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Zuni disappoints

k
Ken Hoffman May 9, 2001 03:23 PM

Perhaps the economic downturn has awakened my instincts
for value. Lat night I went to Zuni's, San Francisco's fabled bistro and was sadly idappointed. Things started well enough with a dozen assorted oysters from the west coast of North America. They were fresh and crisp, adorned only with lemon and a simple vinaigrette. I split appetizers with my dining partner and did enjoy the Ceaser salad (good but not mind blowing) and was less enthused with an unadorned item of air-dryed beef wrapped around a miniscule dollop of goat cheese (kind of a chessy beef jerky). Very unimaginative presentation and for $9 you get about 3 ounces of beef.
Dinner was a disaster. It was 40 minutes arriving after the appetizer. I ordered a pork chop with "potato
salad". A cold and rubbery block of pork was placed in front of me along with a side of plain boiled potatoes mixed with an uncooked green. The attention to detail was nil, the presentation flat--in short food I would be unwilling to serve to guests in my own home. Mediocre is a generous descriptive term
for what is being sold as upscale fare to unsuspecting top dollar paying hipsters.

In contrast, I had the extreme pleasure of digging into a giant bowl of Bun, topped with succulent pieces of BBQ chicken, fresh cukes, carrots and fried onions the previous night in San Jose at the Kim Huoung
for one-fifteenth the price and 50 times the pleasure. The pride of preparation and presentation was so apparent in this simple but beautiful meal, all lacking at the "name" restaurant.

I continue my search for greatness for less and enjoin fellow chowhounds to do likelwise.

  1. b
    Brad Kaplan May 10, 2001 05:30 PM

    Hey - my wife and I recently ate there and had a great meal - we stuck to the basics, though - oysters to start, their very good Caesar salad, and their signature dish - an oven cooked chicken over bread salad. The chicken was simply incredible - herbs cooked into the skin, succulent meat, just crisp enough skin, and paired perfectly with the bread, greens and (don't remember what kind) berries in the bread salad.

    I agree, it's not cheap - but that was one of the most enjoyable chicken dishes I've ever had, and our waiter was very friendly and attentive.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Brad Kaplan
      i
      IL May 10, 2001 06:29 PM

      It might seem early, but my sister and I are from NYC and are planning a trip to san fran for the fourth. I wanted some restaurant recommendations for the festivities.

      1. re: IL
        s
        srf1 May 11, 2001 11:35 AM

        It's not early. SF can get very packed in the summer so you want to make your reservations from 30 to 60 days in advance (for the hot spots). What you should do for recommendations is start a new thread at the top and give a couple of examples of what you are looking for (budget-conscious, kid friendly, white glove, etc) so people can help you narrow down your search. It's a little hard to make recommendations without knowing what parameters you are looking for. Hope this will help.

        1. re: srf1
          i
          IL May 11, 2001 02:38 PM

          I'm looking for a place that is fun. WE've not looking for budget (though we wouldn't oppose it). Something with a young scene that does something for fourth of july or is near the fireworks. I hope that helps to narrow it down.

          1. re: IL
            r
            Rochelle McCune May 11, 2001 06:02 PM

            "Near the Fireworks" can streach along the Marina, Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39 and Embarcadero so you have a wide array of choices. But the whole area will be packed with optimists (see below) so I recommend taking a picnic, going someplace that takes reservations or just hitting some random place that looks good. That having been said, Cafe Marimba in the Marina is excellent and I think qualifies as "fun".

            Re being an optimist --- You should realize that in the summer our famous fog rolls in the Golden Gate in late afternoon. Thus in the 16 years I have lived in San Francisco, it has only been clear on July 4th twice - all the other times all you could see was fog that lit up with colors occasionally.

            1. re: Rochelle McCune
              i
              il May 15, 2001 04:26 PM

              thanks for the warning. I will look into cafe marimba. Is there anything else to do for the fourth besides fireworks then?

              1. re: il
                m
                Melani e Wong May 15, 2001 08:03 PM

                If you have your heart set on fireworks, you can view at various sites across the Bay which have less fog.

              2. re: Rochelle McCune
                f
                Fine May 22, 2001 10:18 PM

                I don't believe there's been any sort of 4th event on the Marina Green for some years now. I think it's all at Aquatic Park and east of there.

