Friday, April 24, 2009

What More Do You Want?

The level of assumed entitlement in this post-Yelp! world is amazing.

There was a time where a consumer and a business-owner obliged each other with this simple, basic ground rule:

If something purchased did not meet the consumer's satisfaction and that item could be reasonably returned (or was faulty, or was only partially consumed in the case of food) then the business-owner would accept the return and refund their money. That's good business.

Now it seems that only "kinda" liking something is grounds for demanding refund and sending a dish back is grounds for an entire check to be comped.

Two cases in point:

Consumerist Blog writes about purchasing a chimichurri salmon dish at Trader Joe's and finding a dead, cooked worm on the fish as he's consuming it. That's gross, sure. Fine. So he returns the uneaten fish and the worm to his local Trader Joe's and gets a refund and several complimentary items. Well done Trader Joe's. However, on the blog, Consumerist is annoyed that he hasn't received any response from Trader Joe's corporate. What possible response would they have that wasn't already addressed by his local store? What does he want? Free TJs for life over a stupid worm? Come on! Organic matter exists with other organic matter and every so often you'll find unintended organic matter packaged with intended organic matter. That's life. I'd be more concerned about finding inorganic matter like broken glass or "bleach-like" substances. But a worm on a fish? Especially a dead one? Who cares? Pick it off and keep eating.

A recent Yelp! review of Street in Hollywood had this to say:

"I ate their on Saturday night. The food ranged from good to forgettable. The left side of the menu (small plates) is MUCH better than the right side. In a city like LA, with amazing and authentic Korean and Thai restaurants, there is little reason to eat korean BBQ short ribs or mediocre Bibimbop here. My biggest complaint is that we were not seated until 9:30pm when we had a 9pm reservation. To make matters worse, they did not offer to buy us a round of drinks and only took a few appetizers off the menu when we asked them to "do something" at the end of the meal. On a $250 bill (before tip) they took of $17 worth of apps. Many of the cocktails cost above $10, so this really was not much. (BTW, the $16 cocktail is SO over in LA; just ask Bar 1912).

Overall, they need to shore up the way they run the restaurant. Relying on Ms. Feniger's hard earned reputation alone does not make a great restaurant. Unless they shore up the front of the house and focus the food on being unique, STREET will fail...and there will go Ms. Feniger's rep. It will be a long time before I spend my $$$ here again."

Oh, so you weren't blown away by the food and you had to wait 30 minutes to be seated for a reservation? Okay, so that sucks. Oh, but they comped some appetizers? Cool, so what's the problem? You could've left if you didn't want to eat there. Should they have maybe comped a little bit more? Sure. But you were the entitled prick who asked that they "do something." When I was a waiter that was a cue for not caring if you ever did come back.

So what should you reasonably expect when a restaurant fails to meet your expectations?

For egregious wait times for a reservation: comped drink or appetizer.

For unacceptable food: either comped or replaced, if replacement causes a significant delay then perhaps the entree or a drink should be comped.

For an incorrect order: replacement and, if it causes a significant delay, a comped drink or dessert.

For unacceptable service: a lot of discretion here, ranging from free drinks to gift certificates to a total refund.

Basically buddy, for having to wait 30 minutes for your table (and knowing your type it was probably more like 15) you should MAYBE get a free drink while you waited.

You're lucky you didn't get a cockslap across your face.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kickin' It Old School: Castlewood Country Club, Pleasanton, Ca

There was a time when America was truly great. When marital rape was legal and the only Negroes on a golf course were caddies, greenskeepers, and W.E.B. DuBois. I got to experience a whiff of that era on a recent trip to the venerable Castlewood Country Club in the foothills of Pleasanton. And let me tell you, that whiff smelled strongly of Burma Shave.

My parents, for reasons still vague, were recently invited to join the club (they let Jews in now!) and they accepted as social members, providing access to all the facilities and two tee times a year on the admittedly beautiful golf course.

I was up seeing my parents for the recent pan-religious holidays and we went to the club on a Friday night, wearing the requisite sport coat. We were greeted by the friendly young hostess and ushered into the bar for a cocktail, which we enjoyed with an appetizer of fried calamari which was surprisingly tender and tasty. I didn't actually enjoy my cocktail which was probably the worst Rob Roy I'd ever had, tasting strongly of scotch for the first half of the drink and strongly of vermouth for the second.

