Earlier today I got asked for a fancy restaurant recommendation. I responded that I’ve got a blind spot for fine dining in my world view. It doesn’t come to mind. I don’t really think of it as an option, and despite a few really impressive hoity toity meals in my past, I don’t really appreciate it enough to warrant the trouble the restaurants go to or the amount of money that I end up paying. That’s a disclaimer. Cuz, what do you think was on our agenda for the evening’s rare date night? Another episode of Jason feeling out of step with the pretentious parade that is the bourgie restaurant experience.
The plan had been to go to Six Burner ever since Karen had the pork belly at Broad Appetit. I tasted it and I agreed with her that Six Burner was robbed of whatever awards were given out (cuz they didn’t offer it as a slider. doh!) Actually, the plan has been to go to Six Burner ever since their chef left and the Foie Gras knuckle tatted Phillip Denny took over. In my view, he had two strikes against him, one for each hand. But, maybe his cooking would win me over (to his fanclub, not to foie gras eating – and please don’t turn my comment section into a battleground over that issue).
As the first Six Burner customers at their 5:30 opening, we’d hoped for happy hour specials. Nope. Those run through Wednesday. There was a prix fixe, but Karen wasn’t taken with the desert options (panna cotta or tapioca – two textures she doesn’t really do). Looking over the entrees, we couldn’t decide. Nothing jumped out at us. We ordered the most exciting thing we saw for an appetizer to bide us some more time: Squash blossom jalapeno poppers for $10.
I’d always wanted to try squash blossoms, and I’m generally a sucker for anything spicy and cheesy. So, this would be perfect, I imagined a pile of orange flowers, bulging beneath their breading. Nope. What came out peeled our eyelids back. On a big white plate were kris-krossed two long shlong-shaped golden phalluses. Karen called dibs on the little one. Little one? Which one is little? Maybe you should have both. Have you ever had two at once? Har har. I cut into the end of the big one and white stuff oozed onto the plate. Okay, this is getting weird.
Moving past the innuendo now, we realized that our orange squash blossoms were attached to the end of slightly tender skinny green squashes. Very pretty with the colors muted by a light yellow crust. The filling was rich goat cheese spiked with bits of fresh jalapeno. From the bulging head, we worked our way down the shaft. Wait! No more of that. The squash was tender crisp and the breading was delicate and delicious. That’s it. Awkward. Not actually a steamy romance, but we were impressed with the spectacle, the flavor, and the technique. And then we left.
Choose your own adventure… (by the end of this, you’ll wish that we could come back to this point and choose to stay at Six Burner)
We decided to do something we’d never done before. We asked for the check and went to another restaurant. The entrees just didn’t excite us and there were no small plates to make a meal of besides the appetizers. Before leaving we agreed that we needed to check out Bouchon. The buzz about that place came and went before we could get in on their date night prix fixe that included a bottle of wine. Fortunately, Bouchon’s menu is enticing enough to warrant looking beyond the special deals.
Bouchon was virtually empty and it stayed that way for the two hours we were there. As soon as we sat down, I started stepping on the toes of the fanciness that is your dance partner at this kind of establishment. A list of water options were read to me and I got confused. Um. I don’t want bubbles. Still water for me. Wait, what were the other options? It’s crude to request tap water, right? Too late. She left and came back with a glass bottle of Evian. Shit. Faux pas number one. Should have asked for tap. Oh well, it’s date night. Anything goes. Live a little right?
There was a Thursday night special for ladies: half price glasses of wine and desserts. How much can I drink or eat from her discounted orders before they bust us? Karen and I split a glass of Muscadet (discounted at $4), picked out an $8 salad, a $4 side of ratatouille, and an red snapper special involving crab that was read to us without a price being mentioned (it always seems like I’m committing a party foul when I ask the price of the specials, so I didn’t).
Since we enjoy the $6.50 cheese plate at Garnett’s so much, we figured Bouchon’s $17 cheese plate would kick some serious ass. It came out on a big piece of black slate, looking every bit like what you would imagine a $17 cheese plate would, adorned with dried figs and cranberries (can I just call them Craisins?). There was an aged cheddar, a blue, Camembert, a Spanish Idiazabelle (sp?) and I think that’s it. After a bit, we stopped nibbling. None of the cheeses really grabbed us and we didn’t want to get full on food we didn’t love. So we had them box it up for a future midnight snack.
Our tomato and watermelon salad came out and it was pretty, the main ingredients nestled in a little cradle of bib lettuce. The basil and vinaigrette was a fun flavor along side the watermelon. The most remarkable thing were these cracked Szechuan peppercorns sprinkeled throughout. They tasted like anise when you bit into them, but they weren’t edible. Watching Chopped and Top Chef made me crave the opportunity to be a dick-head judge and ask someone why they would put something inedible on the plate, but that’s just a twisted TV fantasy. So, I spent a lot of energy trying not to make a scene as I retrieved each one from my mouth and arranged them on the plate for someone in the back to notice, hopefully.