                We've had no problem seeing the SF fireworks for the past several years, though it used to be impossibly foggy and cold. Perhaps different vanatge points? I don't know.

                I attended a party once in Sausalito where I could watch fireworks from about 3 or 4 different locations around the bay. Don't know if there's a public spot high enough to provide that sort of entertaining view.

                Might be worth looking into different communities' festivities: Redwood City? East Bay? Anyplace that doesn't tend to get as much fog in the summer. Most places right on the bay will get it, though it's unpredictable from year to year.

                1. re: Fine
                  c
                  Caitlin McGrath May 22, 2001 10:49 PM

                  It's usually not too foggy down at the Berkeley Marina for their fireworks display. It gets real crowded, and they close the area off to cars by around 7 pm. If you go before then, you can drive in, park, and have a picnic dinner in your car while you wait for it to get dark, and a killer view over the water after.

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                    f
                    Fine May 23, 2001 10:55 PM

                    Just read about a big 4th of July fest at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. I imagine there's a web site.If the location is not too far out of the way, it might fill the bill.

          2. re: IL
            j
            Janet Hinze May 21, 2001 01:02 AM

            Besides fireworks, the Chronicle always sponsers a day of music at the Marina. I've never gone to the festivities in SF but at places in the East Bay you get great people watching, nice music and some good street food (to which I'm addicted) Bring lots of warm clothes in July!

          3. re: Brad Kaplan
            g
            gini May 11, 2001 12:30 AM

            I second. My husband and I recently took his mother, who is visiting from Cincinnati, and had a wonderful meal and very good service. Yes, our choices were identical to yours. Oysters, Caesar Salad and Chicken - but we LOVE the burgers as well, and I've rarely been disappointed in other menu items. And always an interesting wine list.

          4. b
            Brandon Nelson May 11, 2001 01:36 AM

            I Won't comment on Zuni, I haven't been there

            One of the elements that I love about Chowhound is that it's posters treat a $4 bowl of noodles with the same anticipation and reverence most folks save for a pricey foie gras dish.

            I don't believe there is such a thing as "lowbrow" food. I think it takes greater genious to transform collard greens, tripe or brisket into a wonderful dish than it does to do the same with "gourmet" ingredients. I will always have great respect for those who who can elevate humble foods to lofty experiences.

            I must ask. If your meal was so disappointing did you share your frustration with the staff at the Zuni Cafe?

            27 Replies
            1. re: Brandon Nelson
              j
              Jim H. May 11, 2001 01:18 PM

              I think one of the major problems with boards like this is the experience and tastes of the writer. If one comes to SF from a small town in Alabama where the best meal in town is Mom's Diner, on vacation where the sky's the limit, you will likely get raves. A more sophisticated denizen of New York City may be unimpressed with the same meal. In the same vein, a NYer will not feel quite so ripped off at the SF (and Napa Valley) prices. Its all in the eye (or the stomach) of the beholder. A certain generation range in our society grew up on fast food and quick thaw meals. Its no wonder that they are blown away at FL and other top of the line places. On the other hand, those who grew up with parents and grandparents with a keen interest in cooking (especially ethnic families) will have fonder memories of Granny's chicken dumplings rather than the $600 meal at FL. This makes the evaluation of subjective opinions on food very difficult. Add to that food idiosyncracies ( I know of people who won't eat grits because of the name, or who won't eat tomatoes but love spahetti sauce)and it makes it almost impossible to have any confidence in food evaluations. Add to that the almost incomprehensible ratings of newpaper food critics, and it becomes a culinary crap-shoot. The main thing is that it tastes good ( and to some people, looks pretty).

              1. re: Jim H.
                k
                Ken Hoffman May 11, 2001 03:34 PM

                No question that taste is ultimatley subjective. I am luck to have grown up with a Mother obsessed with quality foodstuffs, beautiful presentation, the freshest ingrediants and rich, satisfying flavors. Anyone would be hard pressed to outdo her in the kitchen, however, this does not excuse the allowence of mediocre product to exit a kitchen of supposed high standards. Cold is cold, rubbery is rubbery
                no matter how deprived your culinary backround.

