Restaurant dining has changed considerably within the past few years. And not for the best. Granted, prices have gone up, but that is to be expected. There are a number of things that truly irk me, resulting in a far from enjoyable dining experience.
I do not like to eat in the dark. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to dim the lights so low I feel as if I am in a movie theater. Even my small flashlight does not fare well in this atmosphere. I cannot read the menu nor see the food on my plate. Last fall, I was in a restaurant so dark that all the patrons whipped out their cell phones. This is not acceptable.
In the perfect restaurant, the waitstaff should be seen and rarely heard. I finally got over the “what kind of water would you prefer?” nonsense. Servers constantly interrupt my conversation to rattle on about the dish I have ordered as soon as it is set on the table. I do not need anyone to explain a dish. Several years ago, my dining companion, who was a chef, had to ask our server to leave us alone so we could chat.
A reason servers may run on and on is because menus are poorly written. Years ago, patrons knew exactly what the chef was cooking up. Today, ingredients are set off by commas: scallops, kale, onion jam, garlic, white wine sauce. You get the idea.
Noise used to bother me, but not as much as all of the above. If people are enjoying themselves in perfect surroundings, that’s fine with me.
The dog days of summer will soon be here. The following is a big gripe with me. It is a heat index of 100 degrees. The restaurant is air-conditioned, but the French windows are thrown open and so is the door. Why? It is not fun to eat hot food in a poorly ventilated room. I have walked out of restaurants that adhere to this policy.
Ingredients and dishes that have jumped the shark are still with us. This is boring. Same old, same old. Of course certain chefs do get their creative juices flowingby using in-season ingredients.
I am sick of Brussels sprouts. The little cabbages are everywhere, but they are a fall and winter vegetable that went out of season three months ago.
Beet salads with arugula and goat cheese, with or without candied walnuts, first appeared on menus in 1998. Great salads need care, but I am sick of beets.
Caesar salad is a triumph when it is done correctly. Unfortunately, it rarely is. I do enjoy the Caesar at Santucci’s, 901 S. 10th St.
Let’s turn our attention to short ribs, which began to pop up about five years ago, and they have never left. This is a hearty fall and winter entrée, so when spring arrives, how about a nice spring chicken?
Remember filet of salmon? It was the fish of the ’80s and early ’90s. Then, wild striped bass caught chefs’ attention, and it quickly gained in popularity. For the past few years, halibut has claimed pride of place on menus. I wonder which fish will be No. 1 by years-end.
Jersey and Pennsylvania tomatoes will soon be here. But I don’t know why some chefs insist on using out-of-season tomatoes that look anemic and taste like cardboard. A beautiful antipasto of meats, cheeses and olives is always welcoming. But chefs, please buy your provisions from DiBruno’s, 930 S Ninth St., or Claudio’s, 925 Carpenter St., and not the neighborhood deli that sells well, you know. A delicious brunch at Monsu, 901 Christian St., a few years back ended with a cheese plate that made my taste buds soar. The chef was kind enough to write down the names of the cheeses, and I immediately went to DiBruno’s to purchase them.
There are those South Philly restaurants that know how to take care of their guests. Tre Scalini, 1915 E. Passyunk Ave., Bibou, 1009 S. Eighth St., Paradiso. 1627 E. Passyunk Ave., and Fond, 1537 S. 11th St., quickly come to mind. I have never had to whip out a flashlight at Bibou or Paradiso, and know the chefs will wow me and keep me content.
Today is my birthday. I am making a reservation at a restaurant, and next week I will dissect the perfect place. It will not be a review per se, but it will give you an idea about what dining should be.
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