biblical plagues.

For most, however, it lands on the curiosity scale somewhere between that guy you know who can open a beer bottle with his teeth and Ripley's two-headed calf; a novelty to be gawked at, whispered about, but ultimately forgotten.

That is, unless you happen to walk past. The dizzying array of television screens blasting footage of The Guy himself, the bright signage that even in Times Square, the home of neon overkill, is really a bit much and the impossibly oversized wood-slab doors all conspire to stop you in your tracks, like a crow stopped at the edge of the field by a dazzler. You start to wonder just what it's like on the inside. What on earth could all of this be in service of?

The promise of The Guy Fieri Experience? is, unfortunately, more than it can deliver, whether you come ready to worship at the altar or to mock. It is relentlessly mediocre; not good enough to silence the haters, but not bad enough to delight them, either. A full 90 percent of the menu items' names include some kind of booze; 82 percent are pun-based; and 4 percent are simply incomprehensible.

The Guy-talian Nachos, for instance, are allegedly Italian because they are topped with pepperoni and sweet Italian sausage. Then why, for the love of syntactical logic, are they served on fried wonton skins? Sangria-glazed shrimp are sweet, sticky and vaguely pink-tinted, as virgin as an Amish 16-year-old. Many dishes come with a long, unasked-for backstory; the Vegas Fries, apparently, were spawned when The Guy was in college and could only afford French fries, which he would douse in a startling number of sauces. Now they can be yours for $9.95, a price that would make any college student blanch.

You may be tempted to apply alcohol to the situation in a last-ditch effort to add a little entertainment value to the meal. Resist this urge. The cocktail list is a page of lies, real drink names assigned to bastard concoctions willy-nilly. Since when does a mojito feature blueberries and raspberry vodka? Nothing is as it seems; nor, unfortunately, is any of it strong enough to lend the necessary buzz.

But it's the service staff that may be the most unsettling part of the whole endeavor. These poor souls have been subjected to the most rigorous training program/brainwashing camp ever devised for hospitality staff-the lesson on pronouncing the word "Fieri" alone must have been an ordeal of Clockwork Orange-level programming. One waiter couldn't stop using the word "phenomenal"; things that were phenomenal included all of the beverages, the California egg rolls, a request for more napkins.

While the upsell is an accepted dirty little secret of the restaurant industry, this lack of finesse made little headway with our table of experienced diners. By the end of the meal, we had so subverted his script he was visibly terrified of us, and we had to flag down a passing stranger to ask him to bring us the check.

That, really, is the crux of the issue with Guy's Place: It's not for New York diners. It's not even for tourists who aspire to be New York diners. It's for the wealthy and lazy who want to eat food they recognize while being told they're having fun, a not unsizeable market. Cry about it all you want, food-lovers, but Guy's Place will probably be here long after we're gone.

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