Like most of you, I am sure, I enjoy going out to eat. I like having someone else cook for me, of course, and I take advantage of the opportunity to try something new or get ideas for my own cooking. But lately, the dining experience has been decidedly lacking.
I don’t know if it’s due to the fact that more people are eating out and so there are more sub-par restaurants overall or just the general decline in customer service, but I haven’t had a good restaurant experience in a while. The service has been lackluster and careless, the menus are uninteresting, and worst of all, the food just isn’t very good. Considering what we have to pay for a meal at even an average restaurant, I feel cheated.
My biggest beef, besides bad or boring food, is with restaurants that act like it’s an imposition for you to eat there. I go out for a nice experience, usually with friends, as much as for good food. I want to feel like the restaurant values my business and is concerned with treating me well while I am there. If the restaurant staff attend to the customer with care, I believe, they will also attend to the food in the same way.
I also hate waiting more than 15-20 minutes for a table. The hour-long wait is completely unacceptable, especially since more and more restaurants refuse to take reservations. I suspect they are cultivating an air of exclusivity by always having a long wait — it’s difficult to get in, so it must be “hot.” I don’t care about what’s trendy; I care about having a good meal. And if I do call ahead and try to make a reservation, and the restaurant doesn’t take them, I just wish they’d tell me up front instead of going through this whole song and dance: “What time? Oh, we don’t take reservations for that time, but we can save a table for you at five o’clock in case you’re bringing Grandma with you, or maybe you can call ahead and we will deign to hold a table for you, if we’re not too busy. Click.”
Of course, there are exceptions. Two restaurants that we patronize semi-regularly — Vin Rouge, a French bistro, and Jujube, which serves contemporary Asian food — always have great food and great service. Most importantly, I feel comfortable and welcome when I eat there. The waitstaff are friendly but not overbearing, and they seem genuinely interested that we have a nice time while we’re there. Similarly, our local Mom & Pop pizzeria, Sal’s, has consistently good food and staff who remember us and welcome us whenever we come in. But no matter how much I like these restaurants, we’d get bored eating there all the time.
On the subject, I read this article at Cooking for Engineers about Thomas Keller’s new restaurant, Ad Hoc. This is the kind of dining experience I would love to have.
Best Recipe of the Week
My brother came over for dinner and to watch Heroes on Monday, so I made Skillet Baked Ziti from my new cookbook, The Best 30-Minute Recipe. Even though I just got this cookbook for Christmas, it has become my workhorse. Every recipe I have tried in it is good, fast and easy — just what I need for after-work cooking. I was a bit skeptical about the Baked Ziti when I put the uncooked pasta, large can of crushed tomatoes and 3 cups of water together in the skillet. I thought it might turn out way too watery. But the sauce cooked down perfectly, the pasta was not too soggy and absorbed a lot of the tomato flavor, and the final 10 minutes of baking after adding cream and mozzarella brought the whole thing together nicely. It was the best baked ziti I have ever made.