It’s not like I go to a place like Ruby Tuesday expecting a fine dining experience. Frankly, it’s just a step up from fast food, really – like eating a Big Mac on a table cloth. With the crushing heat of this past weekend, my wife and I decided a trip to the salad bar and a split entree would be a fine alternative to cooking.
It didn’t appear to be overly crowded as we parked the car in a shady spot near the front door. We got seated right away in a booth in an out of the way corner of the restaurant. So far so good. Now, normally at this point in the story I would begin clubbing our waiter into a bloody stain in the name of good storytelling. And to be sure, I grumbled mightily at the time. But upon further reflection, I’m going to take pity on this poor chump. He was simply in over his head in an occupational situation that was a poor fit for him. I think our waiter is more of a warehouse type. From his shaved head down to his droopy drawers – this is a fellow that is well suited for minimal customer interaction. While I promise to keep the waitron bashing to an absolute minimum – lemme walk you through our dining experience.
We sit and are handed menus. One thing Ye Olde Ruby Tuesday has over my home kitchen? Draught beer. With the heat of the day still making it’s presence felt on the slightly sun-burned back of my neck, I had designs on a couple of cold draughts to accompany my meal. With our menus, we received a slick little drink menu that’s usually reserved for the hawking of your over-syrupy sweet girl drinks – your ***tinis and ***aritas and Coladas of all stripes. However this one touted an exciting program featuring crafted micro-brews. Albeit a little pumped up – Sam Adams strikes me nowadays as a more or less mass produced beer offering and not so much a micro-brew as it started out. But whatever, I can handle a little inflated marketing. Right there on the list of crafted microbrews, I see Sierra Nevada listed. I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed a SN draught and I enthusiastically order one up. A few moments later, our waiter appears to inform me that he “thinks” that Sierra Nevada is bottled – not draught. Rather than squabble over the fact that it is specifically listed on the draught menu and – oh by the way they’ve gone out of their way to FEATURE it, I glance over the obvious question “Are you sure?” and opt instead for the question that’s likely to result in me enjoying SOME manner of draught beer the quickest “What DO you have on draught?”. A chorus of umms and head scratches later, my waiter grasps at a guess “PROBABLY the ones listed as bottles?” to which he quickly adds “We don’t have that many on draught”. I’m still no closer to getting any sort of information about what might be available – so I take the path of least resistance and instead order a Diet Coke. The drinks come and he proceeds to take our orders. Kids are easy – pasta with sauce x 2. I opt for the appetizer sized mini-burgers and salad bar. My wife goes for the mini-quiche and salad bar. He then invites us to enjoy said salad bar. Sub-par salad bar at best. Remember when “salad bars” were the hot new restaurant trend? There were some stupendous, colossal salad bars back in the day. It’s definitely a dying culinary art form. If you know of a decent one anywhere – please share with a comment or an e-mail. What I wouldn’t give for a fresh, crunchy crouton after that mess last night. Frozen peas, withered mushrooms – just kind of a big pile of meh! But whatever, it’s passable – after all, I wasn’t expecting Thomas Keller of the French Laundry to be sending us …
MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS AU TORCHON”
Red Haven Peach, Espelette-Peach Gelée, Cilantro Shoots and Melba Toast
So, we return to our table and are crunching away on our salads that are just a chilled plate of OK when waiter guy shows up again. After clumsily spitting out something about his inability to communicate, he tells my wife that he should have pointed out that in addition to the standard spinach quiche, they now offer a tomato basil variety that isn’t on the menu. He starts to go into a tale about new menus that were supposed to arrive several weeks ago but haven’t come in yet – my wife deftly cuts him off and cheerily agrees that the tomato basil sounds lovely and she’ll go for that. He returns moments later with the kids meals and the bad news that he misspoke, the tomato basil quiche is NOT available and would the spinach be ok? We’re a full 15 to 20 minutes into the ordering process and the kitchen has yet to receive our orders at this point. She is just agreeable as she can be – probably sensing that my patience was certainly wearing thin at this point. Off he goes presumably to put the orders in. Peace is momentarily restored at our table. We finish our salads. The kids finish their pasta. Now if you watch ANY restaurant show on television or have ever worked in a kitchen before you know that the number one priority is sending the food out so that everyone at the table receives their meal at roughly the same time if not at exactly the same time. In fact, apart from the cooking itself, this is the thing that working cooks are trained to do – time everything out. Again, this is not Veritas and Scott Bryant isn’t back there slapping Duck à l’Orange with baby root vegetables and lotus chips on the plates but Puh-lease!
So the quiche shows up with the promise that my mini burgers are close behind. Fine, whatever. A few minutes later waitron appears again with an apology. Apparently a party of 50 – FIVE-OH – has gathered in the adjacent room of the restaurant and the kitchen is backed up. First off, where the heck does a party of 50 materialize from at 7pm on a Sunday? Second, I feel bad for Opie because his kitchen has totally hung him out to dry. In my brain, I picture Gordon Ramsey in the Hell’s Kitchen absolutely flipping out and beating the holy sh** out of the kitchen crew and wait staff. I’m not alone – everybody in our little section of the restaurant got the shaft. So when this poor waitron bastard makes the bad decision of rolling through our section empty handed five minutes later, I look around the table at my wife’s empty plate, my kids starting to lose patience sitting waiting for dessert and I call it day. Cancel the order and bring us a check. He appears a few moments later to inform us that they’re not going to charge us for our trouble. And therein is the first intelligent bit of restaurant management that has occurred this evening. Opie got a five spot for his trouble – mostly because that’s all the cash we had between us but still about 500% more than he would have received had a bill been leveled. Opie lives to wait another day. So, if you’re looking to put a bit of sport into your meal – by all means head on down to your local Ruby Tuesday and roll the dice.