Cheerfully combative chef Eddie Huang—who finds the term chef pretentious and prefers to be called a guy “who cooks food”—had his bangs singed but good this morning by Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton. Writing under the headline “Not a Chef? He Should Be,” Sifton disemboweled Xiao Ye, Huang’s new Orchard Street spot for Asian “midnight snacks” and hangover-avoidance therapies.
Sifton’s main target appears to be Huang himself, who gets a starring role in the zero-stars review, having had the misfortune to dine in the restaurant—rather than cooking—one night when Sifton visited: “He had strutted into the restaurant with a crew of friends and taken a table in the middle of the room,” the critic recounts, “then pulled out his mobile device and started to text.”
Though Sifton has some kind words for Huang’s Rivington Street sandwich shop, Baohaus, praises Xiao Ye’s “top-drawer” dumplings and calls the “General Tso-style” prawns “something approaching a new paradigm,” he pointedly declines to print the names of the dishes (Poontang Potstickers and General Poke-Her Face Prawns, actually). Then he goes in for the kill, calling the cabbage “a school lunch nightmare” and describing the beef rib as something that “might have been made by your college roommate in a borrowed Crock-Pot.”
It’s on! Or so you’d think. After all, Huang seems to relish a fight as much as anyone. Last week, when Time Out gave the restaurant a less harsh but still dismissive review, he took to his blog, “Fresh Off the Boat,” to dis the mag as “The Magazine for Murray Hill Tourists” and slag critic Jay Cheshes as “another dude who can’t tell zha jiang from dan dan.”
But foodies who rushed to the web spoiling for a fight when the Sifton review went online were disappointed. Huang’s last blog post was an embed of Banksy’s Simpson couch gag. He sounded downright chastened on Twitter:
And later, he took to his blog, noting “i feel kinda blueballed with the goose egg,” before declaring, “I’ve been around and done a lot so this doesn’t faze me. But am I going to change this time? Yes. I can’t just wing it anymore. People are paying good money for this. It’s not a game… This is as apologetic as I’ll ever get, but I’m sorry. Man gotta admit his mistakes.”
It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong! This guy might turn out to be a chef after all.