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Shitshows: Wakiya

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Every day this week we will feature a Shitshow Week Review, a new assessment of a restaurant that at first glance seemed totally and completely off the rails. To give these places a fair shake, we revisited to pass a new judgment. The fundamental question: shitshow or not a shitshow?

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For the second review of Shitshow Week, the Eater Shitshow Assessment Team (ESAT) visited Wakiya. The highly anticipated Chinese restaurant opened in Ian Schrager's Gramercy Park Hotel last year, inspired countless 'Is Chinese Becoming High End?' features in the food pages, and convinced numerous foodies that this would change the face of Chinese cookery in New York. It didn't. Instead, it was a huge and decisive flop. The press swarmed the place in the first month and everyone from the Brunz to the easy-to-please Andrea Strong gave it unambiguous pans. And we have to say we weren't impressed during our original spot check either. However, in the last year Mr. Wakiya has made some crucial changes. Were the changes enough to save it from becoming a certified shitshow? Let's find out.

Crowd: The crowd is a mix of upscale hotel guests, groups on expense account dinners, and a few couples scattered here and there. You see a lot of nice dresses, suits, button downs. Because of the neighborhood, the hotel, and the man behind the hotel, the crowd really isn't bad at all.

Space: Given the hotel, the restaurant's design is surprisingly tame. There's nothing cutting edge going on here. Red, black and gold dominate the color wheel, and you can detect faint incense scent (though less pungent than on opening week). It's definitely not terrible. The two tops lining the aisles, the four top by the entrance and a number of other tables are obnoxious, while the cushioned four tops behind the beading are nice spots.

Food: Actually good. The way the menu was described to us—small plates but family style—is one of the more ridiculous descriptions we've ever heard. It's the overpriced small plates trend taken to the extreme. That said, the food has improved drastically from the opening days. The noodles didn't win anyone over, but the bass, the bang bang chicken, the fiery lobster, and the Washu beef weren't bad at all. Also, credit where due, while portions continue to be quite small, they are perhaps double the size they were when the restaurant debuted, which is a step in the right direction.

Service: The ESAT took biggest issue with the service. Our waiter was flip and uncaring. Aside from the earlier "small plates but family style" remark, the kid could care less about the table. He didn't pay close enough attention to what we were drinking (replacing one white wine with a different one) and threw down the check at the end of the meal. In fact, he threw everything at us. The menus, the few plates he handled, the check, the receipt for signature. We say something wrong, guy?

Final Judgment: While the decor is nothing special, some of the tables are disasters (see photo), and the menu is arranged in such a way as to make you spend more than you want to, somehow the Wakiya team got this one back on the rails. Last year it would be a hands down, no question, certified shitshow. But with the menu changes and the higher quality of the food, we're going to give it a pass. She's not a Shitshow.
· Shitshows: Merkato 55

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