                1. re: Ken Hoffman
                  a
                  Ann L. May 11, 2001 06:46 PM

                  I agree that the subjective nature of what pleases the diner is out the window when a dish falls so short of what it should be. I too have had wonderful and appallingly disappointing food at Zuni. The scoop seems to indicate that ordering the dishes they are famous for is the only way to assure satisfaction. There really is no excuse for the lapses, since they seem to be inevitable instead of only rarely occasional. I hesitate to send a dish back because of not wanting to make a "scene" or spoil the evening. Also, if someone else is paying the bill, it seems inappropriate to complain about anything, so the restaurant gets off the hook. Ideally, I would have liked to have said, "Would you please return this pasta dish to the kitchen? The menu read 'fresh pasta with fresh anchovies' and there is nothing in this but pasta and some olive oil!"

                  1. re: Ann L.
                    j
                    Jim H. May 11, 2001 08:04 PM

                    Well...you've raised an interesting question, and I would love to hear from some candid pros. My cousin had a very successful restaurant for years...but I have heard the cook suggest where the customer could place their complaint. Where the sun don't shine. I know a fair number of restaurant owners and chefs, and a good number of them will seem pleased to have criticism of their cooking, but when they get back into the kitchen, its "where the hell is their taste???" Too often, they are right. I've seen people send back steaks that were well-done, to be cooked until they were dry and grey. Many times, when asked by the waiter(ess) "how was the meal"? I tell them the truth and they look at me like I am crazy, and you know they won't dare tell the chef, especially a chef/owner. I ask you, chowhounds, does it do any good??? I do, however, go out of my way to compliment the chef when a good job is done.

                    1. re: Jim H.
                      l
                      Lucy Gore May 12, 2001 03:35 AM

                      Yes, Jim . . . it does some good! It does everybody good. It makes everyone pay attention and be responsible for their "role" in this whole dining endeavor. When a customer will not come forth & be truthful, they deserve what they get. When a waiter neglects to make sure the customers dining experince is satisfactory, at best, they are irresponsible. When a cook/chef has a problem hearing a customer is unhappy, uncomfortable, questionable about their food that they are paying for, than this person does not belong in this business. This a service industry. Customers come first. Attitude has no place unless positive. Yeah, I've worked in enough places to see how "dream-on" this mid-set must seem, but it does come through with proper management. Truly. Just as in good management, as a customer, when you are unsatifyed, you have to speak up at the moment or for ever hold your peace. (that is unless you have a chowhound site to purge yourself on.)

                      1. re: Lucy Gore
                        k
                        Ken Hoffman May 12, 2001 12:57 PM

                        No question I made a mistake by not raising my concerns to our waitress during the course of the meal.Perhaps I rationalized by thinking that this was a systemic problem not soluble in the small amount of time that I was in house. Next time I swear to be bolder and vocalize my displeasure (without being rude or disrespectful to the hardworking staff).

                        1. re: Ken Hoffman
                          l
                          Lucy Gore May 13, 2001 03:30 AM

                          I sure hope you don't regret your intial post! You are definitely being put through "the grind". My point was just in educating. It's so hard to tell someone/anyone negative response, especially in a busy food scene. This I understand. My thinking is that you are able to share your grievenance and even if they don't understand, meaning the folks responsible in understanding that something is not right and should be maybe looked at, which is not intirely a negative statement, this is luck for them at the most part! Private, negative opinion is broad-sided on the streets and when it is not good, it is all-consuming. For me, unfortunately, you are critiquing my all time favorite, too this day, eating eatblishment which I find invigorating. Good work!

                          1. re: Lucy Gore
                            j
                            Jim H. May 13, 2001 11:39 PM

                            Hey...don't misunderstand me. I complain...do I complain. My adult children dining with me look at the ceiling and say "there goes Dad again." And I am sure that sometimes it does some good. My personal problem is that when I go back for a second try, nothing has changed. My sage advice has been ignored. The food is still dreck. And still the place gets four stars in the local press. I concede that it may be me...but when we go to dinner with other diners, they usually agree. It this a generation thing? How can we have this differential? I accept that food critics have to contend with variables...but when my friends and I consistently agree that a rated 4 star place is mediocre, something is amiss. What is wrong with the system? I have enough familiarity with the business to know that many owners are intimidated by the chef. They would rather have a root canal than be critical of his royal highness. I think they are rare. But I am convinced that the constructive complaints of knowledgeable customers too often go unheeded.

