Food, wine and restaurants

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Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Alan Wolfe » Sun Jun 04, 2006 10:58 am

I wasn't sure where to put this, so decided to try Forum Kitchen and see what happens.

Got a 'phone call from a new restaurant opening in Parkersburg a while back that wanted to use my wine exclusively, West Virginia products and all that. Elaine and I were in Parkersburg a couple weeks ago shopping for landscaping stuff and we decided to stop in unannounced to see what kind of place it was.

The beer at the bar was cold but undistinguished in every respect, Bud Light, Miller Light and so on. The best I could do was bottled Heinekin.

Elaine ordered stuffed pork loin and, because they didn't have ribs, I ordered that WV favorite "baked steak," primarily because it is almost impossible to do badly. We both ordered a glass of the house cabernet, without having first ascertained what winery it came from. So much for exclusivity. It would not have mattered what winery the wine came from, it was so badly spoiled, having been left in an open bottle for far too long, the pork loin was served medium rare, and the baked steak tasted like dog food, only worse.

We were stunned. It was our worst dining experience in memory. We told the waitress that we couldn't eat the stuff, and had to leave. She asked if we wanted to talk to the manager, and I declined the opportunity. I wasn't interested in a confrontation and even offered to pay for the so-called food in order to avoid that possibility. They didn't insist we pay, but I did leave a small tip for the waitress who was clearly horribly embarrassed. It wasn't her fault, afterall, and she did everything else right.

Needless to say, we will not be doing business with these folks.

I know the restaurant trade is tough, but when you are in a business where you only get once chance to get it right, at least with new customers, it pays to get it right.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Ian Sutton » Sun Jun 04, 2006 1:24 pm

Alan
If you ever get the chance to see the Gordon Ramsay series (UK based) on attempting to turn around failing restaurants, then I think you'll find it interesting. There appears to be so much to get wrong, especially when many of the staff are on low wages and not really interested.

I think you made the right decision to call in there blind. The question is if the owner comes back to you on the original suggestion, how would you handle the situation? Personally I think I'd test the water to see if they were open to comment / advice / constructive criticism, but if they weren't I'd just walk away and let them get on with it.

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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Alan Wolfe » Sun Jun 04, 2006 2:49 pm

Ian,

I have, I think, seen at least some of the Gordon Ramsey series you mention, and I am also aware that the restaurant business is extremely competitive and difficult. Yes, there is a great deal that can go wrong, even if everyone is trying.

In this case, I do not believe the staff was trying very hard. The manager was a big, fat guy of uncertain grooming habits who apparently believed his job was chatting with the barmaid, the hostess (apparently his wife or consort) spent most of her time sitting on a stool near the cash register reading a tabloid paper, and someone who appeared to be the dining room manager, perhaps the daughter, spent most of her time with a cell phone glued to her head.

Constructive criticism? I doubt it.

Lest you think I am being harsh, from my point of view I pulling my punches. I could easily be much more descriptive, perhaps to the point of causing gastrointestinal distress, but gentleman that I am, I will forgo the pleasure. :-)

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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Ian Sutton » Sun Jun 04, 2006 3:43 pm

Alan Wolfe wrote:Ian,

I have, I think, seen at least some of the Gordon Ramsey series you mention, and I am also aware that the restaurant business is extremely competitive and difficult. Yes, there is a great deal that can go wrong, even if everyone is trying.

In this case, I do not believe the staff was trying very hard. The manager was a big, fat guy of uncertain grooming habits who apparently believed his job was chatting with the barmaid, the hostess (apparently his wife or consort) spent most of her time sitting on a stool near the cash register reading a tabloid paper, and someone who appeared to be the dining room manager, perhaps the daughter, spent most of her time with a cell phone glued to her head.

Constructive criticism? I doubt it.

Lest you think I am being harsh, from my point of view I pulling my punches. I could easily be much more descriptive, perhaps to the point of causing gastrointestinal distress, but gentleman that I am, I will forgo the pleasure. :-)

Best

Alan
Sound awful as a restaurant, however on the up-side I think it has the makings of a great new sitcom!
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby MtBakerDave » Sun Jun 04, 2006 3:55 pm

Hm. Sounds like the fine dining I saw in WV too! I stuck to the diner-type places, or picnics. Beautiful state, and cool geology, but food? No.

