Wednesday, April 26, 2023

My Poison Pen

I'm going to come right out and say it: writing positive reviews for good restaurants isn't fun. There are only so many ways of saying a dish works, that it's tasty, fun to eat, well-conceived, yadda yadda. There are myriad ways, however, of saying something is bad. While a meal might be unsatisfying during the eating aspect of it, the glee I get from trashing it verbally can more than make up for shitty food and worse service. The crazy comments a negative review can inspire are also pretty damn amusing. 

The highlighted text below contains links to my original posts, if you are so inclined to read them.

A long-ago visit to The Melting Pot in Towson left us wondering why anyone would pay good money to eat hot garbage. On the upside, the meal provided me with a fun-to-write blog post. Additionally, some unhinged TMP stan left an outrageous comment while posing as a West Coast food journalist. That got its own blog post.

Milan was a restaurant/club that was not well-received by its Little Italy neighbors. We ate there once. The food was actually pretty decent, but our first impression wasn't so great.

"Stepping into the restaurant, I was immediately struck by a smell. No, not of garlic and shellfish, nor of long-simmered tomato sauce, but of bathroom. A nasty chlorine+potty smell. Granted, we were the first people in the restaurant, and possibly when there are more people in the place and the kitchen is in full swing, the smell isn't noticeable. But it's really off-putting for that to be the first sensation encountered. (I eventually got used to it.)

"Once upstairs on the main floor, I saw that the glossy veneer from two years ago, when the restaurant was new, has faded. The black paint on the wood floor is worn off in paths, the paint on the ceiling has bubbled and cracked, and the tables and chairs show wear. One of the high-backed chairs, which doesn't quite match the others, is patched up with white tape. I'm guessing that the intended effect of the stark white decor with touches of scarlet is "modern" and "classy." And I suppose it is. Classy like a strip club with bottle service. It's a place where Pauly D and The Situation would be completely at ease, hanging out one on of the lounges covered with upholstery straight out of a '72 Nova."

From a write-up about a quick trip to NYC, which included dinner at A Voce in Columbus Circle:

"While the first course was successful, the pici that I ordered for my entree was a total disappointment. Pici is a hand-rolled pasta, somewhat like a thick spaghetti. Imagine making a snake of modeling clay by rolling it between your palm and a table top, and you've got pici. Because they're somewhat thick and about  4" long, picking them up with a fork is like wrestling with a bowl of tarantulas. They're not easily twirled, so a fork full had random ends hanging out in each direction, some of which were happy to slap me in the face as I brought the fork to my mouth. Eventually, I used my knife to cut them into shorter bits. In any case, awkwardness was the least of the dish's problems. The sauce was a bolognese in name only. It had an agrodolce (sweet and sour) thing going on that could have been quite delicious had the sauce had any other thing going on, too. The tiny nubbins of ground duck (which could have been any meat - turkey, rattlesnake) served as a textural element only, and I couldn't taste the cocoa in the pasta. After three or four bites, I was bored with the dish. Thankfully, it wasn't a large portion, so I pushed on and finished it, knowing that a doggie bag wouldn't safely survive the three-plus hours it would take me to get home."

Restaurant Week is always a fine opportunity to eat crappy food. I have always thought that the reason for Restaurant Week is to lure in new patrons with a reasonably priced menu, hook them with amazing food, and turn them into repeat customers who are willing to pay full price. Apparently that memo is only in my head. A 2008 RW meal at Tabrizi's had a high point or two, but was otherwise unexceptional.

"This unadorned plate of worms/bran buds/Plah-Doh after a trip through a Fuzzy Pumper play set is actually Mr Minx's chocolate mousse. Or, more accurately, chocolate ganache - melted chocolate whipped with heavy cream. If it was real mousse, with egg in it, I'd be very surprised. It tasted ok, but really wasn't worth the effort of washing out the ricer."
Another fun post to write involved our 2011 meal at Alchemy, in Hampden. It was Restaurant Week, and clearly Alchemy couldn't handle the extra-ness of it all. Though we normally eat on the early side of dinnertime, when the restaurant isn't busy, the kitchen still had a problem getting the courses out on time. The first course took forever, and the entrees came out while we were still eating our apps. Our waiter, who had promised to "take care of us," never gave us a second look, even while we were juggling five plates of food on a tiny table. The food itself was uneven, perhaps too ambitious. Dishes had multiple components that were under-seasoned or improperly cooked, though the proteins were pretty good. My dessert, a cabernet blackberry sorbet, was outstanding, and the only thing that would prompt my return to Alchemy. As it was, we never went back, and the restaurant closed a couple years later. If you check out the post, do read the handful of entertaining comments.

