Just to be clear, I don't frequent too many trendy restaurants, and to those who like their food served in teeny portions with squiggles of sauce like yin/yang doodles all over the plate: enjoy it! I'm a diner kind of guy from a gourmet sort of family, so look me for in a booth somewhere.
Not long ago, Peggy and I happened to be out near her office when dinnertime rolled around, so we went to a "nice" restaurant out that way. No names, please. It's not the individual eatery that I am taking to task here, but, rather, the entire way we have of calling places "nice."
This place was "nice," if by "nice" you mean it seems unlikely that a brawl will break out and a guy with a sleeveless denim jacket will fashion an improvised weapon out of a broken beer bottle. That seemed a remote chance, although it's a safe bet that the bottle guy's lawyer will be here dining on most nights, so you could get a message to him if you needed to.
But, if the purpose of dining in a nice place is to sit and enjoy a quiet meal and have a pleasant chat, why does this place have a giant bar right in the middle of the house? (Question is rhetorical; answer is "huge profit in draft beer and mixed drinks.") Oh, the humanity, mobbing that bar! And it seems impossible for the men to stand with elbows cocked without hollering the names of each new arrival. Out loud! And they all seem to know each other, but they still have to holler their names! And there was one woman whose voice rose above the other clatter with a giggle so piercing that wine glasses shattered. Every thirty seconds, something amused her so much that she let one go. And the bar felt it necessary to play a DVD of a Bruce Springsteen concert, so hey - there really WAS a guy in a sleeveless denim jacket after all!
It was so loud that Peggy and I could not hear each other speak; that's a break for her, but I might have missed out on something worth hearing. Just way too loud for the high-class sort of chow they dish out.
And did I tell you about the couple at the next table, a few feet away? It was a guy in his late 50s - had to be, and he looked just like "Bulldog" from "Frasier" - and a woman, maybe 35. Well now, the love bug just bit those two real hard, about five minutes before they showed up for dinner, from the way they were making out. I said, making out. You know, like a couple of eighth-graders on the bus on the field trip to Washington. But the next time this guy goes to Washington, it will be to drop off his Social Security application. I almost hollered, "Get a room!" but I'm too classy. Or not. But man oh man, they were really putting it down. Again, time and place, people! Maybe this man had just returned from eighteen months of being held as a political prisoner in Paraguay, or, maybe he had just found out that he had a rare tropical disease, the only cure for which is to suck on a female's tongue for fifteen minutes every day while other people are trying to eat.
This semi-porno sideshow ended when the rest of the party showed up, and the smoochers were forced to break off their facial vacuums. And then, guess what else showed up! Our dinner! Served by the guy who was also filling everyone's water glass!
I had ordered scallops, which were to be served with "a Medley of Rices" (I expected Condoleezza, Ray, and Jerry Rice to sing some songs) and the vegetable of the day (turned out to be the dreaded asparagus, which, I will forever insist, resembles something cut down by a Weed-Wacker). I offered my asparagus to Peggy, who seems to like it, and got down to work. The rice was cold. The scallops, mostly cold and uncooked. So I looked around for the waiter, who had not brought the food, and he was nowhere to be found. I guess maybe he was enjoying the Springsteen DVD, or something. So when the water guy sauntered past, I asked him to stop by. He asked if I wanted any water, but all I wanted was hot, cooked, food. Moments later, our waiter skidded to a halt by our table. Examining my plate as if it were evidence in an autopsy, he summed up the problem:
"The rice, well they cook a whole tub of that, and then it sits on a steam table, and they spoon it off the top, where it's not heated." I took this to mean that this restaurant had found a way to cook food hot, keep it hot, and yet serve it cold! Genius!
"And the scallops, well, we don't cook them all the way. Do you like it cooked all the way through?" he wondered, as if I looked like a sushi consumer.
He took the plate away, presumably nuked it, and brought it back. My cursory examination showed no obvious signs of befoulment. We finished eating. Peggy's steak was ok.
So, to Pete Stomatoes down at the Diner: I am sorry I strayed; I won't do it again. You take a scallop served at the diner; that's a scallop that's been cooked and knows it!
And lest anyone else suffer as I did that night, here's my advice: You see the words "in a balsamic reduction" or "confit" anywhere on the menu, run for your life!