The power of suggestion

I recently read a review of a restaurant I worked at for a few months, before I figured out fully what was going on.  What’s interesting is that it isn’t that bad of a review, but the reviewer’s palate definitely picked up on a few things, and if they were ever told the truth, I’m sure they’d never eat there again.

Personally it’s an interesting look at the power of suggestion.  Having worked in that kitchen I’ve never understood why people thought the food was that great, because it really wasn’t.  This had nothing to do with the people in the kitchen at that time nor now; it had and has everything to do with the owner who was cheap to the point of willing to risk the health of his customers (the exact reason I quit):

I just had dinner with a colleague at __________ on _________ Rd. Based on reviews here, on Yelp, OpenTable, etc., and also based on looking at their menu online, I really was expecting to be blown away. Perhaps my expectations were too high — I’ll certainly own up to that. Overall, we both felt that while the meal was good, maybe even very good, it was not great. And it certainly didn’t blow us away. I am definitely planning on going back, and I’ll update this review when I do — I hope to be able to rate the rating to 5, since I can see the potential in the menu and the dedication of the staff.

First came the amuse bouche, which may have been the best thing I had all not. It was parmesan crusted fillo with goat cheese and truffle oil inside. Perfect and delicious.

We then started with a pair of appetizers — the Creamy Risotto of Fresh Seafood and the Sweetbreads in Truffle Aroma. The scallop on the risotto was cooked perfectly, but could have had a better sear on it. The risotto itself was good, but could have been creamier — it actually made me wonder when it was made. The sweetbreads were tender, but could have been crispier on the outside. Both the scallop and the sweetbreads suffered from a bit of sogginess — both should have been on the fire longer. The sauce on the sweetbreads, a “dark veal and truffle reduction,” was tasty, but lacked intensity — I don’t think it was reduced enough. The “galette of truffled whipped potatoes was the best part of the dish, although even though both the reduction and the potatoes had “truffle” in the name, I couldn’t really taste any in the dish (and I LOVE truffles!).

For main courses, I ordered the Braised Veal Pied Paquets, a recipe that the owner said has been in his family for 3 generations. My colleague ordered the butternut squash-stuffed Pork Tenderloin. The veal was tender, but a little dry. I do a lot of braising, and I’d expected the meat to be moist and succulent all the way through. Also, like the sweetbreads, the reduction that it came with needed more reduction. The pork tenderloin actually had great, intense flavor — after the amuse bouche, it was easily my favorite dish.

The wine selection is classically french, no complaints there. Although I felt like both of the wines I ordered by the glass needed more time to breathe — it was a slow night, so they probably had to open the bottles. Not a big deal — I just drank slowly.

Reading through the above, I realize that it sounded like I didn’t enjoy the meal. That is far from true — everything was really good! I wanted fantastic from this meal, though. Go look online and peruse the menu, and you will too! It is a great menu. They take french cuisine very seriously, and it shows. The service was impeccable (I especially appreciate switching out the white napkin for the black — I love that kind of detail).

I will definitely be going back. The menu is worth exploring further. I have faith in the intentions of everyone involved, and it is possible that I just caught them on an off night, or that I’m just an asshole tonight for some reason. This particular meal just left us both feeling heavy and a little underwhelmed.

First off it’s no wonder that the amuse was the best thing they ate all night, as early in the week this was generally the freshest thing on the menu (later in the week, especially Saturday, the amuse generally consisted of whatever was going to be thrown out that night).

Regarding the reviewer’s comment about the sear on the scallop, this is a kitchen that didn’t have the right pans to cook scallops, so I can understand, but if you’re going to charge $14 for a scallop app, you should have the right pans.  The comment about the freshness of the risotto however is spot on.  I once watched the owner come up to us as we were throwing out a six pan of par cooked risotto because it had turned bad, taste it then order us to rinse it and continue to use it.  We threw it out when he left the room and made a new batch.

And as for not tasting truffles in a dish that advertises truffles, that’s because the owner only bought canned, sliced black truffles that have absolutely no flavor and are a fraction of the cost.  We would throw these in a dish and enhance the truffle flavor by using truffle oil.

As for the authenticy of the veal pied paquets, which the owner claims to have been in his family for 3 generations, my only response is that his family must have owned Campbell’s because I’m pretty fucking sure no one in France 3 generations ago cooked with Campbell’s Tomato Soup (oh yeah, that dish is $28)!  Personally I thought the dish tasted and looked like shit, a handful of stuffed veal meatballs served atop polenta in tomato sauce.  And as an aside, what the fuck is French about that?

If only the poor sucker, who claims that they “have faith in the intentions of everyone involved”, realized that the owner is just out to make a buck by doing whatever it takes, including lying, using the absolute cheapest ingredients, freezing and re-freezing proteins, and using bases instead of stocks, then I’m sure they’d have no interest in going back.

For me though it’s interesting to read someone who clearly has a fine tuned palate still be thrown off course with their criticism, because previous reviewers have raved about the place and the owner has done a good job of influencing your taste buds before you take a bite. 

The reviewer claims they may have caught them on an off night, yet in another place writes that it was a slow evening.  Hopefully on their next visit they can put 2 and 2 together be willing to write about it.


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