Valentine’s Dinner 2013

I Might Just Be a Picky Diner.

Like many people, my wife and I’s personal schedule does not always make Valentine’s Day an ideal date to celebrate Valentine’s Day. This year we took our annual date night on Tuesday, Feb 12 which was last night. We have a favorite restaurant in town, which we will skip naming at this point for reasons to be explained later.

We often wonder why this is our favorite restaurant. Maybe it’s because its locally owned. Maybe we like their food better than other places. Maybe we just like what is familiar to us. Of those three, the last seems most likely.

I should clarify that, even though we have three kids from ages of “I need you to constantly interact with me’ to ‘Why the F**K do I still live with you’, my wife and I do go out to dinner alone more than once a year. This specific annual date night is the annual celebration of Valentine’s Day.

Back to our favorite restaurant, which we’ll call “Jon’s” just to keep the syntax simple and readable: My wife and I have actually eaten there every year on or about Valentine’s Day and several other times throughout the year. We have an inside joke that we can always reliably get at least one meal free.

Jon’s has a history, with just us, as far as I can tell of getting something wrong and they are very nice about comping a meal if they do. Some examples are undercooked meat or slow service or even in one case, my wife simply didn’t actually like what she’d ordered. Slow Service happened only once in over fifteen years. I do order my meat medium-well because that’s just the way I like it. You’d be amazed how many people take it personally when you talk about ordering steak any more cooked than medium-rare. Apparently I am just not enough of a cow-meat aficionado because I don’t believe I should be able to suck the blood out of the steak with a straw.

So, on to last night:

There are actually multiple locations for this particular restaurant and one has a better track record with us than the other. We opted, last night, for the more reliable one despite an inconvenient location.

So we go in and get seated right away, which doesn’t always happen, so we started happy.

Two point three seconds from sitting down, our waiter appears and asks if we knew what we’d like to drink. Well, no, I haven’t even opened the beer list. Do I want water? No. I prefer beverages that have been through some purification like distilling or boiling. My wife got tea. So the waiter leaves before I can ask what their special beers are that night. (I hope I’m not giving away too much about which restaurant Jon’s really is.) When he comes back six minutes later with my wife’s tea, I get the beer specials from him and order one of those. We also order our food at that time.

I admit I threw them a curve when I asked for a half-rack of baby back ribs as an appetizer. That shouldn’t have been difficult. It’s not like those are cooked from scratch when ordered. Those should be cooked all day and just thrown on the grill long enough to blacken a layer of sauce when we order them. My wife ordered from the appetizer menu.

That it was thirty five minutes after we’d arrived before the appetizers were placed before us is not something we were really bothered by. We do actually try to be understanding if the restaurant is busy.

And unlike the Great Applebee’s Debacle of 2002, they gave us time to eat the appetizers before bringing our food. I have no qualms about discussing the Great Applebee’s Debacle of 2002 without hiding the restaurant name because it was 10 years ago and only one instance at one restaurant. I’m sure they are better at all other locations and even that one location has learned that the correct order of service is not: Take order, bring dessert 5 minutes later, then the appetizer 10 minutes after that then the entree 30 seconds later.

Back to Jon’s. The appetizers were good. The manager did check on us within twenty seconds of them being set on the table. “How does everything taste?” He asked. “I don’t know,” I say as I’m pulling the first rib off the rack. No, wait, I wasn’t snide. My actual reaction was just a polite nod. My wife, on the other hand, did say that and pointed out that she hadn’t yet tried hers. He was very nice and apologized and walked away. My wife’s appetizer was served too hot to eat, but it cooled and she ate it. The ribs were perfect with the meat sliding off the bone and just the right amount of sauce.

I didn’t take too much offense that three people stopped to check on us before any of them removed the plate containing just a stack of rib-bones from the outer edge of the table.

The entrees arrived a few minutes after our appetizers had been long gone. My Prime-Rib was pinker than I prefer, but cooked well within what I’d consider an acceptable margin of error. My wife’s chicken dish was, well, we don’t actually know. At this point we discovered the food was all room temperature — cold to the touch. The menu was very specific when it listed “Medium Well” as “Hot with a slightly pink center”. I understand that slightly pink can be a subjective observation. It was actually cooked and I’ve gotten steaks that were charred but not cooked before, such as in the Dread Lonestar Incident. Hot, though also subjective, is typically much higher than room temperature.

The Dread Lonestar Incident occurred on our anniversary the year our youngest was born. I ordered a Medium Well New York Strip at a restaurant that claimed to be a steakhouse. I got a charred but raw chunk of meat. When I complained I very specifically asked for a new streak to be cooked since it’s impossible to re-cook a steak. I don’t know why I felt the need to specifically mention for them not to take the same piece of meat back and throw it in a microwave. They did actually cook a new steak and got it right that time, however I got lucky because a minute after the new steak arrived, the manager came to my table with the old steak which had clearly been nuked until all the moisture had been removed from it. Dodged a bullet there – them not me. I was already on-edge because we’d been relegated to the section of the restaurant reserved for people with screaming babies. We did have our infant with us, so I understand how they categorized us, but our baby was actually sleeping unlike the babies at the other two tables. I was a little sleep deprived since my daughter was only a month old and if they’d tried to re-serve the same piece of steak after nuking it, I’d have made quite a scene.

When the manager came by, I really tried to get him to touch the steak, cutting a bit off to show how cold it was in the middle. He just took my word for it. My wife’s dish was visibly cold; the gravy had congealed.

So we left the restaurant, having enjoyed good appetizers, good beer (and tea) and a small exercise in patience, but without having to spend a dime. We actually were also given a gift card worth more than we would have spent if we’d paid for our meal. This is why I am not mentioning Jon’s by its real name. They handled everything but the actual meal experience well.

I really am not picky or judgy. I don’t order the cheapest things on the menu and don’t skimp on the appetizers or dessert. I go into a nice restaurant expecting to spend a hefty chunk of money on a meal. I am usually a very good tipper too. I do have simple minimum standards in timeliness and I believe cooked food should be cooked and served before it cools to room temperature. Last night was the first time I’ve ever walked out of a restaurant with more money than when I walked in, however.


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