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Salt Bae Burger, once dubbed New York’s worst restaurant, closes | US news

Three years after it was declared “The Worst Restaurant In NYC Right Now,” Salt Bae’s Manhattan burger joint has closed.

Salt Bae, of course, is the social media tag for the New York celebrity chef and butcher Nusret Gökçe, who became famous for bouncing flakes of salt off his forearm and on to just about anything edible, giving customers varying degrees of salt-shock.

He opened Salt Bae Burger in a city obsessed with finding the best burger possible, and the outlet on Park Avenue has received a bumpy ride ever since. It opened in late February 2020 – just before the city went into Covid-19 lockdowns – to accusations of sexism because it had offered a free, appetizer-sized veggie “ladies burger” in pink buns to women only.

“We wanted to compliment the ladies,” its general manager, Al Avci, told Eater, who explained the stunt had gone down well in Dubai. “We weren’t thinking it would be sexist.”

But the Salt Bae Burger also drew consternation as the home of the $99, gold-flecked milkshake and the $100 Gold Burger, which was encased in gold foil. Meanwhile, in terms of ambience, Eater critic Robert Sietsema wrote, “it had all the charm of an airplane hangar.”

Scott Lynch, a reviewer for Gothamist, said he’d “had the unfortunate opportunity a few weeks ago to eat several sad servings of hospital food, and everything I had at Salt Bae was worse”. The menushe wrote, was framed in metal like a tombstone “apparently marking the death of everything pleasurable about eating”.

The inexpensive Wet Burger, he added, was “actually just a bigger disc of meat sitting in a soggy, unpleasantly sweet bun. It’s also tiny, but you can’t eat more than a single bite anyway.” Lynch called Salt Bae Burger the city’s worst restaurant.

Salt Bae demonstrates his technique.
Salt Bae demonstrates his technique. Photo: Youtube

Gökçe, who would cook in aviator sunglasses and tight white T-shirts, had seen success before. The Turkish restaurant impresario became famous three years earlier, in 2017, when – through his “salt crystals bouncing off arm bent in a swan-like formation” technique – he earned more than 52 million followers on Instagram via a chain of Nusr-Et steakhouses with more than 20 locations worldwide.

But the salting technique also attracted unwanted attention. When Gökçe donned gloves to perform the salting, some wondered if that might be because the technique could otherwise violate health codes.

Also, before Salt Bae Burger opened, the company behind the Nusr-Et restaurants was slapped with legal claims ranging from sexual harassment to wage theft. Gökçe raised eyebrows after bragging about feeding the Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, US conservative darling Donald Trump Jr. and Leonardo DiCaprio, who is known for his dating life as much as his critically acclaimed film roles.

And the reviews weren’t great, either.

The New York Post called it “Public Rip-off No. 1” which cost $521.45 for dinner for two and left the diners “craving a snack”. A $25 salad was composed of “days-old iceberg lettuce and mystery greens with tasteless goat cheese and a few walnuts, raisins, and pomegranate seeds”.

The New York Times critic Pete Wells said he’d experienced more than the theatrical application of salt to his order. “I had a pair of trousers that Salt Bae had seasoned like a steak,” he wrote.

He added: “Mr Gokce has only one move, but he performs it with total confidence, and as anybody who’s ever been on a dance floor knows, that’s enough.”

Still, Gökçe’s fame has been real enough.

“Americans and New Yorkers love me very much,” he told the New York Times. He described how he served most of the meat to customers, saying: “After I cut it, I do the move.

“I go to the same table, sometimes three times. I don’t see myself as a butcher or just a restaurant owner. I see my job as an art because I make art out of meat and the move is like a final touch on this art. It came from within me.”

Nonetheless, Salt Bae Burger closed last month, and the title of New York’s best – and worst – burger is up for grabs.

Sai Woo issues vague apology amid allegations it was withheld money

A popular restaurant in Chinatown issued a public but vague apology last week after allegations surfaced that it was withheld wages from an employee and overcharged a 50-person birthday booking.

Sai Woo took to Instagram Wednesday to address “recent comments and concerns.” Although he didn’t share the specifics of what happened in his statement, he did say he wanted to do better.

