Story and photos by Manos Angelakis

Chef-in-the-Kitchen

Restaurant Notes

In Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl recounted her experience working in a restaurant's kitchen where she was told that there is a war between the customer and the kitchen. That may well be true from the kitchen's point of view but, in my humble opinion, the dining pleasure in a good restaurant is influenced by a large number of factors; the kitchen's product might be an important one, but is just one of them.

The location of the table and the actions of your immediate neighbors, the personality or lack-of, of the wait staff, the rhythm of the service, the atmosphere. They all influence the total dining experience and no matter what the expertise of the chef, the kitchen cooks and the quality of the ingredients, if there is no favorable confluence of all the influencing forces a restaurant will not be remembered.

Ajoblanco in Cocktail Glass

At a recent “famous restaurant” diner, our waiter served as a starter ajoblanco; a cold soup made with very lightly toasted almonds, extra virgin olive oil, good white sherry wine vinegar, garlic and salt, in lovely ivory, off white tones.

Unfortunately, the tables were set up too close – even during COVID though there were plastic separators between the tables -- and the table next to ours had people talking very loudly; it felt as if they wanted the whole dining room to hear them brag about their latest exploits. In addition, two tables behind us, there was a bunch of obnoxiously and constantly whining children that “would rather have McDonald’s”. So much for the atmosphere.

Sliced grilled steak,jpg

I had the “steak with pommes frites and bordelaise sauce”. The steak, though small, was delightful, perfectly done as specified and the sauce was a very good example of the genre.

greasy pommes frites

But the potatoes... oh the potatoes… they were such a disappointment. I expected the wonderful pommes frites that any self-respecting bistro effortlessly turns out day or night. What I got were thin-sliced, slightly soggy, tasteless sticks of starch, festooned with a few rosemary leaves, some with brown skin patches attached, wrapped in a greasy paper funnel. The waiter claimed them to be “homemade potato chips”! Such a load of hooey! These were pre-sliced and frozen potatoes; Burger King makes them much better.

crêpes stuffed with lobster

So, I returned the pommes frites to the kitchen and, because my steak portion was small, I also got crêpes stuffed with lobster, fennel and mango, decked out with sea-fresh claw meat; they were a bit over the top but very intriguing. I loved the evening's version of “Surf and Turf”.

My companion got an exceptional agnolotti with golden chanterelles in a light corn emulsion, proving that a great pasta dish can be truly an experience.

Cheese Trolley

And when the cheese trolley passed by our table with 30 or so perfectly ripe cheeses from all over the world, we took a helping, sampling a little of this and a little of that, all the while washing everything down with a vintage port suggested by the sommelier.

But to me, the worse affront in restaurant dinning is the “fat police” mentality. As far as I’m concerned, “light healthful eating” creates food that might look good, but lacks taste. Daniel Bouloud, perhaps one of the best known chefs in the world, is not famous only because he is creative –he is that, in spades -- but also because he has remained true to his roots. He uses 4 tablespoons of butter when preparing his poulet à l'Estragon, a simple dish that can be very elegant and great tasting when done right.

To your health!

 

 

 

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