Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dot Dot Dot...Dash Dash Dash...Dot Dot Dot

Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea...someone should have sent some Morse Code warning me about Morse Tavern in Natick.

My mother always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. I never listened.

On my journey getting back to local joints, I heard that “The Nicholas” had closed and re-opened under a new name. To that I say, “about time”. The Nicholas’ time had passed the minute “Nick’s” closed years earlier and opened as “The Nicholas”. These places keep opening and closing, all owned by the same family, and while they keep trying, I say three strikes and you’re out.

A year ago, we went to The Nicholas. My mother warned us that she had been a few times, and there was never anyone else here. Not a good sign, by anyone’s estimation. She wasn’t wrong, and after eating there, I could see why. A feeble, and frankly, impotent attempt at Greek cuisine. Now a year later, The Nicholas is gone, and in its place, “Morse Tavern”, a feeble and impotent attempt to create an uninteresting sports bar.

I went there on a Thursday night with the Junior Pallette and a friend and his daughter. I don’t think one of us left impressed or even satisfied. First, we had to deal with an waiter who was working his first solo shift (as he admitted when he came to take our order.) He was clearly overwhelmed, though we were his only table (and one of three in the entire restaurant that actually had people dining). Puzzling, because the parking lot was full, but I came to realize that was due to “Curves” located upstairs. Second, for the second time within a week, the description of the food didn’t match the actual food that hit the plate and our table. This is becoming an epidemic!

First, my friend ordered an appetizer of calamari. That night, they were offering a special; it was calamari in a spicy sauce. When we asked the difference between the special and the one on the menu (“Golden Fried Calamari”), we were told “just the sauce”. So my friend ordered the calamari special, with the sauce on the side. Before they delivered the order, another waitress came to confirm we wanted the “special” with the sauce on the side. That was confirmed. When they delivered the order, these were sautéed calamari, in all their naked, unbreaded, non-fried glory! I wasn’t gonna eat these things no matter what, but if I was, I wouldn’t! Just nasty little buggers. When we called the waiter over, the prison-warden waitress came with him, and with a “what’s your problem” attitude, she said “I confirmed with you that you wanted the special. This is the special-they’re sautéed.” When my friend reminded her that we asked if they were the same as the menu item, she said “whatever…I’ll get you new ones”. She’s the one who’s special! Nice, real nice.

Second, I ordered “Mustard Crusted Chicken”, which is delightfully described as “Pan seared mustard crusted chicken breast served with mashed potato and vegetable of the day”. When I ordered this, I imagined a chicken breast, perhaps coated in bread crumbs that had some mustard mixed into it, pan-seared (because that’s what it said on the menu). Imagine my surprise when it arrived and it bore absolutely no resemblance to what I expected. First, it was a very thin, flat piece of chicken; second, it was breaded and deep-fried beyond all recognition. I was so convinced that it wasn’t what I ordered, that I asked our waiter what it was. His response-“I think it’s what you ordered.” When a different server brought some more things to the table, I asked him if this was the mustard-crust chicken, and his response “if that’s what you ordered, I guess that’s what it is.”


Let’s just say, the quality of the food matched the quality of the descriptions. No wonder why the place was empty…still! Next week, I’m sure it’ll be operating under a new name. I hope it’s “Closed”.

The wrong descriptions are really troubling. How hard is it to properly describe an item, and then actually deliver what you’re telling people they’re buying? If you’re offering a grilled rib-eye steak, don’t tell me it’s roast prime rib (see the Top Shelf review) and if you’re offering mustard crusted pan-seared chicken, don’t serve me deep-fried chicken breast without a hint of mustard, and have your staff guess about what I ordered.

Not to worry, I won’t be going back to Morse Tavern…I’m sending out the SOS on that!

Until next time America…eat well, eat often.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tip top...

The past couple of weeks, I have decided to give the local guys a chance, and have tried two new restaurants in the MetroWest. First, “Top Shelf”.

Top Shelf opened in Framingham on Route 9, in an underutilized building the size of a shoebox, explaining why it’s underutilized. It opened a couple of months ago, with little fanfare but a few articles in the local media. It is being billed as a higher-end dining experience in the local area. After a few other bloggers whose opinions I respect posted some positive reviews, I figured it was time to “palatize” it.

Let me say at the outset that I will return, like Eisenhower to Korea, except without the photo ops...

I have to give Top Shelf high marks for food presentation, price point, portion size for salads and entrees. I have to give them low marks for appetizer price to value ratios, their inability to properly cook the Junior Palette’s burger twice, rather apathetic server attitude and poorly described “specials”. Let me explain…

Tornado ordered a burger, “medium”. Not complicated at all. The burger came out cooked all the way through, and then through again, and the bun was charred and blackened (not toasted) and essentially, inedible. Sent it back, and when the replacement burger came, it was swimming in a puddle of red “juice”. We cut into it, and while it was cooked slightly more than the O’Connell’s burger from a year ago, it was not edible, from a ten year old’s perspective. Sooooo, we returned it again. Tornado ordered a steak this time, and when they brought that out, it was barely cooked, and couldn’t even be cut, as raw meat cannot usually be cut with a regular knife. Oy. She ended up eating vegetables…

During the delivery, and subsequent return of the meals for Tornado, I was a little surprised at the server’s attitude. No apology, and every request met with a heavy sigh. I would have expected the server to look at the charred bun the first time, knowing it’s going to a ten year old, and say to the cook “hey, a kid isn’t going to eat this.” Better yet, maybe the cook should have realized that from the outset. Also, for a new restaurant, I think they’d be uber-focused on service to ensure people return for subsequent meal. Was it ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care!

The other odd observation, and one that repeated itself at a different restaurant that same week, was a poor description of the “specials”. That night, the server told us that they had “roast prime rib” served with sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes. On the menu, they also has grilled NY sirloin, served with sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes. While a rib eye steak is my cut of choice (really a piece of prime rib, but cooked as a steak, not roasted), since their prime rib was roasted, and I was really in the mood for something “grilled”, I opted for the sirloin.

Let me say, it was good. Unlike the Tornado’s, mine was cooked perfectly, the vegetables were crisp, and the potatoes were tasty. But, my dining companion had ordered the prime rib special, and it looked exactly like mine. In fact, I dare say that it really was a rib eye steak, and it was grilled, not roasted!!! Damn, I wanted that!

Also, a slight annoyance was that both mine, and my dining companion’s steaks were drowned in a mushroom demi-glace. Hey, I like demi-glace, or gravy, as much as the next guy, and was happy to have it (I would bathe in it if possible), but it would have been nice to have been warned. It wasn’t listed on the menu, and the waitress didn’t mention it. Had she, I would have ordered it “on the side”, so I could enjoy the grill meat in its purest form. Oh well.

All in all, while Tornado’s meals were challenging and puzzling, and gave me some pause, the other food was executed much better, and I guess they deserve another chance to impress me. Unlike O’Connell’s Pub over a year ago, where the food and the service was so utterly awful, and they made no effort to make sure things were acceptable, at least Top Shelf tried. As the Senior Palate says: it is never a shame to try and fail, just a shame to fail to try!

That’s it for now. Remember, eat well, and eat often.