We – I and eight friends – are at a beach house in southern Florida; half of the group is European, and for a variety of reasons they wanted to come here. I feel like saying “don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts,” even though I’m not.
Mostly we’re cooking – and I’ll write about that – but there was a funky Caribbean restaurant we wanted to check out last night, only it was closed. By the time we discovered this, it was psychologically if not literally too late to cook, so I was assigned the task of figuring out a nearby place to eat. Through the miracle of Chowhound, Yelp, and other you-be-the-judge sites, I picked what appeared to be an eclectic, trendy new place by a known local chef.
Locals will figure out where I went; I’m trying not to damage a perhaps well-deserved reputation on the basis of one visit to an obviously new and still-wrinkly restaurant. But there were some disturbing trends here, and they’re widespread, not only nationally but globally. (Fortunately they’re not nearly universal. But they’re scary.)
What I’d like to see, never again, are things like this:
- A list of 20 beers, without a single person in the restaurant who knows anything about any of them. Not the server, not the bartender, not the non-existent sommelier. (By contrast, at a decent new NYC restaurant a week ago, when I asked about the differences among three beers, I was instantly brought two ounces of each, no charge.)
- An insistence by the hostess that the chairs at the communal table were comfortable – before we sat in them – as an obvious ploy to discourage us from immediately complaining that they were not only uncomfortable but unsittable. (We were moved.) I cannot for the life of me figure out the advantage of this.
- The constant harping of the server that the self-declared unusual menu (it comprised primarily small plates, which I think we’ve all seen before, unless we’re visiting from Labrador) meant that we had to order a great deal, as if somehow we could not judge the relationship between our appetites and the serving sizes. “We encourage you to order freely, as much as you want,” were among her last words before taking our order. Wow. Really?
- The presence of the chef/owner, who never once took the time to ask any patron how things were going, but instead watched his staff, without actually touching, cooking, or tasting the food.
- Not very good food at high prices. So it goes, but one’s tolerance for not-very-good food is in inverse proportion to prices. When small plates are nine and twelve dollars, and they’re really small, even the good ones tick you off. (When you buy a double cheeseburger for 99 cents, you’re not expecting much so you’re less likely to get aggravated.)
- A more-or-less permanent reminder that one isn’t eating “enough,” as in the not-very-subtle “Are you ready to order more?” To continue the McDonald’s analogy, we all know that Mickey D’s makes money on soda (super cheap to produce, and overpriced) and fries (cheap, and perhaps “fairly” priced) than it does on burgers (relatively expensive to produce, despite subsidies, and relatively inexpensive to buy, thanks to subsidies and a loss-leader strategy), but when you order a 99 cent double cheeseburger, you’re only asked once if you’d like fries with that. When your cheeseburger arrives, you’re not reminded that fries remain an option.
- Tuna tartare in sweet ice cream cones. Pre-cooked and re-heated Brussels sprouts with dried out bacon. Tasteless crab “po’ boys.” Miserly – really miserly, like pathetic – portions of those few things that were actually worth eating. God save us from the nine dollar beet.
- An intentionally noisy room. Hard surfaces, loud music, an open kitchen … this produces noise. It works for Ssam Bar, I suppose it works for TGIFridays, but guess what – it doesn’t work everywhere, and especially not when the median age of your crowd is like 80. This is South Florida, not South Beach.
- An overall attitude indicating that we were lucky to be there. Perhaps this is paranoia but I doubt it.
- Bad art masquerading as hip. But hey – I can’t judge that.