Saturday, March 29, 2008

Like my fortune cookie says..."That Wasn't Chicken"

At the suggestion of several people, I actually went to, and dined at, P.F. Changs. A buddy of mine met me a couple of weeks ago (he is a frequent reader of the Critical Palate, and dragged me there kicking and screaming, or at least whining, convincing me to try it, because he hadn’t yet either. Ok, maybe I went there voluntarily...or suggested it). We ate there right before seeing “Avenue Q”-by the way, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Here are my observations-Chinese food isn’t the same if the place is filled with noisy investment banker/wannabes in suits, served to you by non-Asians with mysterious accents, that you hear, let alone understand. I need it dark, with most of the noise from the kitchen being the cooks screaming at each other in Chinese.

I liked the sauces on the table, but didn’t like the non-Asian waiter mixing things together. I liked the appetizers (lettuce wraps) but not the soup (too thick, and probably made in a factory in New Jersey-at least it tasted like Bayonne). We liked the wok-charred beef and the Chang’s Spicy Chicken

The food was adequate, and such small portions! Besides the appetizers and soup, we ordered the two main courses, and put it all away, and walked away needing more. When the bill is over $60.00 for two people, you better walk away with a wheelbarrow of leftovers. We walked away needing more.

I would say it is passable Chinese food, as middle America imagined it could be, but not authentic. It was about as authentic Chinese as the Olive Garden is to Italian food. For authentic, I need an authentic staff, traditional food, and bathrooms that you wouldn’t let your dog use. At least the company was good.

To be fair and balanced, like Fox News…I will give a special shout-out to Willy’s Steakhouse and Sushi in Shrewsbury (say that five times fast). Besides the great company, I have never been disappointed with a meal there. The food is always well prepared, and the service is always prompt and professional. Most of the wait staff are older, and have been there a long time (at least over the past several years we’ve been dining there.) They have an extensive menu and plenty of things for Elayne to choose from. For a great meal, try Willy’s. Tell them the Critical Palate sent you.

Because you asked…

I am extremely underwhelmed with American Idol. They keep saying it’s “the best Top 12 ever”. Who’s making that statement? Helen Keller?

This crop is utterly awful. They all come with professional experience, and they are all “one trick ponies.”

Carly Smithson-not sure what she is or where she belongs, but it’s not on this stage. Sometimes she looks like a “blivit” (ten pounds of garbage in a five pound bag) and she looks like she should add more fiber to her diet.

Brooke White-Carole King, Carly Simon, Roberta Flack, Phoebe Snow…they all seem the same.

Seyesha-she’s got a “10 head”…because it’s bigger than a forehead.

The rest…David Cook (giant head and weird hair), Michael Johns (creepy-and holds the microphone like a porn star), David Archuletta (Kelly Clarkson stalker…and wannabe), Jason Castro (perhaps the dumbest contestant ever) , Kristy Lee Cook (perhaps the smartest since Hailey Scarnato) and Ramuielle (who exactly is her fan base? Even those pictures on the internet don’t make her interesting-just strange).

Can’t wait for Dolly Parton week.

You’ve been great. Now, for your entertainment pleasure…enjoy Roy Clark and Buck Owens!

Monday, March 10, 2008


I think its important to set the stage with a clip from a Steakhouse's own website:

Welcome to "X" Steak House. We invite you to enjoy a unique dining experience featuring fine, aged beef and chops, fresh seafood and 5 star service in a sophisticated ambiance at affordable prices. "X" Steak House is elegant enough to entertain business clients or celebrate a special occasion yet, affordable enough to dine at frequently. Our devoted, and well-trained staff, strives to accommodate each guest and fulfill special requests.

Eric says…unless your special request is a edible steak!

We took our son there for his 12th birthday this past Saturday, and I’ll explain by cutting right to the chase: I ordered my rib-eye steak “medium”. I wouldn’t think that’s too hard for the kitchen staff. When our food came out, while the sides were hot, my steak was room temperature at best; it was cold on the plate and cold on my palate. Everyone else’s food seemed to be fine, but mine was cold. So, I sent it back. (Two asides here-1) our server was very pleasant and helpful, and 2) this is the second time I’ve eaten here and had to send my steak back due to temperature issues. I don’t understand this…the steak is cooked, put on a plate, and presented to the diner. If it has to be “held” while other meals are cooked, then the timing in the kitchen needs to be re-worked).

Oddly, within a minute or so, our server appeared with the steak, telling me that they heated it up. Well, if you had seen this thing now, you wouldn’t feed it to my sister’s dog, and he’s blind and has no sense of smell-lucky for him. Whatever came out of the kitchen was now grey, and strangely, wet and glistening. I should note here that when it came out the first time, it looked a little dry, without much juice on the plate; it struck me as odd that after sending it back, it returns to me looking like it took a shower.

When I took the first bite, nervously, I was unpleasantly surprised. Whatever happened in the kitchen, it apparently had no impact on the temperature of the meat, as it was perhaps even cooler than before, but now, it was also incredibly greasy. The texture was inedible. Greasy, as if covered in oil, slimy and cold…like phlegm.

