Sunday, February 28, 2010

Restaurant rant...

Hubby and I ate at a local restaurant the other night.  We had eaten there once before, around New Year's.  The food was very good, except for my dish (that the waitress recommended) which was absolutely horrid.  The other thing was the waitress and her adamant insistence that there was "nothing wrong" with the flat soda that she served my teenage kids "It's an 'off brand'" she said, and refused to even consider getting replacements (What even happened to "the customer is always right"?) Hubby went to get the manager, who then explained that they were having problems with the upstairs soda fountain.  She got us sodas from the downstairs bar which were nice and fizzy.  It was at this point that I realized our server had lied, and perhaps the duck confit manicotti was not the best choice (It wasn't). Which really ticked me off - because when I ask a waiter "What's good?" or "What do you like?" I expect an honest answer. Don't give me an item on the menu that the chef or manager tells you to push because it's not moving or it's getting old . Seriously.  There is no WAY she would have liked that dish she recommended to me.  It was wrong on so many counts.  The restaurant had been opened for only three weeks back then, so we decided to give it another try - perhaps they had worked the kinks out, etc...

Back we went.  Except this time, it was worse.  After I tasted the salad, I wondered if the chef had even tried any of the dishes he was sending out?  I realize that taste is subjective, but honestly...the signature salad of the restaurant should be well...tasty.  When I ordered, I had asked about a seafood dish that had a tomato tarragon au jus.  I was told the au jus was already made, so they could not make the au jus without tarragon, which I hate. This kind of sent up a red flag for me.  A tomato au jus takes about five minutes to make, if you've roasted the tomatoes ahead of time.  Do you think an au jus sitting around for hours stewing on a warmer will taste better, or one that is freshly made and plated right before serving?

Mediocre food is what you expect from franchise chains. Sometimes there are exceptions, but most of the time you go to a franchise with your kids to get a break from cooking, and to get a decent meal. You do NOT expect mediocre food from a restaurant where the bill was $100 for two people, nor should you stand for it. My daughter gave an audible gasp when I told her what I said to the waiter when he asked "How was everything?" I hesitated for a moment, then very nicely replied "Well, do you want me to say it was fine, or do you want me to be honest?"

It seems like we as a society put up with sub par in order to avoid making waves. Why is that? Have we been so conditioned NOT to make a fuss? I didn't cause a scene, I didn't raise my voice, I simply told the waiter why I only had two bites of my main course. And then he agreed with me! Next thing you know the owner comes over, and wants my opinion, since he confesses he has some kitchen woes. I repeat my concerns and opinions yet again. The owner takes the check and says dinner is on the house, then invites us back in a few weeks when hopefully his chef will have his act together.  He said he'd send out 4 or 5 dishes he knows his chef can make well.

Here then, is my "beef" - Why send out dishes you know your chef excels at, and leave the rest on the menu?  Doesn't that make going to the restaurant a crap shoot?  Maybe next time I should just bring a dart, close my eyes,  and throw it at the menu - I'd have the same chance of getting a good meal.

It's sad, because I would love to see this restaurant succeed.  Our little town needs a good, Italian restaurant.  The ambience is great, the service is impeccable (except for that waitress the first time) and the calamari are to die for - light, airy, crispy and tender.  But everything else? meh.  Instead of trying to put a "spin" on something - why not stick to the traditional, and just make good, fresh, regional Italian food? 

I don't  think the food has to be fancy.  It just has to be good.  People will come back, heck I'd even overlook sub par service if the food was amazing.  That's why the majority of people go out to eat.  They want something better than what they can get at home.  My favorite restaurant in Chinatown is a place called Wo Hop's on Mott Street.  The waiters are surly and rude, they have tables put together in long rows that you share with strangers.  But the food is fresh, and GOOD.  Even at 2 am in the morning. If you are ever in NYC, you *must* go there.  (Don't go upstairs - that's for tourists.  You have to go downstairs.) I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant with food as good as Wo Hop's.  Damn you Wo Hop's.

I cook with fresh ingredients as often as possible.  Fresh meat, fresh veggies.  The only thing canned I use are tomatoes, and in the summer, I make my own sauce.  It takes about 10 minutes.  You can definitely taste the difference between fresh and processed food.  Make fresh food in your restaurant (and you would be surprised that some restaurants use frozen entrees), and people will come back.  Keep it simple if you have to.  Taste what goes out of the kitchen.  If you don't have a kitchen that can support "fancy" dishes, don't make them.  Make something good that your kitchen CAN support, even if it means changing the menu.  To me, that's just common sense /shrugs


  1. OH i loved this blog. found myself nodding my head (in my head, i didn't actually nod my head, but i found myself in a not literal way nodding my my head. get it?) because i remember as a waitress a lot of this going down from the other side. though i will say oleander had impeccable (sp?) food and service. ha. but there was an off day every now and then. i think you've inspired me to write confessions of a former waitress down in my blog journal for future reference...
    "Damn you Wo Hop's."
    and that made me laugh.

  2. Yes, our waiter actually told us he got into trouble with the owner when he suggested that a patron NOT get a dish that wasn't well-made.

    Hah - Wo-Hop has the surliest waiters, you eat in a basement at a public table, yet there are lines out the restaurant every night. You know it can't be the service, it has to be the food.

    "Cook it well, and they shall come grasshoppah" :-D

  3. I have decided I want to be you when I grow up.