There’s a new bistro/casual fine dining restaurant in Birmingham called [REDACTED]. After raves from friends my wife and I tried it out. We only had time for a few appetizers but we were impressed. Creamy chicken liver mouse on toast points and prosciutto with melon and mint; not ragingly original, but executed well. We had a glass of wine from a small, but well considered wine list. The place promised.
I was having a beer after work with a friend today. We were talking about a few local restaurants when he stopped. “Oh! Did I tell you about my [REDACTED] story?” At his last visit with five friends, a few oddities made interactions with the waitress uncomfortable, but when his friend ordered a hamburger, things took a turn towards the uncromulent.She asked for the kitchen to leave the onions off. The waitress said that was not possible. When pressed, the waitress said that modifications “ruin the flow of the kitchen.” She asked to see the menu again and decided on the catfish. There were onions on the catfish, reported the waitress, but she would tell the kitchen to leave them off…
When I was a waiter at Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah, I remember a grumpy old bastard that ordered the Grouper Celeste with changes of his own. Normally the Grouper Celeste is pan roasted with a crust of sesame oil, lemon juice, beaten egg, hot chili sauce, crushed Stone Wheat Crackers, asiago, toasted almonds and sesame seeds, flatleaf, tarragon, salt and pepper. It’s moist, crispy, and one of those meals you have to have before you die. They served it with a peanut cream sauce and sliced apples or pears. It’s my favorite fish dish. This man wanted the Grouper Celeste, but with just salt, pepper, and oil on top of a salad. No nuts, crackers, etc. When he got his entree he griped about the bland “signature dish” we served him as if ingredients have nothing to do with flavor and chefs have magic control of heat. Over the course of my restaurant career, there are very few people that I met that I disliked. I didn’t love everyone, but I disliked few. I remember that jackass.
So I get chefs not wanting to compromise a dish. There is an idiot out there repeating to his friends what he told me about the Grouper Celeste: “I could have made this at home.” Kitchens are organized. If you ask for a steak with the grouper vegetables, understand that the grouper vegetables are at the saute station and the steak vegetables are at the grill station. The line cook has to leave the six or seven pans or eight or nine steaks and chops on the grill, pass into another cook’s station who is busy with eight or so pans, grab what he needs to accommodate the special order, and get back to his station without getting burned or burning what had to leave at his station. It’s a surprising pain in the ass. The busier the night, the less likely a kitchen will accommodate a menu change. That said, they do it all the time because they are trained to. In this case, we are asking someone not to put onions on a hamburger.
The woman even asked if she could just have the burger as is and take the onions off herself. She was left with the impression that a catfish would be coming her way. What arrived, minutes after the rest of the table’s food had hit the table, was not an onionless catfish, but a burnt burger on bread with nothing, no lettuce, no tomato, no nothing on it. As my friend pointed out, this place is too young and too full of talent to piss
away a customer in a snit fit tantrum. Established and respected places accept customer requests. That’s why people come back. Said my friend, “Chez Fon-Fon would do anything. They’d put truffles on my burger if I asked them to.”
The burnt burger FU is bad. Worse to me is the wait staff’s explanation. She could have produced a better reason for not changing the menu. “The chef wants us to serve a burger as he believes it should be served. This is his take on a classic and he wants to stand apart.” “Chef believes in his palate and wants to present things that reflect it.” Instead she said it would “ruin the flow of the kitchen.” I don’t care how many burgers they serve in a night. Why can’t these trained chefs do what the guys at Ruby Tuesday’s do? She made them look like idiots. Burger King does it my way. What is a diner to think?
I will go back to [REDACTED]. I want to try the full menu. I’ve heard songs about the French onion soup. It just drives me nuts when a place inconveniences the customer rather than themselves. It’s a moot point now. I hear the burger is off the menu.