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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Alan Wolfe » Sun Jun 04, 2006 4:17 pm

Dave,
There are a few decent places to eat in WV. Not up to NY of SF standards perhaps, but at least decent.
Provence Market in Bridgeport
Cafe Cimino in Sutton
Panorama in Berkeley Springs
Tari's in Berkeley Springs
Lui Lui in Parkersburg (not Chinese)
Soho's in Charleston (the owner may be in jail)
and a number of others.
But, as you say, if you are unfamiliar, stick to chain restaurants you can stomach.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby MtBakerDave » Sun Jun 04, 2006 4:32 pm

Sorry Alan! I didn't mean to suggest that there is no good place to eat in WV, although I guess I did it anyway. My apologies.

It was many years ago I was there - I had gone with a girlfriend to her cousin's wedding. I really liked Charleston actually - it was my very first exposure to the south. From there, we took a little road trip to the other Charleston, where good food awaited at seemingly every turn. A lovely, memorable trip. Too bad the girlfriend and I parted - I might have had more chances to go back there. I hope to return someday.

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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Alan Wolfe » Sun Jun 04, 2006 5:13 pm

No problem, Dave. Most of us who live here recognize that we have some problems to overcome, but also some very nice attributes to enjoy. But as you say, fine dining is not common, yet.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Hoke » Sun Jun 04, 2006 8:48 pm

Alan, it still astonishes me---although it shouldn't, having been in the biz so long, and having seen it so often---when people decide to get into the restaurant fantasy. Especially when those people are a disaster waiting to happen.

But it still happens on a regular basis, heaven knows. Margie Jean cooks up a mean meat loaf for Jim Bob and the boys, and someone says "Yew oughta open up a cafe, girl!" Next thing you know, they've sunk their life savings or home equity into a scabrous little place with mediocre food and awful service and they are wondering why people aren't knocking the doors off the hinges trying to get in the place.

I made a call once to sell some wine to a soon-to-be-opened "restaurant". A family of construction worker good-ol-boys were tired of seasonal work and hocked everything they owned to buy a place that had failed as a restaurant location twice already. They put lots of money, and even more sweat equity, into fixiing it up themselves (and it looked it).

Even though they had a perfectly good functioning kitchen in the place already, their get-rich-quick scheme was to truck in deliveries of pre-done barbecue from some producer (evidently a slick and fast-talking guy who had conned them into this) so they could keep it in a warmer and/or zap it in a microwave to heat it up for serving.

And this was in the middle of southern bbq country, mind you!

When the young lady (about 20, I think) insisted on having her favorite red wine, Riunite Lambrusco, on the list and asked if there was if I had a Chardonnay sorta like that, I eased my local rep out of the booth and got us out of there posthaste.

It was sad; truly sad. Partly for the people who had conned themselves out of so much money; partly because at least a few poor unsuspecting customers that had to go in and find out how awful the place was.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Paul B. » Sun Jun 04, 2006 11:31 pm

Alan, what an awful experience. I don't blame you for not wanting to deal with such an establishment.

I rarely eat at restaurants, so I don't have much in the way of related stories to share ... but I have tried wines at a few out-of-the-way farm wineries - mostly fruit wineries - and have had some incredibly nasty libations poured for me. Many times the wines were just plain off - nutty/sherry oxidized smell, yeasty aftertaste, etc. It has always bewildered me how someone in a business can have so little "taste" (for lack of a better term) and not know that what they're making is so darn nasty. It could just be that they really have never eaten anything better and don't have a clue as to how bad their stuff really is.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby wrcstl » Mon Jun 05, 2006 3:22 pm

We are not so busy as to not have time to cook so going to a restaurant purely to save time does not usually happen. More and more we find ourselves getting together with friends and cooking and drinking wine rather than going out. The standards for an acceptable restaurant meal gets higher and higher. Except for special occassions and very good food at somewhat reasonable prices we find ourselves at home. Oh yeah, and then there is the price of wine on wine lists. I look at a wine list and then think of the wine in my cellar. Don't get me started on that!!! Seems like restaurants for either the very busy people or people who do not cook, guess that makes sense.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Howie Hart » Mon Jun 05, 2006 4:27 pm

wrcstl wrote:Seems like restaurants for either the very busy people or people who do not cook, guess that makes sense.
Walt

I like to cook and am not very busy (usually), but sometimes I get a craving for something at a local restaurant that I know they do better than I can because they specialize in it and have the right equipment to do it, such as beer batter fish fry, pizza, wings, prime rib, etc. I can make a decent pizza that's better than many local pizzarias, but can't compete with the best.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby wrcstl » Mon Jun 05, 2006 5:10 pm

Howie Hart wrote:
wrcstl wrote:Seems like restaurants for either the very busy people or people who do not cook, guess that makes sense.
Walt

I like to cook and am not very busy (usually), but sometimes I get a craving for something at a local restaurant that I know they do better than I can because they specialize in it and have the right equipment to do it, such as beer batter fish fry, pizza, wings, prime rib, etc.


