Monday, 1 September 2014

My Ottawa Kitchen Nightmare

Gordon Ramsay has put me off eating in restaurants, and staying in hotels.
We watch Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell religiously, giggling as we follow Ramsay dumpster-diving into the kitchens of restaurants throughout the U.S.
After seeing what happens behind the scenes, I've been seriously reluctant to enter into any dining establishment.
Even a few years ago, we didn't really care if the pizza was cold or the crust was a bit gooey, or even if there was toilet paper on the floor with overflowing toilets. We sort of saw this as part of the experience of visiting the local dive. As long as it had cold beer, we didn't really care.
But Ramsay scared us straight as he took us to the back-of-the-house to show us what some restaurants were actually serving. I learned never to order the special because "it" was the piece of meat rotting and swimming in its own gruelly sauce in the fridge or laying at the bottom of the freezer with third degree freezer burn.
I now know enough to stick to the dishes that the restaurant's chefs are good at making. If it's Chinese, stick to Chinese. If its Indian, keep with the butter chicken. The rest of the stuff on the menu likely came out of a package made in a dung laden Asian factory somewhere.
Oh yes, and you can always tell the state of the kitchen by how clean the bathrooms are.
I realize that, as a former devotee of restaurants, I'm lucky to be alive and not dead in an alley somewhere from eating at restaurants that have more botulism in their bins than I have in my face.
The City of Ottawa recently suggested that the cleanliness grade of a restaurant be posted on the front door. I am in total agreement with that. I once went to a posh Chinese spot in Toronto with a Minister of the Crown, who was, in fact, Chinese, raised waiting tables in his Dad's restaurant. As Bob was talking, he lifted the bamboo cover off of one of the dishes and a gigantic cockroach skittered over his plate. Bob didn't miss a beat; he slammed down his hand on the critter, swept it off the table and continued to talk.
I don't think I've had Chinese since.
I never got over that.
These days, due to the economic downturn and the Hydro rate upturn, I rarely frequent restaurants unless I am on business out-of-town.
Which is never.
I don't mind.
I would rather have a Scott meal any day, or a dinner made by my own hands. It's a lot cheaper, and I know exactly what went into making it.
But sometimes, you just have to put yourself out there.
Last week, my lovely daughter Marissa got married in a lovely posh restaurant in the Byward Market. I had to go. I had to eat. I had no choice.
The wedding was lovely, and the place was wonderful and clean.
I was ready to really enjoy myself.
Until the menu came.
You don't expect great food at a wedding. You expect rubber chicken and cold vegetables, and hopefully a nice dessert made off the premises.
But this place.
First, I ordered a bottle of wine that I regularly buy at the LCBO for $7.84. It's called Cesari and I like it because it's 12 percent alcohol and doesn't taste like grapejuice. The restaurant had it listed for $48.
Now, I don't know about you, but that seems to me to be an outrageous price for uncorking a cheap Italian. In my local Kelsey's it would sell for $28.
No matter. I was really looking forward to the food.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure what we got was really food.
It was disgusting.
Most of us ordered the beef, at the pleading of our server, who could not be blamed for anything that was about to happen. Don't order the ravioli, we were advised; you only get four small pieces.
There were two salads, one a familiar Boccocini laced tomato salad with tasteless vegetables -- unbelievable for tomatoes in August in Ottawa -- and a couple hunks of mozzarella. It was okay. But the other salad, a mixed salad had a whiff of watered down dressing. It was nothing more than a few hunks of iceberg and a couple tasteless tomatoes.
Then came the beef, oh, the beef.
It looked and tasted like slop on a plate with a cut of really cheap meat swimming in gravy sitting on top of runny mashed potatoes. Awful.
Then the dessert. Thankfully, mine was fine -- cheesecake made off the premises, as I suspected -- but the chocolate cake was all icing, "lard" as Scott called it.
This pricey meal was bad enough. But then the restaurant's wedding planner called in the middle of the reception to my daughter's cellphone to say that there weren't enough people eating, so she was going to charge her an extra two hundred dollars!
Marissa is no slouch and complained to the management who brought her, like five bottles of complimentary wine. I suspect the planner was fired.
All in all, it was a great wedding. Lots of love. Family and friends.
But we won't be going back to that restaurant anytime soon.
I might even call Gordon Ramsay to see if he wants to take a boo.
That's if the place is still around by next year.
I won't call it out, but the name rhymes with Umpire Bill.

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