“There are always ways we need to and can improve,” the restaurant said. “We would like to actively express our apologies for any shortcomings… please do not hesitate to contact us to clear up any questions.”

The message comes after Vancouver TikToker Shirley Ye made a video last week about a bad experience her friends had booking Sai Woo’s basement for a 50-person joint birthday party.

The two birthday girls paid an $800 deposit to book and agreed to a $3,000 minimum spend, Ye said. They allege the restaurant tried to withhold their deposit afterwards on the argument the group wasn’t out by 10:30 pm — despite the restaurant allegedly failing to deliver appetizers for half the room by 9:45 pm.

In addition, the staff at Sai Woo apparently made each guest pay for their set menu meal at the beginning of the night, before any food came out. When the entrees did come, Ye said they were so salty they were inedible.

When the birthday girls brought up their concerns, the restaurant staff apparently said it was the group’s fault — for bringing too many guests and ordering too late.

“It’s as though my friends didn’t literally check with the kitchen to make sure these dishes were feasible,” Ye said, referring to how the birthday girls modified the menu to make it easier for the restaurant.

“They wanted to pick the items that would be the most bang for their buck since it’s a set price anyways, but the kitchen actually got back to them and said, ‘The one you guys chose, it’s hard to push out in large quantities. ‘ And my friends literally changed that one. They were adapting this menu to make sure it worked with the kitchen.”

What’s more, Ye said the entire group was overcharged — with payment terminals charging $65 per guest. But at the agreed-upon price of $45 before tax and tip, the total amount with a 5% food tax and 18% auto-gratuity should have only been $55.

“One of the birthday girl hosts had to literally take out a calculator and show the events manager why it didn’t make sense. And that’s when the events manager was like, ‘Oops I guess we overcharged everyone $10,’” Ye said.

Her friends were able to get everyone’s $10 and their deposit back eventually, but only after making a “big fuss.”

@shirleyye_ Replying to @tcytng save yourselves the headache for what SHOULD be fun/celebratory times lol #vancouver #storytime #pt2 #restauranthorrorstories #badbusiness #badbusinesspractices ♬ Relaxing Japanese-style piano song inviting nostalgia – Akiko Akiyama

Daily Hive reached out to Ye for an interview, but her manager said Ye would not be commenting further on the matter.

Employees and suppliers say Sai Woo didn’t pay them

The restaurant has apparently also had issues paying its staff and suppliers. An employee of Sai Woo who’s been working at the restaurant for a month reached out to Daily Hive last week to say she hasn’t been paid accurately for the hours she’s worked. The employee alleged she wasn’t paid tips at all, and only got $100 of base pay despite working four to six hours every Saturday and Sunday this month.

The employee said she couldn’t participate in an interview because the restaurant has now paid her — on the condition she doesn’t pursue legal action or speak further to the media.

A Vancouver-based restaurant supplier, who spoke to Daily Hive on condition of anonymity, also said Sai Woo didn’t pay what he owed for months back in 2017. She delivered ingredients to the restaurant but said it actually ghosted her.

The supplier said the shift happened when one of Sai Woo’s chefs left, and the restaurant wouldn’t answer her calls or emails about the couple thousand dollars it owed.

“We were trying to reach out to them on social media, like comments. They left us no choice. We finally had to threaten collections… it was such a long, painful process,” she said. “We haven’t been doing business with them since.”

The supplier said sometimes restaurants forget to pay and need to be reminded, but she rarely sees businesses will completely ignore their obligation to pay.

“I’m a business, I have staff to pay,” she said. “I’m not a bank, I can’t just let you take the ingredients and then take a long time to pay us.”

From 2017 until now, BC’s Employment Standards Branch has received one complaint about Sai Woo Chop Suey Ltd., which is listed as voluntarily resolved. The ESB would not give details about the complaint.

Sai Woo did not reply to Daily Hive’s requests for comment about the allegations.

Fried food is linked to increased risk of anxiety and depression


French fries — they’re greasy, starchy and a comfort food for many.

But reaching for fried foods may have a negative impact on mental health.

A research team in Hangzhou, China, found that frequent consumption of fried foods, especially fried potatoes, was linked with a 12% higher risk of anxiety and 7% higher risk of depression than in people who didn’t eat fried foods.