                            1. re: Jim H.
                              l
                              Lucy Gore May 14, 2001 02:31 AM

                              It's back to the industry standards. What do you want from a meal out? You actually have some influence over this. If you reside to the fact that the kitchen or anyone else in the format of a good evening has more comtrol than you, give it up. It's a lost evening.

                              1. re: Lucy Gore
                                j
                                Jim H. May 14, 2001 01:27 PM

                                Come on Lucy...get real. The customer has no control. You can complain about a bad meal, and hope that is does some good, but you must trust the established reputation of the restaurant. Hopefully, the owner and chef want to maintain a high standard, and we know that is not always possible. As pointed out, chefs and owners change...bad nights happen. The customer, alas, is virtually helpless...unless able to go into the kitchen to direct the operation (once in Annapolis, I had to tell a new chef how long to grill Ahi). It when it is all over that you realize what a mistake it was to come. I suppose you must trust the opinion of your friends, and those of us on this board...but it is still simply a matter of taste.

                                1. re: Jim H.
                                  l
                                  Lucy Gore May 15, 2001 11:03 AM

                                  Trust starts with me & my own take on things, Jim. And you are right, it is a matter of "taste", to some degree. Dining out is a unique experience for each person, good ones & bad. My point is that I go out of my way, feel it's my obligation, responsibility plus I am entitled to make as many of these dining experiences postive ones. Of course there are those off nights. I try to minimize the damage by getting more involved. Plus believe me, those off nights are the steping stones for seeing how to improve the whole operation for preventive measure. Everything from reaccesing the menu, when to stop taking to-go orders, when to finally fire the competent but obnoxious waiter or have the dreaded talk with the sous chef who likes to smoke a bowl before coming on. Those things don't just happen when everythings hunky-dory. And the same goes for the interaction from each customer. The best ones are the ones that are willing to participate, not just sit there and whine. They become, in short, the ones that most help resolve the problems, even if it's uncomfortable. I personally love them.
                                  Now, showing a chef how to sear-off Ahi is an interesting degree of involvement. Did he offer to have you into his kitchen? Why would he have Ahi on the menu if he didn't know what to do with it? See how easily rediculously stupid & often "innocent till proven guilty" some of these experiences can be from all sides? I'd like to hear more.

                                  1. re: Lucy Gore
                                    j
                                    Jim H. May 15, 2001 12:57 PM

                                    Lucy, you are absolutely right. Its a heads-up business, and no one guesses right every time. There is a big difference in running a restraurant catering to locals in a midrange category, than one for tourists in the high end. I think what makes the difference is that indefinable gut reaction about what the customer wants and doesn't want...how easy to get a new cook...is the waiter really that bad, etc. I recall by wife and I were brunching at a new place in SOHO several years back. A young man sat at our table and introduced himself as the owner...he inquired how we liked our Eggs Benedict. I told him (as I am quick to do) that the Hollandaise needed much more lemon. He paused...and asked, "suppose we serve it with lemon wedges?" "Afraid to tell the cook?", I said. "Yeah".
                                    I'm afraid he is nore typical than not. On the Ahi incident, in fairness to this incredibly overrated restaurant, the major cook had become ill (or whatever) and the sous cook had to take over. He was OK with crab and oysters, etc., but Ahi was new item then. I simply described in detail the fast, short cooking method and that it keeps on cooking. It was very good fish.

                                    1. re: Jim H.
                                      l
                                      Lucy Gore May 15, 2001 08:23 PM

                                      I totally agree. Well put!
                                      Not many people in this industry pay attention to that "gut reaction" anymore. (Not until it's painful and often too late.)

                                      1. re: Lucy Gore
                                        f
                                        Fine May 22, 2001 10:07 PM

                                        Thank you, thank you for a fascinating, thoughtful discussion!

                                        I have always believed Americans suffered from a peculiar condition that made them capable of screaming at the smallest imperfection in, say, a new car, but become paralyzed at speaking up when they were unsatisfied with a dish, especially in a "fancy" restaurant.

                                        The French seem to be total participants in their restaurant meals--never hesitant to ascertain the origins of any item in a dish or explain their preferences in how it's prepared. They would consider it blasphemy to swallow a mouthful of anything even slightly unsatisfactory. I find myself very "unAmerican" and very French when it comes to these matters, even though my better half squirms while I speak up "early and often." I never forget who the customer is. Of course it helps to know something about food, cooking, etc., as well as one's own taste, doneness, etc. preferences and feel comfortable asserting one's prerogatives.