I pushed the plate away, and when the server came by later on, I told her my thoughts about the steak, and she sent a manager over to discuss this; he told me that he checked in on the kitchen about the steak. He told me that they coated the steak in oil, and then threw it on the grill; frankly, the way it looked, microwave would be more like it.

But why coat it in oil? I ordered the fattiest cut of beef on the menu (the Ribeye, because “the flavah’s in the faaaaaaaaaaat”) so it doesn’t need any more fat on it. “Excuse me, I’ll take the ribeye with extra fat, and a side of sautéed Lipitor, please”. Second, I cannot believe it went back on the grill. While not as bad as a double-dip, my fork was in that steak a few times, and then in my mouth, so apparently, everyone who ate food prepared on that grill that night is now walking around with a little of my DNA. But so too am I, for if they did it to me, kind reader, they did it to others. That is just too much for me to bear.

While I don’t want to pile on, let me digress and talk about my daughter’s dinner, that she didn’t eat. They don’t really have a kids’ menu, but they do offer some kid-friendly items. Tovah ordered a cheeseburger, and we asked for American cheese. When the burger came out, it was on a sourdough roll (a flavor profile many kids don’t yet enjoy) and it was smothered in Boursin cheese. Yeah, like that’s just like American. That’s like saying Green Day is just like The Beatles. Between the cheese and the roll, she just couldn’t eat it. She ended up eating some of Elayne’s meal. We didn’t complain about the burger, mostly because the meal was already taking way to long. I needed to end the agony.

Let me conclude by saying that this is the third time, and last, that we dined there. The first time we went, we paid a bill of $82.15, and they made change for $83.00, without any coin. Not that it’s a lot of money, but the causal arrogance that they could keep the money was irritating, and the manager’s non-response that time was amazing. The last two times, I sent my meat back because it was cold, and one of my dinner companions noted that when the meat came, even though three of us ordered ribeyes, they all looked different. At a restaurant that claims to serve high-end food, I expect the cuts of beef to look the same. Hopefully, it all came from a cow.

This last time was my tipping point. Three strikes and I’m out. With so many other dining choices, why do I need to waste my money and time at this place?

Its predecessor, Desmond O’Malley’s, was common, and mediocre, but you knew what you were getting when you walked in. This place is a fraud, a wannabe, a pretender and a poser among restaurants.

I say bring back York Steakhouse…and avoid Metro-Nein!

You’ve been great…enjoy Brewer & Shipley…

Monday, March 3, 2008

House of Roy...mmmm, special

So many of you requested the back-story on the “House of Roy” (or at least one of you), that I feel obliged to explain. You’ll be sorry you asked.

“House of Roy” was THE Chinese restaurant of my childhood. This was way before the days of Mandarin and Szechwan cuisine, when all Chinese food came swimming in a brown oyster-style sauce. My Dad would regale us with tales of him going there when he was younger, when the menus were chiseled on tablets. (Really, who would of thought my father…telling stories? Hi Dad, just kidding…). We all have these places; I know someone that always went to Moon Palace and ordered Hong Sue Guy…

This place defined “craphole”. The place was a few steps up literally, but several steps down, figuratively. It was separated into two dining rooms, shaped like a “U”. You walked in at the top left, then through one dining room down and around into the other. The floor was collapsing, so you were always leaning left when you walked in. The bathroom floors weren’t much better, and if you’ve ever been in a bathroom in an old Chinatown building…well, you don’t need any further information.

Well, for years, at least twice a month, we’d truck into Boston’s Chinatown, and dine at the “House of Roy” on Tyler Street. We were hooked. We were addicted to that place, like Drago to those injections from Bridgette Nielson. Sometimes we’d meet other families, sometimes just us, but two things never changed: the greatest fortune cookie joke ever (“Help, I’m being held prisoner in a Chinese fortune-cookie factory.” Flip it over: “Never mind, I escaped.” I still use this joke to this day.) Second, the House of Roy Special, and boy, was this special.

Long before I avoided foods that were biblically not kosher (shellfish and pork, for you fans keeping score at home), the “Special” was the apex of gastronomical pleasures. I only wish I had an old menu so I could explain everything in this bucket of food. It was a mélange of beef, chicken, shrimp, peapods, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots tossed in the brown sauce. Poured onto a platter, it was surrounded by fried wontons, and covered with pork strips. Here me now and believe me later…this was an orgiastic feast for the senses.

My parents promised me that I could have my own Special, the week before my bar mitzvah, as my ticket to manhood. My Dad said I could never finish it off, as it was really made for 14 people. Well, I was determined to show him…I went deep into training. I ate light that whole weekend, and didn’t eat at all on Sunday, preparing for Sunday night’s repast. Well, we ordered two, one for the rest of the table, and one for me.

The anticipation was more than I could bear…I dug into that thing like John Henry, swinging his mighty hammer. I ate, and ate, and ate some more, and I didn’t make a frigging dent! It’s like the thing was haunted, regenerating itself after every bite I took. I vaguely recall my father taking the rest, after I passed out into my food coma. I ate so much; I still think I have some left in me, over 30 years later.