The link was more pronounced among young men and younger consumers.

Fried foods are known risk factors for obesity, high blood pressure and other health effects. These results “open an avenue in the significance of reducing fried food consumption for mental health,” according to the paper published Monday in the journal PNAS.

However, experts who study nutrition say the results are preliminary, and it’s not necessarily clear whether fried foods were driving mental health issues, or people experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety turned to fried foods.

The study evaluated 140,728 people over 11.3 years. After excluding participants diagnosed with depression within the first two years, a total of 8,294 cases of anxiety and 12,735 cases of depression were found in those who consumed fried food, while specifically fried potatoes were found to have a 2% increase in risk of depression over fried white meat.

The study also found that the participants consuming more than one serving of fried food regularly were more likely to be younger men.

“The human component of this study may indicate just what it purports: that higher intake of fried food increases the risk of anxiety/depression,” said Dr. David Katz, a lifestyle medicine specialist who was not involved in the study, via e-mail.

Frequent consumption of fried foods was linked to a higher risk of anxiety and depression.

“However, the causal pathway could just as easily go the other way: people with anxiety/depression turn to ‘comfort food’ with increasing frequency for some semblance of relief,” added Katz, founder of the nonprofit True Health Initiative, a global coalition of experts dedicated to evidence-based lifestyle medicine.

Those with underlying symptoms of anxiety and depression could turn to comfort foods as a way of self-medicating, he said.

Unhealthy food and poor nutrition can lower one’s mood and progress to a mental health condition, as found in a prior study cited in this new one.

In the new study, the researchers suggest that acrylamide, a chemical formed during the frying process, especially in fried potatoes, is to blame for the higher risk of anxiety and depression.

In a separate paper referenced in the new study, the researchers exposed zebrafish to the chemical, finding that long-term exposure had caused the fish to dwell in dark zones within the tank, a common sign of a higher level of anxiety in the fish.

The zebrafish had also displayed a reduced ability to explore their tanks and socialize, as they did not swim closely with other zebrafish, even though zebrafish are known to form schools with their species.

“Zebrafish were presumably chosen … because they were already known to be vulnerable to acrylamide toxicity, and because their behavioral responses to anxiety are established and consistent — offering a source of both biological and behavioral data,” Katz said.

Dr. Walter Willett said the results “should be regarded as very preliminary, especially the connection with fried food and acrylamide.”

“The health effects of fried food will depend greatly on what food is fried and what type of fat is used for frying,” said Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, via email. “Potatoes are a concern for possible effects of mood because they can cause large surges in blood sugar and then hormonal responses to these surges. However, these surges are partially blunted by fat, which would be provided by the fat from frying.”

Willett also noted that acrylamide isn’t only produced by frying. It’s in coffee, because of the roasting of the beans, and in toast, because “heating carbohydrates together with protein can do this.”

He also said that the zebrafish “data is difficult to interpret in relation to human health because we are obviously quite different, and the authors recognized this.”

Zhejiang University researcher Yu Zhang, an author of the study, told CNN in an email that “there is no need to panic about the adverse effects of fried food.” But maintaining a healthy lifestyle and reducing consumption of fried foods may be helpful for mental health in addition to overall health.

The researchers had pointed to a recent rise in depression and anxiety worldwide, with 2020 seeing an increase of 27.6% and 25.6%, respectively. The World Health Organization also estimates that more than 5% of adults suffer from depression, globally, as noted in the paper.

It's also possible that some people with mental health issues can reach for fried food.

By looking at the effects of fried food consumption in humans and acrylamide exposure in zebrafish, the researchers had compared the two to suggest that frequent consumption of the chemical commonly found in fried food could have a negative effect on mental health.

A lack of variety in food has also been shown to decrease well-being, according to Katz.

“If a take-away is needed it is simply that overall diet quality, and the selection of wholesome foods, matters profoundly to every aspect of health — mental and physical alike,” Katz said.

Willett said there’s also the possibility of reverse causation — that people may change their diets because they have depression or anxiety. “These mood changes are, in general, more difficult to study because they may come and go, unlike the diagnosis of a major cancer or heart attack, the study in this analysis was not designed to address these challenges,” he said.

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