                                        For those who find this difficult, it's a skill worth mastering.

                                        As for those times when one's experience differs dramatcially from a critic's, WRITE as detailed a descriptiopn as possible to the critic. I've seen our SF critics write more than once that a series of complaints from readers caused a return to check out a praised kitchen.

                                        1. re: Fine
                                          j
                                          Janet A. Zimmerman May 23, 2001 01:03 PM

                                          While I definitely believe in speaking up about unsatisfactory food, there has to be a limit, no? I'm not sure I can agree with the "complain early and often" approach to eating out. Let me give you an example: very recently, my boyfriend and I went out with another couple, who felt they owed us a favor and were taking us to dinner to repay us. (I should mention that we don't often go out to eat with this couple, but the two other times I can recall, the woman has sent her entree back -- I don't really remember the circumstances, but they seemed to be of the "it just wasn't what I expected" variety, and in both cases she seemed content with her second entrees.) So, on this night, we went to the North Star Cafe. We ordered a couple of bottles of wine, starters and entrees. When she ordered her entree, she asked if she could make a substitution: she wanted the ahi, but it was served on a bed of fava beans, and she didn't want those. She didn't specify what she wanted instead, she merely asked for "some other vegetable." The waiter said that wouldn't be a problem.

                                          My boyfriend's and my starters were great: we split an orange, avocado and beet salad and a special foie gras appetizer. Our host's soup was wonderful too; I had a taste. She ordered crispy spring rolls; I didn't read the menu description that closely, but it seemed to be an accurate description of what she got. She took a small bite of one of the pieces (four fairly large pieces on the plate), then offered us one of the pieces. I wasn't paying that much attention, involved as I was in my foie gras, but we did split the piece, which seemed fine. But when the waiter came by, her husband asked for a salad for her, and she asked him to take away the remains of her first starter.

                                          Her salad arrived only a few minutes before our entrees, as she had waited for a while to send her rolls back. When she got hers, she took a bite or two, and said that although the fish was wonderful, the vegetables on which it sat were strange. The waiter was called, and she said the sauce tasted like it was meat-based. The waiter went to ask and, indeed, the vegetables were done with a veal stock. That was unacceptable (she doesn't eat red meat), so the waiter took it back and returned it with another vegetable. Another bite, another complaint. At this point, she merely sighed heavily, moved the fish to her (mostly uneaten) salad plate, and asked for some lemon. The lemons arrived momentarily, but by this time, she didn't like the fish either -- now it was mealy. And now, we were all finished with our dinners. Finally, she asked the waiter to take the fish away, although she did want to take it home.

                                          I was totally appalled and embarrassed by the end of the meal. As we left, I said I had to use the bathroom, found the waiter, gave him the only bill I had in my purse, a five, and apologized profusely. He was, I hasten to add, completely professional throughout the entire ordeal, although he did at that point laugh and thank me.

                                          1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman
                                            l
                                            Lucy Gore May 23, 2001 11:48 PM

                                            There is a total limit, Janet. And I too, have been in the same situation, sharing a dinner out with folks who look for whats wrong with everything. It's grueling! I've had friends to dinner at our home that picked the meal apart, sitting directly across from me as if I should be thankful for their honesty. As I said at the begining, there are people who truly go out of their way to find fault. In my opinion, it's a "little person syndrome", feeling making others look bad impowers them somehow. This is so common in this industry, esp. back-of-the-house. I find it all an interesting lesson in human nature. Some people can-not cope with anything "new or different", some can't deal with change, some can't tolerate being told things, some need hand holding through-out, some need to be totally ignored. My feelings towards speaking up were not as a "complainer", but as an invested consumer who would like an opportunity to express dis-satisfaction with all due respect and responsibility. If I had asked for a substitution on a dish, I would be sure to exchange enough information to make it worth my wild & the kitchens. Substitutions are a pain in the butt, mostly, but even worse when the customer just truly does not know what the hell they want (excuse me.) nor trusts the kitchen enough to be clear and/or appreciative of what they are able to accommedate. At any rate, speaking up enables you to at least give it your best shot to correct which often could be an extremely simple fix. Your friend sounds like she has the "princess & the pea" complex. Lordy.

