Thursday, January 3, 2008

Is it me?

I ask myself that question with great regularity. I have a coworker who, after eating out with me a number of times, states rather matter-of-factly that you should not go out to eat with me because the restaurant will screw up my food. They didn't screw his food up, just mine. But he and I are both chefs and maybe it pains him to watch them serve me screwed up food. The screw-ups have ranged from shards of corncob in my corn chowder to "butter poached" lobster tails that seem to have been deep-fried to the point they would have made better shoes than food. And then there are less severe issues that I face with regularity. I travel a fair amount for my job and therefore I eat out a lot. I am currently in Savannah. It is a beautiful city that is full of historic charm. I have had many good meals of oysters and beer here. The beauty of good seafood is all you have to do is stay out of its way; don't screw it up!
Food that actually requires preparation is a different story. It takes skill and knowledge. Last night I went to the Six Pence Pub in Savannah. I had started to walk towards the river to get some seafood, but it was about twenty degrees and I decided to stop in the pub for a bite rather than brave a ten minute walk it the frigid night air. The pub was very cool. It had a classic pub look and feel and the beer selection was great. The whiskey and wine selection weren't too bad either. I order beef Guinness and a Guinness beer. The meal came out with near immediacy. I thought that was cool at first, but only at first. The beef Guinness was served in a small hollowed out bread roll, about the size of softball. The stew was a lumpy mess that was prepared with too much roux, the cooked blend of flour and fat that thickens gravy. A couple of pieces of beef were nearly inedibly tough. Perhaps the most egregious error was that they heated my food by microwaving it, in the bread bowl. As most home cooks know, if you microwave bread you have something suited better to a street fight than a food fight.

Tonight I went to Il Pasticcio, a very well renowned Italian restaurant located in the heart of the historic district. I ordered a pasta dish called Spaghettini Pasticcio. The menu described seafood pasta with concassé tomatoes and a saffron sauce. I ordered it because I wanted something a bit on the lighter side. The dish that arrived resembled a soup more than a pasta course. It was swimming in cream, not just cream, but cream that had no hint of saffron. I found the dish heavy, flavorless and bordering on unpleasant. I tried to pull the pasta out of the pool of fat and allow it drain before I ate it. I also left a full cup of cream and pasta in the bottom of the bowl, choosing not to finish it. In my experience, one of the most common offenses to Italian food in America is too much sauce. The surprising part of the evening is the restaurateur was sitting next to me and he is from Italy. He was speaking in Italian with a gentleman I perceived to be a manager, perhaps the general manager. The manager was eating at the bar with his American girlfriend and both of their dishes looked really good. Perhaps I should have ordered in Italian.