A chain of unfortunate dinners ~ Orderinny

Monday, July 23, 2007

A chain of unfortunate dinners

Some people have commented that I've been having too great a time eating all these excellent meals. Contrary to popular perception, I do not have the Midas touch to choosing restaurants that have good food, good pricing and great service. In fact, just two weekends ago, I was cursed with meal after meal of mediocrity.
Saturday night at Congee Bowery: Granted this is Chinatown and I wasn't expecting good service. And yes, we did flout the laws of seating, making them seat us when there were but only 7 out of 9 people that showed up. We know table turning is essential in order to make money in Chinatown, but for the servers and managers to view our table with barely veiled contempt and to wrestle menus away from our hands? I've truly never been so ill-treated in Chinatown and I wonder why the lines were so long for such ordinary food. So the food was standard Cantonese with some better the the rest. The casseroles were hefty and comforting, but the frogs legs were devoid of meat while the shrimp, fresh and well fried was left swimming in too much mayo. It is 10-20% cheaper than say Ping's and Oriental Garden but for the level of emotional trauma inflicted, I'm better off at the other places.
Sunday at the Modern Bar Room: Here, our experience was disappointing, as the hum-drum food was exacerbated by lackluster and amateurish service, odd in a Danny Meyer's establishment.
The concept was good, appetizer sized items with no clear entree and appetizer distinction that allows for a casual shared dinner. But when I asked for the server to split our plates, he said no, there's no such policy. What he didn't notice was that other diners all had their food in the middle of their tables, with individual serving plates to share family style.
Ruoying and I ordered 2 savories each, for her the mushroom soup and a duck breast dish, and for me the cracker-like and pretty fun to eat tart flambee and a tiny roasted quail. Ying's soup was too salty and we waved the server down to tell him so. Usually the soup should be whisked away and a new appetizer offered. Our server was clearly flustered and said he would check with the kitchen, leaving us stranded with the 90% filled bowl of soup cooling rapidly. He then served other tables, trying to avoid us until about 10-15 minutes later, when finally he came back with the menu, apologies and the chance to order another app. The scallops that followed were nicely seared with a refreshing citrus base, but the experience was already marred. Then out of good intentions the server said he will slow down the pace of service for the main courses in order to let ying enjoy her scallops. Clearly the busboys serving the main courses didn't get that message because 2 mins before the scallops arrived, the main courses showed up. So ruoying was juggling with 2 dishes at once. Fun. and all the server said was "so the main courses turned up" sheepishly, no apologies extended. The duck and quail were actually well prepared and the duck with mustard sauce a great pairing. But whatever. Back to the server. He disappeared after main courses were served, to be replaced with a more professional server who patiently offered dessert suggestions. We opted for a really hefty serving of beignets with maple ice cream, caramel and a sourish mango preserve. The maple ice cream was wonderful, fragrant and sweet, the icy coolness contrasting beautifully with the fresh hot fried dough.
We were pleasantly surprised in the end with the bill, because the restaurant tried to remedy our subpar experience by comping not only the scallops but also the dessert. Still, the let-down from the service and forgettable meal was great enough that I probably will not return, even though sometimes thinking back, I should give it the benefit of a doubt, that Sunday's probably not the best day to eat out.
Monday dinner at Shilla: I've been there numerous times and have always enjoyed the bbq. This time round we opted for the cooked dishes. The seafood pancake was fantastic, crispy at the edges and filled with seafood and spring onions, but the bibimbop was unforgivably bland. What would normally be an average meal ended up in my list of jinxed meal because shortly after we left the restaurant, both of us were struck by a sudden bout of food poisoning. So at Shilla, stick to the bbq.
Luckily such strike-outs don't happen too often, or else I'll be eating in a lot more.

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