                                            1. re: Lucy Gore
                                              i
                                              ironmom May 26, 2001 05:44 PM

                                              I have a friend who is never satisfied with anything. I brought a polenta/meat/veg/mashed potato dish to a pot luck, and he led a couple of vegetarians strip-mining the dish, leaving it an inedible mess for other diners. When I ordered lamb at a restaurant, he made "Mary-had-a-little-lamb" comments and sent back his food because he changed his mind, it wasn't what he wanted/liked. (You ORDERED it, dammit!) He complained about food he had eaten completely, expecting some sort of comp. Bitch, bitch, bitch. Much happier not eating with people like that.

                      2. re: Jim H.
                        a
                        Ann L. May 12, 2001 04:35 PM

                        Jim, I would hate to think that your description of chefs or others in resturants is the norm today. I am not in the restaurant business, but I did grow up "smack dab" in the middle of it. My grandfather started a fine resturant about 80 years ago, and my father continued (and expanded) the business, for almost 40 years. In all that time, I'd think I would have noticed if those in the kitchen had that sort of attitude.

                        The film, Big Night, was a fun stab at the "food illiterate" customer and the temperamental chef, but I thought we were talking about how tolerant a customer should be of a dish that is truly unacceptable, and if and how he should complain. If we can assume the customer is not an ignoramus or a jerk, and the owner or manager of the establishment is interested in providing the type of meal for which the cutomer would want to return, I should imagine it might be helpful to complain (in a polite, constuctive way of course).

                  2. re: Jim H.
                    j
                    Janet A. Zimmerman May 12, 2001 02:03 AM

                    Of course you have a valid point -- one's background, exposure to different foods, and gustatory idiosyncracies all color one's evaluation of any given taste experience. But I don't think that means that the opinions voiced here are therefore devoid of value. The opinions on these boards are generally quite detailed, and about as objective as can be found, I think. You rarely read a simple "it was terrible" or "it was great" on these boards. Those posting virtually always explain just what was awful, or what was great. Most people include mention of any relevant food likes and dislikes, and they're careful to differentiate between quality of food, quality of service, and value for money spent. I'd say we mostly have discerning and discriminating palates, which enables us to be pretty accurate about exactly what pleases us and what does not, when it comes to food (for example, I'm not crazy about any type of custard, but that doesn't mean that I don't understand what qualities make a custard more or less palatable, and it also doesn't mean that I'm going to vilify a dessert list because it includes creme brulee).

                    Does all this mean we always agree? Of course not. But it does mean that our discussions are generally well-informed, and based on objective fact as well as subjective opinion. If one reads carefully, and especially if one takes the time to get to know the various posters' likes and dislikes, there's a lot of valuable information to be found here.

                    1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman
                      j
                      Jim H. May 12, 2001 03:47 PM

                      You may have misunderstood my diatribe. I think complaining to the board does more good than complaining to the management in too many cases. My point was, and I think you agree, that you cannot take complaints or compliments at face value. They are often very subjective. You may read raves of a meal at Chez X, without realizing the patron has never been to a really good restaurant. We have all read reviews by supposedly sophisticated and experienced (and honest) food critics, and after trying the place can't believe we went to the same restaurant. I simply do not believe any chef can cook that much better for the critic than for me. I suppose it's a corrolary to the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

                      1. re: Jim H.
                        j
                        Jim Leff May 13, 2001 04:15 AM

                        "We have all read reviews by supposedly sophisticated and experienced (and honest) food critics, and after trying the place can't believe we went to the same restaurant"

                        speaking on behalf of honest food critics (g)....bear in mind that restaurants are moving targets. They change constantly. I have ten year old reviews hanging in windows of places that have undergone two management changes and twelve chef changes.

                        And even in the space of days--hours, even--things change. Perfectly good recipes are "improved". The top chef starts coming in only on weekends and the second chef starts doing most of the cooking. A good waiter quits, a bad one is hired. Management switches meat suppliers. Kitchens get bored.

                        I'm insanely jealous of film critics, whose subjects are not moving targets, and so can leave their "stamp" on a solid, unchanging thing.

