Around two years ago, Nusret Gökçe – the chef/meme better known as Salt Bae – opened his namesake restaurant in Brickell to lukewarm reviews (the Miami Herald gave it two stars) and a slew of social media chatter. The opening was quickly flanked by a series of tone-deaf missteps on the part of the sodium-enchanted owner: he sparked rage with Miami’s Cubans over posting a photo in which Gökçe paid homage to Fidel Castro just days after the loathed dictator’s death. Then there was that time he entertained Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, and casually posted about the lavish meal to his Insta followers (like, “#NBD just hanging with #despotbae”) while that country’s people despaired in starvation and economic collapse. But the good times kept rolling as the Turkish chef was hit with a lawsuit earlier this year in which a server claimed the Miami restaurant illegally shared her tips with other employees. A judge upheld her claim and said others could do the same, which sparked another seven employees to file suit, as well.
Despite this deluge of bad press (and practically non-existent public relations damage control), Nusr-Et continues to exist and serve food at astronomical prices. To serve food means you have willing customers, who, in this case, miraculously, continuously queue up not only for Salt Bae’s Theater of Long Cuts & Sprinkles, but to be gluttons for punishment. In fact, the food prices are so gut-wrenching at Nusr-Et that even in an age of relentless #foodporn postings, the most salient photos trending are screenshots of those college tuition-caliber bills.
Now, we knew a meal at Nusr-Et was going to set you back hundreds per person, but the photographic Google-result evidence of heart attack-inducing checks being elegantly presented to salty meat-stuffed diners is nonstop. Perhaps they should wheel the paper out on a defibrillator? At least the servers considerately scribble “Thank you so much!” followed by a demented smiley face. Which may numb the pain a wee bit.
So naturally, people are posting their receipts in mass commiseration, a social media mix of shame, pride and catharsis.
It’s one thing to charge people $275 for a Tomahawk of dubious provenance (Nusr-Et doesn’t disclose from whence the protein came from or the grade of the cut, and diners don’t apparently care), but it’s quite another to serve $25 side salads and $20 baklava to audience members who apparently can’t simultaneously do chronological math in their head during a 2-hour suggestive-selling onslaught when their eyes are burning with sea salt. For instance, when you Google Nusr-Et, the search engine’s algorithms autocompletes the query to “How much does Nusr-Et cost?”, evidence of the embedded wariness resulting from the restaurant not divulging its prices on its website. Yet the reservations flow.
But maybe that’s the point? Perhaps the prices are the point of Nusr-Et, which exists to affirm Miami’s unmatched ability to conspicuously throw away money. It’s a bizarre mix of consumer indulgence, ego and deprivation that begs the question – if you didn’t take a photo of an outrageous Nusr-Et receipt, did you ever even eat there? Did you even go to the show? Are you even in the game, bro?
Cover Photo: Associated Press