Do you “fake” it?

 You know what I mean. You just had a disappointing dinner and here comes the server asking you how it was. Do you tell him the truth or do you just smile and say, “It’s good!” and make a mental note never to come back again.

The thing is, it’s really hard to tell with the waitstaff. Do they really give a cr*p how your meal went or do they just go through the motions of a script? Will what you tell them get back to the kitchen where it really matters? (that is, if the kitchen cares. but any chef worth his salt cares, believe me.)

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. The point is you. Are you the type to speak up when you eat a sub-standard meal at an eatery or do you determine that that’s the pinnacle of what this restaurant has to offer so you mark it off your list or better yet write an interesting personal experience about it on your blog. (Note I did not say review, there was a debate on twitter about posting a negative restaurant review vs. a personal dining experience on a blog…as my hubby argues it’s a personal blog why can’t you write whatever you want.)

When a restaurant is new and when I have a vested interest in its success (meaning I like the cuisine it’s trying to promote), I try to give as much constructive criticism as I could. But if it’s an established restaurant whose menu is probably duplicated by numerous places around – crabcakes anyone? – I tend to keep my mouth shut and move on.

I think the reason I don’t complain much is because I do not want the restaurant to comp the dish in question. Working in our restaurant before I knew there were three types of complainer – the first genuinely cares for the restaurant to improve its food, the second nitpicks to get a free meal and there’s a third type who fusses to feel important. The latter ones tend to be repeat offenders who simply can’t be happy with anything you serve them. Which make you wonder why they keep returning.

It’s easier to give an opinion when the restaurant is new because they are still working through the kinks and, I imagine, welcome suggestions from their customers. Recently I had no qualms of informing my server that the mascarpone polenta was way too salty, but not without letting her know that I’m aware that they’ve just opened and it’s no big deal.

It was a disconcerting experience though when it came to dessert. This restaurant was much hyped but the sweet offerings leave much to be desired.

HH and I decided to share a chocolate tart. What arrived was a pale-as-vampire tart shell with a hardened layer of chocolate ganache. If I’m not mistaken those tart shells were the disgusting pre-fab ones you get from food service companies … yes the ones with scallop edges.

I normally would fake it and try to shovel three-fourths of the dessert into my mouth because I didn’t want our server to think I didn’t like the dessert (which was really the truth).
But I’ve recently been having weight problems and I want all my calories to count and there’s no forcing HH to help me with it either because the man doesn’t share my sentiment of “faking” it, so I’ve decided no more “faking” it.

So two bites of the chocolate tart, one from me and one from HH and we called for the check. As expected the server asked if we didn’t like our dessert and I said….”Uh…no…” and that was it. And as I feared, the restaurant comped it even when we told them not to. It’s really order at your own risk…”that’s my motto…”

The reason this post came about? A repeat of the above experience, this time with a lemon chess pie. We were all ready to rave about the new menu of the restaurant until dessert happened.

I realize some don’t care about dessert. But it has become aggravating how an otherwise above-average meal suddenly gets derailed with a disappointing last course. What I remember most about a dining experience is how it ends, just saying.

I can only speak of a handful of bright spots regarding this course on the Richmond dining scene.

The Empress – love their dessert selection specially their crepes.

Secco Wine Bar – dessert may be a hit or miss but I love how Tim Bereika gives much thought to his sweet creations. My most memorable – the chesnut bread pudding last winter – and I don’t even like bread pudding.

Sensi – their dessert trio always pleases.

Ejay Rin – I must say I am very impressed with Bill Foster’s dessert creations. The cereal milk panna cotta with avocado and chocolate hazelnut wafer – though clearly a nod to David Chang’s famous creation – is a worthy rendition in my opinion. There was another dessert he was experimenting on that blew me away…not sure if it’s on the menu yet but I’ll be on the lookout for it.

The Roosevelt – when Lee Gregory left Six Burner, I was distressed that I will never have what could be one of the best first desserts I’ve had in Richmond – his buttermilk panna cotta. I haven’t been to the Roosevelt yet, but I’m looking forward to when I’ll be reunited with that buttermilk creamy goodness.

12 thoughts on “Do you “fake” it?

  1. Back at my waiter days at Sal Federico’s, Mr Sal himself threw out an old couple who ALWAYS sent their food back into kitchen for adjustments! I admire that man! Nice post! Brought back good memories!

  2. I definitely do not fake it, but I also always include a comment about what was good about the meal and or service…and especially about the desserts!!. But I try to speak with the chef/owner because some serving staff only think about their tip, not about improving the restaurant. As someone who has worked in the food industry for years, I always want and appreciate feedback, esp the negative kind…it only makes it easier for me to make my product better.