Our snapper entree came out and it looked kinda petite. To be expected for a fancy French restaurant. Half-priced dessert was in our future, so we dug in with gusto. The fish’s exterior had a tough leathery quality that puzzled us. Not the flakiness you would expect from red snapper. We assumed it was deep fried. Once into the fillet, we realized it was barely warm, not hot like the plate it came on. All around the fish was a mix of bearnaise sauce, diced prima vera veggies and lump crab meat. The crab tasted good, but it seemed kinda dry, even in the fatty yellow sauce.
The owner came over, sensing our lack of enthusiasm for the dish. She pressed us for details about why we didn’t like it, but had an explanation for everything we tried to convey. She offered to replace it with something else even though we were half-way through and still eating (you do that reflexively, good or bad, when something has bearnaise sauce on it). By this point, we had been there long enough that we just wanted to get on with the meal, not take another stab at the menu and wait a good while longer. And really, neither of us feels good about a date if we have to send something back for tasting more like Bennigans than what we’d expected from a French bistro. So we just soldiered on, letting the owner conclude that we just didn’t understand the dish.
I should point out here that I insisted on a side of ratatouille because I love that mouse-centered animated movie (surprise!) and I figured Bouchon would have the best chance of delivering indescribable flavors that would take us back to our childhoods. And, you know what? The stuff was hella good. It was one of those eating experiences where you think maybe there’s pork fat (or duck confit, in this case) incorporated into the dish, but you just don’t want them to tell you about it. Yeah, I call myself a don’t ask, don’t tell vegetarian. If I don’t ask about the lard/chixstock/etc, don’t tell me.
I told the owner that next time I’ll be ordering one of each of their eight side dishes, and she agreed that it’s fun and people do it all the time. But, this is when I caught myself being phony. We weren’t coming back here. For the most part, we had not loved the food and I wasn’t excited to see the bill. I hate that feeling. Does it put you in the mood? Me neither, but I’m a cheapskate. Faking a good time probably leads to faked orgasms, and why can’t I get off… this sex topic?
At any rate, I think we diners have a habit of turning on the polite niceties when we know a meal has disappointed. It’s not the server’s fault. It might be the owner’s fault, but date night isn’t about holding interventions with restaurant owners. This kind of restaurant exists to make a certain kind of people feel a certain way. It didn’t work for us. There was a chocolate dessert that we enjoyed, kind of a dense mousse with berries. Couldn’t tell you what it was called, cuz they don’t print the dessert choices. I think it might have been $13 before ladies night discount (again, I didn’t ask for prices and they don’t offer them – cuz, if you have to ask…). The rest of the dessert list was full of French words that our server labored over. I asked for a definition of one or two, but didn’t want to give her a hard time. Clearly I’m supposed to know what all that stuff meant since she just ran through it. They also threw in a sliver of cherry pie/custardy thing as a consolation prize, since Karen had ordered dessert all to herself. Points for that.
Our server mentioned at some point that she’s sorry we didn’t like our entree. We gave her more feedback about it being tough and luke warm and tasting really heavy when topped with bernaise. She nodded absently as Karen tried to chime in with something nice about “we just ordered wrong.” Throughout, there was a stilted atmosphere in Bouchon (except for a couple getting drunk at the bar in the back) with servers seeming kinda cold and reluctant to engage when pressed, except when they were whispering with one another.
The check came and I saw the $80 total as Karen whisked the bill away (there’s more room on her credit card than mine, due to my ongoing car repairs). The number didn’t jive in my mind with the experience, except that it took a long time and stuff seemed to be overpriced. Peeking one more time I caught the price of the snapper entree: $29. No wonder they don’t volunteer that info. When fish is served with seafood on top, you gotta assume it’s gonna be extra, but this plate of food wasn’t good. $14 at Red Lobster, maybe.
A heaping plate of rainbow trout ($21) went to a neighboring table, and the owner agreed when I said that I should have ordered that. “Well, I’ll just have to come back and work my way through the menu.” Right. More pretending our lifestyle is something it’s not. Who the hell can maintain the charade of throwing money at experiences like these? The snob costume isn’t something I’m comfortable in, feeling like I’m in that company gives me the heebeegeebees. I’ll be back to “working through” some pizza joints from now on. If I come back I’ll be driving a bus, acting out a destructive scene from a Terminator movie. That’s about how enthusiastic I was feeling. Karen agreed. Taco Bell. That’s all we’ll be able to afford if we keep trying to fit in at fancy restaurants.
Once in the car, we realized that we’d left our box of cheese remnants in the restaurant. We didn’t think once of going back for it. Fuck it. You just bleed money on nights like these. Let it go. We thought about recounting the usually miserable experiences we’ve had when we’ve attempted fine dining, but decided not to go down that road. We went home a tad crestfallen.
A melancholy musical refrain comes to mind as I write this and arrive at an anticlimactic conclusion (press play below).
I don’t belong here.
I don’t belong here.
Cuz I’m a CREEP.