Disappointed with Meritage - MSP
I have been wanting to check out Meritage for some time, finally got in there
last night. I was happy with the treatment I got at the door, very polite and
friendly, they asked if I had a reservation and I said no, and they offered me
a 2-top which was preferable to sitting at the bar (I was alone).
I love good gnocchi so ordered them, as well as a salad, figuring if the place
is good their salad dressing will be something worth checking out. (I am a
major salad lover).
The salad was just not very standout- they had grated carrots so finely over
it that they were kind of mushy- not too great. And the dressing had a sharp
mustard/salt taste that was not balanced.
The gnocchi had been salted- not a good idea in my opinion. The salt interfered
with the subtlety of the ricotta in the gnocchi. There was also some good
arugula/walnut pesto under the gnocchi and some grated parmesan cheese.
I will be honest, I am not a major salt person and don't like it when food comes
with salt sprinkled on it in a restaurant- I feel that should be left up to the diner.
I'm fine with salt being used reasonably IN food prepared in a restaurant, of
So I told the server I was not happy with the gnocchi being salted, and she
offered to have them re-done, that was great. Later she came out with another
plate of gnocchi. This time the grated cheese was on the side. And the gnocchi
were salted....AGAIN. I asked the server about it, and she seemed to doubt my
assessment that they had again salted the gnocchi. She wanted to make sure
I tasted it. I had, and indeed there were little grains of salt on it. I asked about
the parmesan being on the side and she said 'because it's salty'.
SOOOO, at that point I asked for something else, gave up on the gnocchi. I
asked if they had any of the chicken matzo ball soup that had been reviewed
favorably. They said yes, and brought some out. It also, was, in my opinion,
oversalted. I didn't complain because at that point I had decided my palate and
Meritage were not compatible. I do feel I can judge restaurant food even though
I don't use much salt in my own cooking. And this place seems to have a problem,
at least with whoever was cooking last night.
I'd love to hear any other opinions on this matter, especially from any others
who have been less than thrilled with Meritage.
1. Kosher salt crystals visible on a pasta dish, in this case gnocchi, are not good form. A little cracked black pepper on the other hand might be just the touch (certainly not all gnocchi dishes). The sauce element should be enough to break down the salt and fully incorporate it. More of the same on take two is a complete screw up on their part, and probably was a communication glitch as opposed to a complete "screw you" gesture.
2. The chef commenting that adding salt to a salad was "crazy" is not in the same culinary boat I am in. Vinaigrettes should be salted to taste "fully seasoned" on their own. The lettuces need to be seasoned separately and properly (pinch of salt/crack of pepper) in order to be maximized. All elements seasoned properly and individually throughout the cooking process avoids the need to play catch up at the end and prevents the dish from losing is subtle depth. Another fine point is that the bowl should be dressed and not the greens. Galooping vinaigrette on top of the greens is very likely to create a pocket of over dressed greens. Dressing the bowl on the other hand will allow a delicate hand to evenly dress the entire salad without overworking it, bruising the greens, and killing the chi. Yeah I said "killing the chi". Washing hands frequently is preferable to bludgeoning the greens with clunky tongs, although the health department has a well voiced preference. Where are those tongs hanging? What are they bumping against? How often are they replaced? Hand washing is the key.
3. Generally the chef is the one who decides the level of seasoning represented in his or her restaurants. Good restaurants fully season and do not overseason. Having to adjust at the table with a salt well is a downer for me, but I suppose its better than ingesting a mouthful of salt... or request a refire with no salt. A "fine dining" restaurant that serves bland food will not be in business very long. Chronic oversalting is also a problem and you were right to send it back twice. In the future you can ask for no added salt in any of your dishes, but you'll be missing out on the level of taste you'd experience if you found a kitchen you could trust.
4. Cooks who drink heavily and have bad palates as a result. Not in my direct experience. I think most journeymen cooks don't even know how to use a tasting spoon properly regardless of their after work activities. Smoking cooks are really missing out on the spectrum of flavor.
As a chef I think that getting cooks to use salt properly is the one of the hardest parts of my job. When you are beginning you are taught to season everything. After a while it becomes a routine motion and you throw salt on everything without thinking about it or tasting it or calibrating it properly. I've caught one of my cooks salting a salad, he didn't think anything was wrong with that even though salting a salad seems crazy to me. Things like this happen all the time, you really have to be vigilant.
The other factor is that lots of cooks drink heavily, when you are hung over your body craves salt which throws off your palate.
Afew years ago the "cutting edge" chefs discoverd salt. Maybe it's the increasing presence of salt avoiding diners that made a little salt a striking flavor. It has escalated, however. Now everything is being oversalted at some restauraqnts. The reviews are great. The menu is bewitching. The plate is beautiful. Then I can't taste the food over the salt.
Eat enough salt and you get used to it. Then, if you want that old salt taste, you add more. So, the chef adds more and more. It's like the chef has become addicted and doesn't know he is dispensing an overdose to the non-habituated. So what if it is expensive fleur de sel, or just kosher salt. Too much is too much.
It's not the particular restaurant, it's the process.