                        As a restaurant critic (or, shoot, just as a guy with an opinion or tip), I beg this one thing: if you tend to agree with me on stuff (or at least find me consistent), give me benefit of the doubt when you have a bad meal. It's a good bet that you'd have more or less shared my assessment of the meals *I* ate at a given place. Unfortunately, you didn't share those exact meals.

                        There's a condition I call "Food Critic Stomach". It's not the dyspepsia of extensive research, it's the gripping of the digestive system that occurs when someone cooly informs you they've recently tried a place you'd raved over. You wait for it, and then it comes: the tale of horror. Filled with insinuation that you are a tasteless (and possibly sold-out) goon. Every time any restaurant you've once praised serves a bad meal, your reputation has a little piece chipped off. Over time, we're inevitably proved idiots to every reader at least once, often more. It's cause for indigestion.

                        ciao

                        1. re: Jim Leff
                          k
                          Kit H. May 13, 2001 11:28 PM

                          How true. I have an opinion (I'm sure shared by many) that everytime I recommend a restaurant and my friends walk in the front door...the chef leaves by the rear.
                          I can remember years and years ago in NYC that if you recommended a restaurant it was a safe bet that it would be good for several years. Alas, no more.

                          1. re: Jim Leff
                            g
                            gini May 14, 2001 03:42 PM

                            Saturday night we celebrated my birthday at Mucca (same owners as Globe in SF) in Glen Ellen. It has been a failed location for 4 or 5 previous restaurants. We have had two very good dining experiences there in the last few months and we were excited to share it with my mother-in-law who is visiting from Cincinnati.

                            Almost everything was wrong! First, we were seated at a table where from my vantage point I had a view of an entrance to the kitchen where mops and supplies were stored. To my right, out the window on the deck they had stacked tables and a large cambro container.

                            We ordered a house specialty of mussels as an appetizer. Unsure of our choice, we had questioned the waitress who assured us that the mussels were from Nova Scotia (I spent 8 years selling fish - the mussels from Nova Scotia are usually quite small and from very cold water). They were HUGE and stinky!

                            My husband and his mom had Osso Bucco with Pumpkin Risotto. Both were completely unseasoned (zero salt). I had Alaskan Halibut. The dish was served with Basmati rice into which pieces of tomato in a 3/4 inch dice and halved large green olives had been tossed as a garnish. Both the fish and the rice were unsauced and completely dry.

                            The dessert was recommended by the waitress and arrived seconds after we ordered it. It was some sort of crude (and giant) butterscotch pie topped with meringue and sitting in a cross hatch of caramel sauce. It was totally pedestrian - something I might of made at home (and I can't bake a lick).

                            I asked if the chef was working and was told, yes indeed, he had personally prepared our plates. Off night? Bad mood? Full moon? The ghost of previosly failed establishments haunting them? Who knows, but we won't be rushing back soon.

                            I'm sure this is a terrible hazard of your job and I don't envy you.

                    2. re: Brandon Nelson
                      k
                      Ken Hoffman May 11, 2001 03:29 PM

                      I did not share my disappointment with the wait staff- I guess I became momentarily paralyzed with a reluctance to speak out and make a scene--I should have done so and encourage everyone out there to do so--it is your right as a paying customer to receive the absolute best the kitchen is capable of putting out. Next time.

                      1. re: Ken Hoffman
                        a
                        Anne H May 22, 2001 05:17 PM

                        You don't need to 'make a scene'. Maybe just asking the waiter if this was the way the dish was supposed to be, i.e. cold an rubbery or whatever.

                        I have been underwhelmed at Zuni before. The roast chicken dish (menu specifies a 40 minute wait) is so outstanding I'd go anytime for that, though.

                        1. re: Ken Hoffman
                          f
                          Fine May 22, 2001 09:34 PM

                          I encourage you to e-mail a copy of your post to Zuni. Your experience was appalling, but a place with such a track record deserves to know how its staff is treating its guests and to make it up to you as well.

                          Your pork should have been sent back.

                        2. re: Brandon Nelson
                          w
                          Wylie May 11, 2001 09:15 PM

                          You folks humble me. How can a group be so on target. I find myself cheering for everyone. This does'nt add anything to the mix. Cooking is simple. Fresh, hot, and properly seasoned. It becomes more complex when is for more than two.

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