We moved into the dining room which was really really nice in a very old school way. Sort of a hybrid of a vintage downtown SF steakhouse and a vintage North Beach strip club, all overlooking a shady golf course.

I was charmed by the menu which offered a "complete" option for every entree. For $4 extra you got soup or a house salad and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. My mom informed me that this used to be standard.

You know what? The food was actually pretty damn good. I mean, the ingredients were of middling quality and questionable seasonality, but the preparation was impeccable and there were flashes of innovation in the flavor combinations.

I went with a lettuce salad with Fuji apples and candied pecans to start--pretty nice, though the supersweet apples and the supersweet candied pecans made for a supersweet salad.

For my entree I steered clear of the who's who of circa 1963 menu items and opted for the "appetizer" of mac and cheese with lobster meat and vegetables. Pretty tasty and more than enough for an entree.

The wine list, although small and offering all of ONE non-sparkling wine that wasn't Californian, was well thought out and not as predictable (or slavishly devoted to Livermore Valley wines) as one might've thought. We had a Paraiso pinot noir from Monterey County. Good stuff.

And a quick note on the service. Did they know a shit ton about food? Not really. Was the service attentive, friendly, professional, and deferential? Absolutely. It was really great service. They replaced flatware and napkins, cleared dishes promptly, and were generally convivial.

Why can't we have such service at places that don't feel like a time warp? Why?

So yeah, I do recommend Castlewood Country Club to y'all. Of course you have to be a member so, well, nuts to you.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Seventh busiest restaurant in California?

Restaurant Industry magazine released its list of the nation's Top 100 Independent Restaurants (by estimated gross sales).

Most of the list isn't surprising; many of the restaurants are in either New York City or Las Vegas, including the mind-boggling Tao Las Vegas which grossed $68MM in 2008 (almost twice the number two on the list, Tavern on the Green). The California entries are mostly recognizable: SF downtown expense-account/tourist mainstays Slanted Door, Scoma's, Boulevard, and Cliff House along with Los Angeles meal machines Gladstone's Malibu and Lawry's The Prime Rib.

Can I just ask what's up with definite articles and Beverly Hills steakhouses? Lawry's The Prime Rib? Morton's The Steakhouse? Wolfgang Puck's The Cut? (Yes he is).

Actually he's probably not. He's Austrian after all.

But in all this list of LAs and New Yorks and Chicagos and Miamis is a very very odd and eye-catching outlier: Coalinga.

That's right, Harris Ranch Steakhouse is one of the 100 highest grossing restaurants in the country, and the seventh highest in California (between NYC's Ruby Foos and Asia de Cuba). Adding to my bafflement is the fact that not only are they higher grossing than a lot of serious Vegas restaurants (Aureole, Eiffel Tower, Spago Las Vegas), but Harris Ranch Steakhouse also has one of the lowest per person averages on the list at an estimated $33 a head.

Holy fucking crap, 474,323 people dined at Harris Ranch Steakhouse in 2008. That's more people than dined at half of the restaurants in the top 10.

So a half a million people hopped off I-5 while going to/from somewhere and had a leisurely steak dinner in a hot, stinking, hellhole.

I lived in the Bay Area. I live in Los Angeles. I drive up and down I-5 a lot. I've never considered eating there. Hell, I can only remember stopping for gas there once. I tend to avoid it because the town smells like cow shit and the gas is usually a bit more expensive than elsewhere.

Plus I don't consider driving on I-5 to be a leisurely endeavor. I'd rather not spend a couple hours eating at a restaurant, I just want to get wherever the fuck it is I'm going. I stop for gas and a piss once, maybe grab a drive-thru bean burrito, and keep on my way.

So who are these people? I mean, the LA-SF drive is only about five and a half hours, so that can easily be done between meals (bring a Clif Bar), so it's probably OC/San Diego folks making the longer drive. Or maybe truckers? Indulging in one good meal on the road? Steak and a blowjob under the methane-shrouded moon?

Point is, if I were a high-class truckstop hooker, I'd hang out at Harris Ranch.

Second point? I'm eating at Harris Ranch next time I make the drive up I-5 (if I'm not in a rush).