When we left, I don’t think I made it 10 feet from the steps, but I’m sure Roy appreciated it when I decided to decorate the parking lot instead of his rest room. It was immense, intense, and a fine “how do you do” into the landscape of bingeing, and apparently purging. Unlike my father, who can consume and immense amount of food, and ate 19 lobsters in a sitting once, I am a mere amateur.

Roy’s is gone now, and Roy himself, who was probably a classmate of Confucious, is gone as well.

Viva House of Roy!

You've been great...enjoy Toshiko Akioshi...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

V.D. Wangs...

Once again, I feel compelled to comment on the mediocrity of restaurants and the utter lack of originality that’s being foisted upon us.

I have previously mentioned about how aggravated I get when I read about the new bagel shops or ice cream joints opening. Just to review, whenever a new bagel joint opens, there’s usually some article in the local paper where the owner talks about how they’re offering something totally new, serving a need just begging to be fed: a bagel store with fresh-baked bagel sandwiches, featuring premium deli meats and fresh-made salads. Yeah, like that’s never been done before. Or when a new ice cream shop opens, like Coldstone Creamery. The newspaper propaganda tells us that their concept is sooooooooooooo unique: take semi-premium ice cream and disguise the mediocrity with….hold on….wait for it…”mix-ins”!!!!!! Whoa, hold on there one cotton-pickin’ minute. You mean mix-ins, like M & Ms, Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cup, Heath Bars pieces, Oreos???? I can barely contain my excitement. Who would have thought of such a thing…maybe Steve Herrell, in the 1970s! What kind of suckers do these people think we are?

Well, today, I read I am reading the MetroWest Daily News, discussing the arrival of P.F. Changs in Natick. I am excerpting part of the article, and I am interweaving my comments therein. I can barely control myself:

"… The highest-price item on the menu is $20."

Eric says: I can’t remember the last I went out for Chinese food and saw an item above $11.95. If something’s coming out at $20.00, then Iron Chef Chen Kinichi better come out and feed it to me, and bring some girls with him because, never mind the fortune cookie, I want a different ending...a much "happier" one! For that price, it better come with gold chopsticks, which I will later use to poke my own eyes out, after paying $20 for a Chinese food dish.

“…P.F. Chang's is also a family-style dining restaurant. We each order our preference, but it's not served to us. It's served to the center of the table with serving spoons…The goal of a P.F. Chang's meal, according to its Web site, is "to attain harmony of taste, texture, color and aroma by balancing the Chinese principles of fan and t'sai. Fan foods include rice, noodles and dumplings, while vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood are t'sai foods. Chefs also use Mandarin-style wok-cooking.”

Eric says: Really, this is new to me. Totally shocking. I usually go out for Chinese food and order three or four things and have them all put in front of me, and stuff myself stupid until I explode (like I did 30 years ago at the House of Roy in Chinatown, the week before my bar mitzvah. Happy to share the gory details if anyone cares. Just ask.)

C’mon, GMAB! Communal Chinese food…that’s crazy. Who would ever do that? Actually share the food and not gorge myself? How does this work? Is everybody digging in? These PF Chang people are brilliant-I have never had any food prepared in a unique wok-style of cooking; where have I been all these years?

I cannot believe people actually have rice or noodles with the meat dishes. Its like mixing dairy and meat! My whole world is upside-down. I’m living in “Bizarro World”.

“Traditional dishes include shrimp with lobster, crispy honey chicken and pepper steak. Chicken dishes include orange peel chicken, ginger chicken with broccoli and ground chicken with eggplant. Meat dishes include wok-charred beef, spiced lamb and sweet-and-sour pork. Seafood dishes include wild Alaskan sockeye salmon steamed with ginger, marinated sea bass and lemon pepper shrimp. The restaurant also offers noodle, rice and mein dishes, vegetarian plates, side orders and mini-desserts. It also serves traditional lunch bowls daily until 4 p.m. Each one comes served on a bed of rice with a cup of egg drop or hot-and-sour soup. Choices include almond and cashew chicken, citrus soy salmon and beef with broccoli.”

Eric says: Wait, Wait, WAIT!!!!! I have never heard of such food. Sweet and sour pork? Sounds delightful and delectable. I can actually go at lunch, and get a lunch bowl that comes with soup, and something as gourmet and exotic as beef and broccoli over rice? I cannot believe that its 2008 and no one has thought of this. I am so happy, and privileged to think that PF and friends have decided that its time for the suburbs to enjoy these traditional and exotic flavors. It's like a party in my mouth...

I’m done now. Just tell me this, PF: what kind of rubes do you really think we are? Is the rest of America so cloistered, so ignorant, that you can come and spread your propaganda and expect us to bow down at the altar of PF Chang? You’ll quickly join the likes of Coldstone Creamery as places I will not patronize. I would feel much better of you just advertised yourself as “over-priced Chinese Food chain restaurant.” General Mills/Darden couldn’t make it with “China Coast.” But, hey, your concept is sooooooooooooo cutting edge…good luck.

The next thing you know, someone might try to flatten out some dough, sprinkle some tomato sauce and toppings on it and bake it. Do you think I could find that anywhere?

You’ve been a great audience…enjoy Dan Hill…