How a Chef writes a Restaurant Review
A few nights ago I went out to eat at a “fairly reputable” restaurant with a chef friend of mine who was in town for the night. The food, service and atmosphere left a lot to be desired. I went home that night and sat in bed thinking about every shitty detail I experienced that night. The next morning I woke up to the following email from my fellow dining companion.
Authors Note: the names of the guilty parties have been changed to protect them. You can search the internet and easily find many very poor reviews of many restaurants written by the general public. They have the power to affect a restaurant’s business without actually having any knowledge of food, cooking, dining or the restaurant industry. I am not that guy. I have 15 years of living the life of a cook and a chef. And because of that, I am not going to call anyone out by name. Some manners need observed.
First, I was told it was really good. I never made it in when it opened. A close friend and chef I used to work with said the meal he had not two days earlier was good.
How could things go so wrong in only two days?
I was first a little alarmed about the total lack of communication and leadership in the kitchen. Who was in charge of the line? It was near impossible for me to tell. Was anyone setting the tone of the cooking, controlling the quality, leading the charge? Perhaps our ‘chef’ was the dude with the slicked hair and gauged ears, maybe the Asian lesbian chick, perhaps the Asian guy? Who the fuck knew? How many of them had attended (insert much derided culinary school pouring ‘chefs’ into the market)?
On the flat top was a bain marie that they kept their tools in. I for one, am not a big fan of using tongs to manipulate every little thing you cook, but fuck it. Your food is homely and rustic. Feel free to ignore nice technique. However, changing the fucking water is kind of super important. Our Asian girl kept going back to the same bain marie for her tasting spoons and serving spoons. They were the same fucking spoons. Sure, we have done it. But, if you are in an open kitchen try a touch harder to show that you have an idea of hygiene and sanitation. There is nothing artisan or rustic about cooking like a filthy fucking slob. And with people staring straight into your kitchen and at you saying hello or something would not kill you.
Not one but two different overcooked eggs. But we will get more into that later.
The menu read something about rapini, lemon, soft poached egg, pistachio and locally made ham. It sounded good to me. There was simply a whole lot of rapini on the plate. It was more than any single guest would be able to eat. Nobody could really hope to eat that much rapini. The ham was quite delicious and there were some nice herbs as well. The lemon element seemed to be an emulsion drizzled around the plate. Frankly it needed more to help out with the bitterness of the rapini. The pistachios were almost not present at all.
The egg, the fucking egg, it was a poorly produced Onsen egg. One: why was the yolk overcooked? And two was it supposed to be served cold? For me I would think a warm egg with a properly cooked yolk becoming a sauce for the rapini would be a smarter and more delectable way to go. This was kind of a failure. Yet, like so many things I tasted it was all rooted in potential and good idea and then was mired in poor execution. Theoretically the food was supposed to be simple. There were no foams, no immersion circulators, and no hydrocolloids. Fucking up simple food is almost inexcusable in my eyes.
The chicken livers were fucking good. Watching the cook work with them i saw that they were previously cooked and pressed, likely cooked confit. They had nice texture, crispy. It was a well done dish.
They had something on menu called spicy tartare. Our server said it was not too hot but did have chilies and cayenne in it. Well that sounds good, doesn’t it? Well what came to the table looked like it had been portioned using a 4 ounce ice cream scoop. I imagined a sheet tray full of these scoops of tartare waiting to be dropped in front of some poor guest. The texture was heavy and dense. It was as if it had gotten chopped with a grinder and then had the shit pressed out of it by overworking it. The only flavor was the chilies and the portion was simply enormous. It would have made a nice burger I think. I am fine with grinding large amounts of beef for tartare if you need to. But it needs to be delicate of texture. I want to feel the individuality of the pieces of meat. Some shallot or more herbs to give a bit more variety to the flavor would not have been a bad thing either. Some olive oil would have been a nice addition as well. It truly was one of the most disappointing tartar’s I have ever experienced.
The finale to my meal was something that I continued to feel the after effects for hours to come despite only eating a quarter of it at most.
Coppa wrapped trout, lemon, greens, mushrooms, fried egg, that is what greeted me on the menu. The trout I had was simply bad. I knew it on first bite. It was really mushy and had a musky flavor. My dining companion thought they had cooked it from frozen. My fear and my stomach and bowel’s answer late into my night and into the next day was that it was spoiled in some fashion. I have eaten enough trout in my life to know something was seriously amiss. The mushrooms had grit to them and were not crispy. Who taught them how to cook mushrooms? It was not me that is fucking sure! I love coppa, what was wrapping around that trout was pretty good actually, but kind of muted by the creamy lemon jus that the mushrooms were in. The fish itself was something my bowels will not get over for another 12 to 24 hours. Again I was served a half-assed attempt at cooking eggs.
I liked the idea of the dish a lot. One of my favorite food memories is camping with my family as a kid. My dad woke me up we walked a mile to a small pond and set to fishing. We caught trout and headed back to camp where mom was getting breakfast going. The cast iron skillet was full of bacon. She then fried eggs in the bacon fat and as the fish was so fresh dredged it in corn meal and cooked it in the same fat. So, I suppose my hopes were rather high for the meal. The egg I got at that evening looked cooked right…from the top. Flipping it over it was obvious the sunnyside up egg was hard cooked on the bottom. The dish could have been very good. a properly cooked egg, a trout that was not bad. Mushrooms clean and cooked right. It would have been a winner.
Could I have sent the fish back? Could I have mentioned something to the management? Sure, but I am not that kind of asshole. Instead I will anonymously complain and bitch about the meal I had without actually calling the place out. I am not that kind of asshole. Those assholes need the shit kicked out of them. This is just me venting. Was it just an off night for the kitchen and restaurant? Perhaps, but I am not about to give them another chance. There are just too many dining options these days. That is the lesson I think that should be learned. People have so many choices every single time they decide to eat out, so cooks, servers, and restaurateurs, try to minimize your bad nights. This place will be fine without my patronage.
After reading this review, it all became clear to me. Chef’s notice everything and expect perfection when they dine out. I think this is why as chef’s we love to cook for other chefs. We appreciate their honesty and attention to detail. It is nice to have your food critiqued by someone who actually knows what they are talking about. We can respect another chef telling us our food is overcooked and under seasoned. We can’t respect some asshole who likes to eat out and has a journalism degree. Or even worse, considers them self a “foodie.” Websites like Yelp and Citysearch are even worse. They open up restaurant reviews to every dumbass out there that thinks they’re the next Ruth Reichl. The bottom line is more media outlets should hire restaurant reviewers that know what they are talking about. Afterall, you wouldn’t hire an Amish chick to write for the sports section, would you?