Last night we had the worst meal out. The mood at our house was Italian so, new to the area, we searched for a local restaurant offering some Italian flavors. Chicago John, if you’re reading, you would have flown the flag at half mast over this dinner. The restaurant itself was fairly large. Italian music was playing perhaps three octaves above the level it should have been. Luckily for us we were seated directly beneath the speakers to reap the full benefit of this. There was only a table of six, Rick and I, and a vast amount of empty occupying the rest of both dining rooms. Immediately, I felt the urge to go the ladie’s room then duck out the side door, but I couldn’t leave my other half holding the feed bag, so to speak. The interior wore that slightly neglected look. Decorations and artificial plants showed signs of wear and fine filaments of cobwebs swayed with the current generated by the undulating ceiling fans. Strings of LED lights inside yellowing plastic tubes were haphazardly strung here and there as if in an attempt to lend some atmosphere to the room. All in all, it was reminiscent of an aging movie star applying too much mascara and rouge in an effort to mask the passing years. My nose, used to being assaulted by delicious smells of garlic, olive oil and ripe cheeses when entering an Italian restaurant, was sadly disappointed. Instead there was a lingering aroma of Pine Sol and stale cigar smoke. On the plus side, at least someone had cleaned recently. The look of a place isn’t always an indication of the talent of the cook lurking behind the kitchen doors. In this case, unfortunately, it was spot on.
Our waitress was a sweet girl, but still my famous premonitions were in full swing when she handed me the hefty menu. Rick ordered veal. Wow, now that was brave. Questioning if the veal was good, she responded with other customer critiques saying she couldn’t comment personally as she had issues with eating veal and wouldn’t touch the stuff. Wait staff, after the hostess, make the first impressions on guests in a restaurant. When hiring waiters or waitresses, for me, it was paramount they enjoyed a good portion of the food we had on our menu, or at least were able to talk about it with some enthusiasm. As I always say, it is not good business to hire an animal activist to sell alligator shoes. I stuck with a dish I felt would be difficult to massacre, linguini with sun-dried tomato pesto sauce, Italian sausage and an iced tea with no lemon. The iced tea appeared in a tall glass served more like a Slurpy. There was no straw, but there was a large lemon wedge. Asking for a straw, I was told they were out. How does a restaurant run out of straws? Every time I took a sip, I ended up wearing an ice moustache.
Playing it safe, we both opted for the soup, wild rice and chicken. Now really, throw a hen in a pot of water, add some vegetables and introduce both to the rice at some point, toss in some seasoning and you’ve got this going on. Not so fast, Kemo Sabe. It was so incredibly viscous, the spoon stood up in the middle like a masthead. The rice was the consistency of risotto and the only flavor noticeable would have been better left unnoticed. The bread stick wasn’t bad. It was pizza dough with Parmesan cheese and olive oil on top. I’m trying to send something their way here.
Please understand I am not a restaurant “snob”. Having owned a restaurant I understand how difficult an endeavor it is and try to give those with the intestinal fortitude to stick it out every benefit of the doubt. However, if the food is “off the charts” awful, then I get upset for giving up good money and sacrificing my digestive tract to eat it. I held out hope for the entrée. It is a recipe I have made myself and I would rate it simple on a scale of difficulty. Again I got a bread stick, this one twice the size of the first, lying astride a huge dish of pasta. After tasting the pasta, I think the bread stick was there to create a diversion. In my mind this dish should have been relatively light with a sauce reflecting the color of tomatoes or at least identifiable on the color chart. Instead it was a glutenous mass of oily reddish-brown goo, with a string of extremely dry Italian sausage chunks encircling the offering. In truth, it looked like an offering.
Rick’s veal was edible according to him, not the perfect adjective to describe dinner out on the town. In the end, it was to say the least, a disappointment. What was really surprising were the prices they were charging for this sure-fire path to heartburn. I ate two bites, put down my fork and stepped away from the plate. Interestingly, she never questioned the fact my plate looked basically the same when she picked it up as when she delivered it. I had a feeling this was a sight she was accustomed to seeing. Normally I would have complained, but other than the one other table getting ready to leave we were going to be this girl’s only tip for the night. Waitressing is a hard job and with what she had to deal with she was doing the best she could.
The owner stopped by the table to inquire about the meal and we both nodded like bobble head dolls, our heads going up and down and left to right but commiting to nothing. The man looked harried and it was only one meal in a lifetime of meals for us so why ruin his day. Pretty sure the lunch crowd already beat us to it, and having a restaurant with 40 unoccupied tables is punishment enough.
People ask us often if we’d do it again. For Rick, it was his second restaurant. I was a restaurant virgin, if you will. Always the thought of owning my own restaurant had tickled the back of my mind, but having no idea how to proceed with such an idea it never got further than that. In no way did I ever imagine how much work and dedication it takes to create fine food in a nice atmosphere while maintaining quality service and establishing community goodwill. You need eight arms, unlimited energy, and eternal optimism. Oh, and did I mention a bank full of extra cash when your walk-in freezer, air conditioning unit, fryers, dishwasher or myriad of ovens or employees go south during a full meal service. It’s a process. One you find you do with much love, but at a cost.
Sooooo, we’ve crossed one Italian restaurant off of our list of to-do’s. Something I always tried to emphasize with our staff was that if you leave a customer disappointed, most likely you will not have the opportunity to serve them again.
Every once in a while I like breakfast for dinner, which is what we had last night. These were yummy with eggs over easy.
Oh, and is it me, or is anyone else getting an unusual amount of spam?? Have a great day!
Garlicy Breakfast Potatoes
3 large russet potatoes, quartered and sliced 1/2″
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. butter
8 grape tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper
Place sliced potatoes in microwave dish and cook on high for 4 mins. Set aside.
In large skillet heat olive oil over med. heat. Add onion and green pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 mins. until vegetables are tender. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Remove from pan and reserve.
Add 2 Tbsp. butter to the pan over med.-high heat. When butter is foaming add potatoes and sprinkle liberally with black pepper (or to taste). Cook for 6-8 mins. until beginning to brown. Reduce heat to med. and continue cooking for 20 min. or until potatoes are tender and golden brown.
Add tomatoes and onion/green pepper mixture to pan and cook uncovered, stirring often, until tomatoes begin to break down. Season with salt and pepper and paprika to taste.