Occasionally, friends rave over a restaurant enough that Mr Minx and I have to try it. Over the years, I've learned that not all of my friends have good taste. One couple in particular loved Silver Spring Mining Company. I suppose lots of people like the place, as the restaurant has multiple locations. We, however, were not impressed. The food we ate was...edible...but not good enough for a return trip. I took umbrage to a mixed-protein creole masquerading as a jambalaya, and a "Reuben" sandwich that had rye bread and thousand island, but not corned beef, sauerkraut, or Swiss. Additionally, it contained a "razor-thin slice of nearly-white supermarket blandness that is a sin even during the Winter, but worthy of eternal damnation during tomato season." I stand by that opinion.

Some people think I'm a food snob, but that's not true at all. I just expect good-tasting food that is properly made and falls within standards that are acceptable to any local health department. My BFF's 50th birthday party was held at the Kentmorr, a seafood restaurant on the Eastern Shore. The only thing I remember about that meal is being served tepid crab soup, one of those half-and-half jobbies that was a mix of Maryland crab and cream of crab. Apparently, someone had accidentally turned off the burner under the pot of cream of crab, which remained on the stove long enough to get cold. Soup with cream and seafood in it. thanks. 

Occasionally an otherwise decent meal has dishes that fall short of expectations. And sometimes those dishes are pretty bad. But that makes them fun to write about.

Barcocina dip
"The Barcocina dip, listed on the menu as "an Oaxaca queso fundido" had a curious fluffy texture studded with odd rubbery and flavorless bits of chorizo, topped with a whole poached egg (not fried, as the menu indicated). While the yolk was runny, the white was very firm and required a knife to cut and distribute through the dip. The accompanying tortilla chips were weeny, as if made from taco-sized tortillas, and not big enough to scoop up a decent amount of dip."

While we adored Jesse Wong's Hong Kong, a restaurant on the lakefront in Columbia, we felt the opposite about his Hunt Valley restaurant. Jesse Wong's Kitchen served various Asian cuisines, including sushi, but wasn't particularly good at any of them. At least not the food we tried on our two visits. After our disastrous first meal, a lunch, I swore I'd never set foot in the place again. Then we received a gift card from my Dad's girlfriend, which made me eat my words. Sadly, they were tastier than the food at Jesse Wong's Kitchen. Turns out the gift card had no balance, and I had to pay for the crap we ate. I was pretty pleased when the restaurant closed, though I was sad that Hong Kong eventually shut down as well.

I'm sure I've written about several more poor restaurant experiences over the years, but I want to include just one more in this post. It's another Restaurant Week meal, this time at Oyster Bay Grille. The problem was not the meal itself (which was pretty good), but the way management handled a situation.  

"In a few moments, the man who had shucked the oysters came by, ostensibly to apologize. Now, let me give some pointers on apologies for restaurants. Restaurant Apologies 101, if you will. The very first thing to do is to say, 'I'm very sorry.' The next thing to do is to offer recompense. 'Let me take the oysters off the check,' or some such. And that's it. Then go away and let the diners finish their meal. Sticking around to make excuses like, 'they were hard to open,' and 'this is why we put oyster forks out' are not acceptable. (Especially when there was only one oyster fork present, and it was jammed into the rind of a lemon. Were we to wrestle it out and then share it?) You work at a damn oyster bar--learn how to shuck a fucking oyster. Bleeding customers are not happy customers, and Mr Minx spent the rest of the meal in a foul humor. Especially when another man, presumably an owner or manager who had been randomly wandering, came around to say he saw something going on at our table. He did not offer an apology or anything else; it seemed that he was there simply out of curiosity. When each of these men returned to our table yet again, individually, to ask 'you ok?' later on during the meal, it must have been the thought of liability niggling them. It just plain annoyed us." 

OBG's chef read my post and, in a comment, offered a free dinner. Because he knows how to treat guests properly. We declined, but I had enjoyed my rockfish entree enough to request the recipe for one of our books. 

Have you had any bad meals or bad service recently? I'd love to hear about leave a comment!

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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