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Mar 3, 2010 10:39 AM

What's The Deal With Pickles - Grand Cafe Disaster

I need someone to try and explain why I'v noticed a trend where chefs are added pickles or pickling an ingredient in traditional comfort food dishes? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a pickle. They are fine on top of a Hamburger. They work well when the complement other strong flavor.

A while back, I went to Red Stag and ordered the Beef Stroganoff. It comes to the table and throughout it are little pieces of diced pickle. I take a few bites and the only I thing I can taste is the sourness of the dill. It overpowerd the meat, noodles, and sauce. It was so tart that it was basically unedible. To Red Stag's credit, they took it back and brought me a new one without the pickles. The watiress explained that the pickle was the chef's addition to "add some flair to the dish." It added something all right, but flair wasn't the right word.

Flash forward to the Grand Cafe in Minneapolis on Feb 20. We decided to eat there prior to our concert at Orchestra Hall. We started with the scallop appetizer from the special menu. They split it. We eached received one "diver" scallop (it was about the size of a quarter) with a seared cipollini onion and some blood orange sauce. Cost was $12. Needless to say, two small scallops with onion and orange for $12 didn't exactly get the evening off to a rousing start. It was adequate, but for the price I would have either expected larger diver scallops, another one, or a stronger flavor profile.

I ordered the Short Ribs. Here is what it said it came with: Roasted Root Vegetables ~ Toasted Barley with Wild Mushrooms ~ Pickled Cranberries ~ Sauce Bordelaise
My gal ordered the Cassoulet. I am not the biggest fan of cranberries, but I figured I'd just push them to the side and eat the rest. My entre arrived and I started to assmeble the various components together. I thought it was a little weird as the sauce at the bottom of my plate was very, very light red and I know from making it that Bordelaise that it should be darker in color. I took my first bite and I almost had to spit it out in my napkin. The best way I could describe it was that it was like chewing on solidified red wine vinegar. I began to eat each of the individual components. Each of them was so overwhelmed by this sour and overpowering taste that I could barely tell the difference between a mushroom and the root vegtables. The only thing that was saved was my short rib as it had been set atop the dish. I carefully removed it and set it on my bread plate and ate it. At this point, I didn't realize what the culprit was that made everything so sour tasting. I just knew it didn't taste right at all. My girlfriend too a bite too and to summarize her opinion in one word....."YUUUUUUUKKKKKK"

The gal very much enjoyed her cassoulet. I took a bite of it. It wasn't Meritage or Heartland quality, but a nice take nonetheless. The garlic sausage was easily the tastiest part of the dish. If you go, and based I"m what about to write I wouldn't recommend it, I'd consider this as your entree choice.

It, hard to believe, got worse. Our server stops by as we were finishing (I mean, how long does it take to eat one short rib you know) and says, "Oh you didn't like the vegtables?" I explained to her that the sauce was awful, that I thought it was like someone spilled red wine vinegar on the plate. She went and checked with the kitchen and came back to inform me that it was likely the result of the pickled cranberries. Ok, maybe it was. That could make sense. But I thought the sauce was Bordelaise. Did the kitchen just spoon the sauce from the cranberries instead? I wasn't in the mood to argue or question and time was running short in terms of getting downtown so I just let her know that it was something they may want to look at changing. She leaves, comes back 5 minutes later, and offers to buy dessert. We can't, we have to leave for the concert we explain. She comes back with the bill. It's the full charge.

I'm not sure what the correct thing to do is here and I'm sure some of you will rip me for the way I handled it. That's fine, I'm a big boy. I decided to tip her 10%. My reasoning was that she never checked in until far too late in the meal to see if everything was satisfactory. That could have given the kitchen time to make a new dish and hold the cranberries. She diid offer to buy dessert for both of us which would have come to around $14 according to their menu. Seeing as we couldn't stay, why not just comp the appetizer then? Or charge me half for the short ribs seeing as I didn't touch 75% of the dish? I felt that while the kitchen had made, in my opinion and taste, a poor dish, she hadn't done anything to properly rectify the situation. I will note that my standard operating procedure is to tip around 20% going as high as 25% when service is truly outstanding (LBV, Heartland, Heidi's (RIP), etc)

Upon leaving, I noticed that the owner was near our table. I wasn't sure it was her, so I approached and asked her if she was indeed the owner. I explained to her that I felt my dish was inedible. I also told her that I was only tipping the waitress 10% and explained the paragraph above. Her response:

"Oh, well we hardly ever receive complaints."