Howie,
I make better pizza than any retail place in town. My exception is Chinese, Vietnamese or thai. Can't reproduce the best of these restaurants and usually they are very reasonable.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Jenise » Mon Jun 05, 2006 5:15 pm

Alan, you were very gentlemanly under the circumstances, probably nicer than I would have been. But I'd have just been a regular customer. Were I instead to have had a professional interest in the place as you did, I probably would have at least tried to find out if the chef was on duty or if some poorly trained sub was in the kitchen. Not that there's any excuse for bad food, but from what you describe the waitress, representing management, at least had the class to be distressed by your unhappiness. And that's a good thing--IMO the best way other than food to measure the quality of a restaurant is by how they handle problems when problems arise, as they always will.

But I have to ask: what's baked steak? I have a friend who talks about 'baked steak' as the only thing her mother ever made that was good, and I've never otherwise heard the term. Indeed, I figured it was one of those household-specific terms we all use to name the foods that have no name.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Alan Wolfe » Tue Jun 06, 2006 11:02 am

Jenise,
Baked steak is a flat piece of cheap beef, sometimes wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, and otherwise baked in some sort of fluid in a slow oven for a long time. The variations are endless and many of them are very tasty. In WV, if you attend public dinners like, say, the Farm Bureau Awards Dinner or the Lincoln Day Dinner, you are likely to be served baked steak, although it is not likely to be as tasty as Mom's. If one were being generous, baked steak might be called American country style bistro cooking. An inexpensive but not too forward Zin might be a good match. The one I was served was slightly crusty, the steak itself gray and slimy and, as mentioned, smelled like dog food, only worse.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby wrcstl » Tue Jun 06, 2006 11:32 am

Alan Wolfe wrote: The one I was served was slightly crusty, the steak itself gray and slimy and, as mentioned, smelled like dog food, only worse.


Alan,
That may be the worst restaurant food story I have ever heard of although am sure others could top it. Think you handled it correctly and don't think I would have inquired about the chef as Jenise mentioned. There is no help for this restaurant regardless of your inquiries. If they are still open in a year it does not speak well for area dining. The only question in my mind is do you pull your wines.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Alan Wolfe » Tue Jun 06, 2006 12:09 pm

Walt,
Fortunately I checked the place out before I sold them any wine. If I had sold them wine, I would have tried to have it removed immediately, including probably purchasing it back at retail if necessary.

I don't like to deal with restaurants. Most of them, at least around here, simply do not know how to handle wine. I vet them thoroughly and so far have been lucky.

Best
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby David Creighton » Mon Jun 12, 2006 10:40 am

hello allen - i'm surprised noone else has commented on the med rare pork. this is a fairly well accepted way to serve it i believe - often meaning as it does with beef that it will be more tender. apparently there is no longer any danger of whatever malady used to be associated with the practice - which is now one of the old wives tales. i'd like to hear other comments on this - and as i say am surprised there haven't been.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby Alan Wolfe » Mon Jun 12, 2006 10:58 am

David,

I've been brought up to believe that consuming under-done pork carried with it the risk of contracting trichanosis (sp). While this may no longer be true, and I have my doubts, the very thought of eating pink pork is absolutely revolting to me. Conditioning? Yes, probably, but now at age 60 I have no interest in trying to reverse it.

Seems to me that there are enough people with the same conditioning that a restaurant should ask how thoroughly the customer wants the pork cooked before serving it.

There may be avant garde haute cuisine type restaurants that assume customers understand that certain dishes may involved undercooked pork, but not in West Virginia.
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Re: Food, wine and restaurants

Postby David Creighton » Mon Jun 12, 2006 12:04 pm

does 64 trump 60? anyway, i am told there hasn't been an actual case of trich.... in over 50 years. the first time i tried it pink i saw what i was missing. of course all the rest is obvious - they should ask and in any event, the rest of the situation at that restaurant warrented NOT being represented on the wine list.
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