The Dallas Observer’s Brian Reinhart judged San Antonio import Hot Joy’s food as “not delicious” in his review of the pop-up published today. But that was just the beginning of his critique. Reinhart interviewed a food writer, podcaster, and an NYU sociologist about whether the decor at Hot Joy and its overall attitude perpetuates Asian stereotypes.
“Hot Joy is a clueless white-dude fantasy in which Asian identity and cuisine are reduced to a string of ironic clichés,” Reinhart writes, calling out the restaurant’s kitschy decor and especially its Chinese mask light fixtures. He writes:
“The problem isn’t necessarily that Hot Joy’s founder, owners, investors, executive chef and interior designer are all white. White chefs such as Andy Ricker and Tyson Cole have found ways to cook Asian food with respect and creativity. But all those factors, combined with a fetishistic interior, suggest that Hot Joy sees Asian-ness as a big goof, a fad, like the Sriracha bottles that grace its tables. And if Hot Joy’s attitude shows a shallow respect for Asia, its haphazard cooking betrays the kind of overconfidence that grows from ignorance.”
His review rips apart the food at Hot Joy as well, saying he “suffered through herby pad Thai suffocating under a thick, gloopy sweet sauce about as spicy as plain yogurt.” But he places the restaurant as part of a larger story:
“Dallas’ hottest dining trend is white people opening “pan-Asian” restaurants. This fall, Graham Dodds will open Fine China, a “pan-Asian restaurant and cocktail bar” with weekend DJs; the Arts District will welcome Musumé, from the team behind the sports bar Chop Shop; and in the former Remedy space, Elias Pope and Kirstyn Brewer will open an “American-Chinese” restaurant already cursed with the cringe-inducing name Gung Ho.”
Reinhart ends the review with advice for those restaurant on how he’d like to see them respect Asian culture, and says that he thinks there is hope for the restaurant, which opened in Dallas in July and is expected to run for two years. “Even more promisingly, on October 20 Hot Joy announced that it was bringing in an Asian-American chef, Tuan Pham, for the purpose of ‘revamping menu items and adding some traditional flavors.’ That suggests a restaurant willing to grow out of its mistakes,” Reinhart writes.