Well Sugar Plum, you got one. And I let her know exactly that. That the food was some of the worst I'd had in the Twin Cities and that I'd never, ever be back.

I guess you could say that the Grand Cafe left a sour taste in mouth, both litterally and figuratively.

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  1. I'm not going to rip you - it's too bad that you didn't enjoy your meal - but it doesn't seem to me like the waitress really did anything wrong or to merit the bad tip. It sounds like you assumed that the cranberries would be on the side when in fact they were incorporated into the sauce. It would probably have been better for you to have asked. The waitress then offered to rectify the situation by giving you a free dessert, which you rejected. Again, it wasn't her fault you were in a hurry, and once you'd rejected one offer, I'm not sure why she would make another.

    However, I am with you on the pickles in general. I think a lot of restaurants are getting into making their own pickles, which is great, but I'm not personally a fan of pickles mixed in with other foods and I don't like it when they appear without warning.

    3 Replies
    1. re: LiaM


      I didn't think they would be incorporated into the sauce as the menu listed the cranberries and bordelaise as separate. There were about 15 to 20 cranberries on the plate. I think that in including them in the dish, the kitchen just grabbed a spoonfull and poured it on there which not only added the cranberries, but also the pickling juice that they were marinating in. The issue with this meal was the pickling juice which was totally overpowering, extremely sour, and ultimately unedible. You are right that I could have asked instead of relying on the menu listing them out separately. And I should also note the cranberries themselves were, ummmm, disgusting at best. The girlfriend loves them at T-Giving and she used her napkin to discard the one she tried.

      I will disagree with you, respectfully, about the waitress not doing anything wrong. She never came to check on our satisfaction with out meals until I was cutting the last piece of meat off my bread plate and the gal pal was almost done with her cassoulet. By not making that visit within a few minutes of delivering the entrees, she lost the chance to try and make it right. In all honesty, she's lucky that the owner and I didn't have our conversation before I paid. I wouldn't have left a dime.

      1. re: Db Cooper

        "you aren't sure why the waitress had to make another offer?!" Because the customer is always right! for heaven's sake, I see this lack of making the customer happy in alot of places.....kill them with niceness....If you don't go the extra steps to make someone happy , especially in these times, you will lose precious customers.

        1. re: buenosds

          If Db had specifically requested one of the alternatives listed, i.e.:

          Server: "Can I buy you dessert?"

          Respond with: "We can't stay, unfortunately. Could you take the appetizer off the bill instead?" OR "Would you consider charging the entree at half-price?"

          THEN I would agree with the "customer is always right" sentiment. Db's retelling gives me the impression that he declined dessert and then silently anticipated that a second offer might then be made (at least that's what I expect of fellow Minnesotans). If you're unhappy with a meal, you shouldn't expect the server to fish for whatever compromise it is you might have in mind. Negotiate a little. If the server had directly refused one of these suggestions, politely made, then I'd agree with buenosds.


    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. I'm not going to the Grand cafe. Thanks for the heads up.

        1. Let's answer your first question, "I need someone to try and explain why I'v (sic) noticed a trend where chefs are added (sic) pickles or pickling an ingredient in traditional comfort food dishes?"

          Thanks to recent changes in the way many of us are thinking about food and where it comes from (including many local cooks), pickling has been reinstated as the way Minnesotans eat and prepare many vegetables in the winter. Rather than paying for fruits & vegetables trucked (or worse yet FLOWN) to our kitchens, the art of pickling is used to preserve native produce during the cold months. I know the Red Stag is one of these, as is Heartland, Alma, Meritage and several other local restaurants. Additionally, dill is not sour, vinegar is.

          As for the rest of your story, I will defer as I do not have anything nice to say.

          1. I have been thinking about this for a day or two. My disclaimer: I love Grand Cafe and have never had a bad meal there, or bad service.

            That being said, I do believe that you ordered something you did not like; fair enough. You should have immediately, after that first taste, called the waitress over (whether she stopped by or not) and told her the vinegar was over powering or "yucky" and you would like something else. I do not know for sure, but I would bet your plate would have been taken away and other options presented.

            Tipping the waitress 10% would not have been my way of dealing with it. She was not the problem. Talking to the owner was a good move, but since you were on your way out, there was not much she could do for you either. I agree with Gromit, you are responsible for your own customer service experience. Don't make the server guess at what will fix the problem, because for most people, the free dessert would have been great. That is true with all customer service issues, tell me what you want me to do, and if I can, I will.

            I hope you at least enjoyed your concert.