Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sometimes Dining Out Is a Lot Like Having Your Face Sucked through a Colander. Only More So.

I rarely go out to eat anymore. It's just too painful.

It's not that I harbor an aversion to letting someone else do all the cooking, serving, and cleaning up. It's just that, well, so many restaurants seem to do it so badly these days. Especially the serving part.

Of course, there are still establishments scattered around the country that will only allow you to serve if you are fortunate enough to have inherited the position from a parent or relative. I'm thinking of the likes of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, or Le Bernardin in Manhattan, or even Bern's Steakhouse in my old stomping grounds of Tampa Bay. Landing a server position at one of those venerable institutions would be akin to winning the lottery.

No. I'm talking about the other 99% of the restaurants that dot our highways and byways. The ones where red-headed and barely post-teen hostesses greet everyone with a smile as sweet and natural as a packet of Splenda and gush, "So how are you guys tonight?" Even if the party is made up of a half-dozen septuagenarian women fresh from a late-afternoon game of bridge.

You know the type and I know the type. It's the effervescent gum-popping blonde whose cell phone is surgically affixed to her ear. Or the middle-aged woman who is convinced she can take the orders from three different tables simultaneously and effectively. Or the gangly 20-something waiter with the dreadlocked ponytail and an order pad stuffed down the front of his pants.

I can sense some of you nodding in agreement.

However, I've been known to overlook my server's hairstyle, order-taking strategies, or technological accouterments if the food and service are exceptional. Heck, I own a cell phone and I once sported a ponytail. But there are occasions when it's hard to ignore certain examples of dining room buffoonery.

Like the time my fiancee, now wife, ordered warm apple pie a la mode. The waitress presented her with a pie that was nearly as cold as the vanilla ice cream that crowned it. When I pointed this out to the waitress she snatched it up and replied, "I'm sorry. I'll be right back."

You're probably guessing what happened next.

The waitress returned a few minutes later with the same plate of pie and ice cream, but after she had obviously nuked it for a minute or two in the microwave. True, the apple pie was now as warm as a baby's cuddle, but the ice cream had completely melted over the pie, creating a thick, dull white pool that oozed across the plate. Yum.

Or the time I ordered a chef's salad with Dijon vinaigrette on the side. When the waitress placed my salad in front of me, I kindly asked if she would bring my side of salad dressing. She said she had already added it. I stared at my naked salad as she continued, "I poured it down the side of the bowl just like you asked me to. It's probably all at the bottom."

Or the time I ordered a medium-rare rib eye and received one that was plainly well-done. When I pointed this out to the waiter he offered to take it back to the kitchen so the chef could fix it. (Short of firing up the time machine they must've had stashed back there, I'm not sure what the chef could've done to "fix" my steak).

Or the time my date ordered her eggs once-over-light and was presented with an order that was unmistakably scrambled. When I reminded the waitress that my companion had requested eggs over light the waitress replied that she had, indeed, seen the cook turn them over once, but she would go back and check with him just to be sure.

Hmm. Now that I think of it, being greeted at the door by a bouncy redhead with a "How are you guys, tonight?" doesn't sound so bad after all. Even if my 79-year-old mother is with me.

Now, hand me that colander, will ya?

Bon appetit!


Grilled Steak - Indoors

I believe getting a good steak is one of the reasons we like to go out to eat. For some reason, we just can't seem to duplicate that restaurant taste at home, especially if we choose to cook indoors.  It's true that high-end restaurants have access to cuts of beef that the average person doesn't. They can purchase dry-aged Prime beef, we're stuck with cry-o-vac Choice. But don't fret. Here's a recipe for great Choice grade steak that you can cook indoors. It may surprise you, but you won't need to fire up the broiler on this one. And unlike searing and cooking steak on your stove top, this version will not fill your house with smoke.

Prep Time: 5 minutes         Sitting Time: 1 hour        
Cooking time: 6 minutes    Rest Time: 3-5 minutes


2    6-8 ounce Rib-eye, New York strip, t-bone, top sirloin, or flat iron (my favorite) steaks, 1-inch thick.
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 (or more) teaspoons cracked black pepper


1. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt on each side of the steak and let sit at room termperature for 1 hour. Sprinkle with cracked pepper and use your hand to press it into the meat. Preheat oven to as high as it will go (mine goes to 550 degrees).

2. When the oven has reached its highest temperature. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to turn gray (about 10 minutes).

3. Pat the steaks with a paper towel and add them to the skillet. Immediately place the skillet on the floor of your oven and close the door. Cook for 3 minutes for medium rare. Open the door, flip the steaks then cook for an additional 3 minutes. Remove steaks to a warm platter, cover and let sit for a few minutes so the juices redistribute themselves.



  1. Yes, yes, yes. All of the above is true. Good service is difficult to come by in many restaurants. However I wish I'd had some of your experiences because they are certainly good for a laugh. I end up receiving more rude service than clueless service. As though I am SO lucky to be sitting at their table. Ha. Staying in has almost always been the better choice for us. Although I have had the pleasure of Burns Steakhouse before and... well... it was nothing short of perfect.
    Thanks for the laughs!

  2. Thanks, Holly! I hope that you'll eventually experience more clueless service than rude service. It certainly is a lot more fun. LOL

  3. Great points! I used to be a waitress and a bartender and although I feel I was great at my job, I was always surrounded by awful people who did not know what they were doing. Let's face it-unless you're at Trotter's, anyone can get a job as a waiter.
    And I'm glad you posted this method of cooking steak instead of the outdoor grilling way. I actually am not a fan of smokey things, so this is how I prefer my meat to be cooked. And salt and pepper is all you need on a good steak-right on!

  4. I once took my girls to a Jersey diner for the experience... we weren't disappointed.
    The waiter for the next table of teenage jokesters threatened to "take you out back and punch you in the face." And when I asked my waitress if the tea was fresh-brewed, she said "Yeah, fresh-brewed last week."

  5. My face still hurts from laughing. I think we've all been there! I had such horrid service once many years ago that I left a penny - with a note that said, "This is a hint, not a tip." I've wanted to do it again a couple of times since... but have settled for letting the manager know how dreadful the service was. Kateiscooking

  6. @ Abbey. The sad thing is, wait staff would make a lot more money if they got their act together!

  7. @ Debbie. This is so funny. Only in Jersey! LOL

  8. @ Katie. Glad the post brought a laff (did you see one of the previous ones about our adventure with the $40 Margarita's?)