Prior to having children, my husband and I used to buy expensive clothing, travel places by plane, drink a lot of good beer, and eat in nice restaurants. Life has changed us. That’s when we had close to a 6-figure income for just the two of us and few responsibilities. Now we live off of half that income with twice as many people (and responsibilities). But one thing has not changed…we eat good food. For my birthday, my parents purchased a Living Social deal to one of our old favorite restaurants that we were unable to afford the past few years. It’s a local “fine-dining” restaurant that has seasonal specials. We took both kids out with us last night to enjoy some good food as an early birthday dinner for me. Unfortunately, that’s not really what happened.
I checked in on Foursquare, which gave me a ‘newbie’ special – a glass of free wine. Notice I didn’t write ‘a free glass of wine’. That’s because it tasted like the alcohol they have sitting out at one of those inexpensive all-inclusive resorts. It was the blandest wine I have probably ever tasted. I understand them wanting to have some promotional specials, but enticing customers with subpar quality promotions is not so enticing. It’s a poor reflection on their business.
Wine aside, we ordered several items off the menu: a bowl of gumbo, the nightly special (hogfish with jumbo prawns, served with a white bean ragout), and lobster mac n peas. The gumbo tasted like unseasoned beef broth with mushy seafood and white minute-rice. The lobster mac n peas, which was for the kids, was actually pretty good. I took a bite of the bean ragout, and the beans were horribly under-cooked. The prawns were slightly over-cooked. I was not pleased with this dish (that had a price tag of $39). Fortunately, I took a bite of fish, and had 6, yes SIX, bones in one bite! Kitchen manager, please! So I spoke to the kitchen manager about the bones in my fish, one of which I believe I swallowed, and he apologized. He asked to re-make that dish, but I really didn’t want to risk it, so I ordered the NY Strip Steak (the other special) instead, medium-rare. He sent out a bowl of the blandest lobster bisque I had ever tried. It tasted like…um, well, nothing. Reminder, this is a seafood restaurant, which is what I wanted for my birthday dinner. It took an obscene amount of time to prepare the steak (like 20 minutes…with two children. Oh, and Lydia decided in the middle of the meal that she was not feeling good, so she fell asleep in Richard’s arms). When it arrived, the steak was under-seasoned, the roasted cauliflower was cold, the broccolini was under-cooked, the baby carrots were under-cooked, and the potato cake was under-cooked. Kitchen manager! In true Robert Irvine Restaurant: Impossible style, I told him how I felt about the food. He said the vegetables were to be done al dente. These were not al dente. They were raw. He then said “I feel like I let you down.”
I may not have gone to culinary school, but I’ve been preparing food as long as I can remember. By the age of 6, I used to mix Grape Nuts cereal, cinnamon, and butter and put it in the microwave to make a desert for myself. I mixed mayonnaise, garlic powder, and bottled vinaigrette to make creamy Italian dressing for my salads. When everyone else in my house had tomato sauce on their pasta, I made a tomato butter sauce. I tried making s’mores on a light bulb in my bedroom. I made a recipe book that had mashed potatoes covered in vegetables around the same age, and I had my mom prepare the dish for us. I was disappointed when the potatoes were not the texture I anticipated. When I stayed home from school sick as a child, I watched The Frugal Gourmet. I listened to Jeff Smith talk about how to tuck your fingers under when you use your knife and how it’s best to use freshly-cracked black pepper. When I came home from school in middle and high school, I watched Great Chefs on the Discovery Channel, and then the Food Network once we got it on our cable. After paying our mortgage, the next largest monthly expense is food. I simply love food…and I KNOW food.
Back to the restaurant experience…I ate a few bites of the steak, and then packed it up in a to-go box. Assuming the meal would be comped, I ordered dessert. By then, I was pretty much full (but completely unsatisfied), and Bryce had eaten about half the food on the table. He shared most of my creme brulee, and Richard and Lydia went to the car. And THEN I get the bill. What did they charge me for? The $44 steak! I didn’t even want the steak…I wanted the fish, but didn’t trust that they knew how to properly filet the fish and remove the bones. Kitchen manager! (this guy must’ve really hated me at this point). He said that he was ‘willing to’ remake the fish dish…but since I chose the steak, which cost a lot to the kitchen, I needed to pay for it, which is why he brought me the heinous bisque. I didn’t ask for the bisque. I really didn’t ask for the steak. However, I paid for the steak, the dessert, Richard’s beer, and the lobster mac n peas. Grand total with tip + Living Social deal = $68. Oh, what I could’ve made with $68 worth of groceries from the Farmer’s Market. And let me add, the restaurant was PACKED, so clearly he wasn’t losing money.
Eating comes with expectations. If I were to dine at Taco Bell, I would know exactly what to expect – poor quality food at a very inexpensive price. If I were to dine at Chipotle, the food would be significantly better, but it would cost about 3 times as much as Taco Bell. However, it’s still ‘fast food’. Just better. When I went to this restaurant, I had high hopes for the type of food I would be served. The experience failed. The greater failure, however, is that all the people around me seemed to genuinely enjoy this food, which was over-priced and mediocre at best. Most people just don’t know good food.
Oh, and mom and dad, I will use the $35 you gave me to buy something that I really like.
At least I had an excuse to dress up…cheers!