  3. Tough question – most times I would probably suck it up, but it’s rare that I have anything that’s really awful. However, dessert might be another issue. That’s always got to be great. Last week, I ordered a glass of wine in a cafe, and it tasted really funky. I was going to live with it, but thought, it had to off. I spoke up and the wait person said, “A lot of people tell me that,” and brought me a glass of something else. So, it was awful wine, but it’s actually supposed to taste that way … Maybe someday they’ll change the menu.

  4. @HH – yes, that story is funny. But kudos to Sal! 🙂
    @Mark – there’s a fine line where you can’t decide whether that’s how food is meant to taste or you’re imposing your own taste buds. If it’s too salty, I’d definitely say something. Now with dessert I’ve realized that my sugar tolerance is lower than average and I do not like overly sweet desserts where general consumers might deem just right..just look at the general frosting that’s on cupcakes everywhere…I couldn’t eat that. Like I just ate a dessert with a certain spice that didn’t go well on my palate, I can’t complain about that because it’s how the chef perceived it. Now, let’s say it’s a lavender creme brulee and I didn’t like the lavender after taste, I probably won’t say anything, but if it’s not creamy as it should be and obviously old, then I’d say something. Now if the server or chef asks I’d probably say the lavender essence was too overpowering for me.
    @TW – yes, with most items I’d suck it up because how something is supposed to taste is highly subjective. But as I’ve said above: if it’s too salty, something was served cold when it should hot, or if something like pasta was overcooked – I most likely will say something. Ha! You live in NY, I’ve had only great desserts there so far. The tarts at Balthazar blow away any dessert that our local brasserie here have to offer.

  5. Great post. I think my opinions are fair for the most part, and unless there is something totally egregious, I keep my rants to a minimum. I have the worst time with rude staff, especially if the place charges a great deal for the food.

    For upscale places that were a true disappointment, I write a letter or send an email. If the restaurant does not respond or is nonchalant, I will blog the experience. This is a rare occurrence. I also blogged about a place that ran out of food and then the staff tacked on an additional $30 to my credit card after the fact (quite a while ago).

    And if I go to a place many times and have good experiences, I praise the consistency. Tastebuds American Bistro is very consistent, very service oriented, and offers wonderful food.

    When I go out to eat, I usually leave no room for dessert. It’s been nice that restaurants are offering more small plate options so I can be tempted by something sweet at the end of the meal.

  6. @pjpink I get annoyed with rude staff too but usually it’s mostly the clueless server that gets me. I haven’t tried Taste buds yet – heard good things, thanks for bringing them back into attention. I like small plates, they seem to be more appetizing than being presented by a mountain of food. I usually leave room for dessert. 🙂
    @Eugenio – Ugh! a spoiled oyster! hope you didn’t get too sick from that. When I eat a certain food item that is bad, that usually turns me off from it for a long time.

  7. I go both ways Veron. As you said, if something is cold when it should be hot or warm when it should be cool, I have no problem letting the waitstaff know.

    Ingredients and taste is an entirely different matter unless, of course, the menu states one thing and another winds up before me. I have a very low tolerance to ill prepared shellfish and when the menu or the server announces “it is cooked to perfection,” I expect it to be just that; tender, juicy and flavorful.

    For serious offenses, I usually will tell the server and follow up with a quick note to the management.

    Dining out is a luxury for most and I feel my calories should count for goodness with room for dessert:)

    GREAT post, thought provoking comments too…

  8. for me, it depends. half of the time I’d probably make a mental note not to go back to the restaurant again but the other half, I’d probably raise a big stink, especially if I’m served seafood that is not as fresh as it should be! I just get very upset if I get bad food. your experience at the secco wine bar, i can relate to that. I remember ordering a lemon meringue pie at a french restaurant once in Bali (I don’t know what came over me cos I normally hate lemon meringue), but this one turned out totally divine – i ate the whole thing! and that vampire chocolate tart sounds hideous – ugh!

  9. Pingback: The Roosevelt gets it | Kitchen Musings

  10. I usually keep quiet, being in the biz myself, unless it’s very blatant. One time I ordered sole meuniere in a French rest in town, it came out with no lemon taste, no capers, in burnt (not browned) butter. When I told the waiter that there might have been a mistake, he insisted that’s the sole. I explained that a friend ordered it the week before and it was delicious. He still said that’s how the chef cooks his sole. I asked him to return the dish, it came back out (not sure if he did tell the chef or not) untouched. I asked for lemon slices and capers, and tried to eat, I couldn’t – it was tasteless and I was so ticked off by then, I was paying $30+ for this! I finally had to do the one thing I hate doing: telling the waiter that I am a chef and I am returning the food. I emailed the Chef owner the next day, I was sure he wasn’t working that weekday night. I’ve been back to the place again, just never again ordered the sole. :-/

  11. Thanks Louise and Ben for your insights!
    @EllieB – I agree, when you are in the business it is sometimes best to keep quiet. For $30.00 though I totally understand why you returned the food, it could be so frustrating when nothing is done when a dish is ill-prepared specially something like a sole meuniere which has very specific characteristics and flavor.

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