Thursday, May 23, 2013

How About Another Round, Bread Boy?

Tempura Bacon -- The Red Cat
The Red Cat

"I mean, I know we can be kind of annoying, but the Bread Boy didn't even smile at us!"
To say the least, things at The Red Cat are not going well.
By the Way, Who Paints Their Cat Crimson?
We probably should have known walking into the place that we were in for a bit of trouble for a couple of reasons:

1. It has taken us over two years to eat here because they have refused to keep the Best Thing I Ever Ate dish on the menu consistently (one of our top pet peeves), and even more tellingly,
2. Vodka was CHASED down the street by a psychic just prior to entering the place.  Said psychic was brandishing a business card and insisting that Vodka had a "a beautiful aura," a fact which a member of any waitstaff in New York City could wholeheartedly dispute.

With a start like this, things at the The Red Cat are bound to be amiss.
Naturally, Though, We Are Seated at the Date Table, So Things Are Looking Up
We begin innocently enough -- well, if "innocent" can be defined by sending the waitress away three times because we're incapable of making a decision on the cocktail menu.  Eventually, Ginger settles on the Elysian Fields and Vodka on the Thai gin and tonic, both of which, naturally, contain gin.
Vodka Apologizes for Abandoning Her Previous Alcohol of Choice, But It's Always Gin O'Clock Somewhere
Neither drink is particularly remarkable (though Ginger does gain valuable insight into Vodka's mind when Vodka sips the Elysian and spits out, "Ugh, it tastes like champagne."  "...You don't like champagne?"  "I HATE champagne.")
We Prefer to Toast Ourselves with Hard Liquor
Ginger can soon be found hunched over her menu and laughing to herself like someone who is decidedly not wrapped too tight.

"What is it?" Vodka finally indulges her after one too many seconds of letting her look certifiable.

"Clearly, I'm missing something," Ginger says, pointing to an entree on the menu: oven-roasted kid.
The Red Cat Likes to Sacrifice Second Graders
"That's goat," Vodka says, suddenly losing all sense of the absurd.  "Not a child."

Deciding against gnawing on a preschooler for dinner, we choose a sweet pea ravioli special to share, along with the baked goat cheese casserole and bacon tempura salad as appetizers.  Now, the actual Best Thing I Ever Ate dish which Ted Allen chose on the TOTALLY FRIED episode was tempura bacon by itself, but its reemergence on the menu has come along with cabralese, apple, watercress, and smoked paprika aioli.  Apparently, The Red Cat is no longer as confident in the merits of its deep-fried bacon as a standalone dish.
Um, Where's the Bacon?
As we sip our cocktails, an inexplicably-already-annoyed-with-us bread boy comes along with a giant basket of bread slices.  Not bread baskets, mind you -- SLICES.
Let the Hostility Commence
As we have made very clear, a restaurant can make or break itself on the bread alone.  And being stingy with the carbs is a surefire way to get on our cranky side.
Well, That, And Us Not Knowing How to Work the Salt Shakers
Besides being way underportioned, this bread leaves MUCH to be desired -- Ginger thinks it needs a minute to heat up in the oven, and Vodka finds that its 80-to-20 crust-to-white ratio is entirely unacceptable.  Despite our general dislike of the stuff, we are desperate for another slice in order to lap up more of the olive oil.  Yet Bread Boy is nowhere to be found.
Restaurants Need to Start Providing Us with Bells With Which to Summon Bread Boys
Temporarily saved from our wrath by the imminent arrival of our food, we distract ourselves from the lack of bread on our table by diving into the bacon tempura salad.  Three slices of the tempura-battered bacon can be found deep within the greenery of the salad, meaning that by the time they are recovered, they are completely soggy rather than crisp.
That Was a Good Game of Hide and Seek, Bacon
We try the bacon on its own first, and it is more off-putting than appealing.  Limp in texture and excessively smoky in flavor, we are flummoxed as to why this was ever called out as being special.
In Other Words, Blech
Admittedly, the addition of the greens and, especially, the cheese, improves matters a bit, but not enough to win us over.  Rather than actually creating a pleasing item, The Red Cat is getting by on the novelty factor of dredging a thin slice of bacon in batter and then deep-frying it.  But let's be honest -- they deep-fry butter at state fairs.  Gourmet invention, this is not.
Tis a Far, Far Worse Thing to Ruin a Salad with Bacon...?
...Or to Ruin Bacon with a Salad?
The baked goat cheese casserole is incredibly disappointing, based on the fact that we had both, separately but with equal enthusiasm, honed in on it on the menu.  Though the cheese itself is served in a tiny ramekin, we run out of bread on which to spread it within seconds, with a solid two-thirds of the cheese still stuck in the dish.
For the Love of Goat Cheese, Someone Bring Us a Loaf!
So Much Cheese, So Little on Which to Spread It
It is at this point that we try to flag down the bread boy.  Or our waitress.  Or anyone.
And there is NO ONE to be found.
Look, We'll Bake the Bread Ourselves If We Need To, People
We appease ourselves temporarily by consuming the sweet pea ravioli, which, while the best item of the three, is still not all that stupendous.  The pasta itself is thin and nicely cooked, but the ravioli are stuck together in one solid mass, which impedes proper dish-sharing.
Essentially, It's One Giant Ravioli
The sweet pea mixture inside the ravioli pockets is pleasing enough.  But the sauce that is spread over top, which looks like a brown butter concoction, is sickeningly sweet when we taste it solo, and, naturally, we would have preferred salty.

Especially because we are now out of bread AND drinks.

And there is still NO ONE to help us.
Empty Glasses and Bread Plates Over Here!
When a solid ten minutes (no exaggeration) pass, and we can still be found lingering over our empty (save for the cheese casserole) plates and glasses, Vodka accosts a random worker and requests that he find our waitress.  Seemingly unable to locate her, this man takes our order for refreshed cocktails and brings us a dessert menu, while Ginger practically mugs the bread boy's basket in search of more bread (which he eventually hands over, albeit begrudgingly).
Service with a Smile... NOT
Finally, our waitress deigns to grace us with her presence, of which our general reaction is "Get us our drinks and some blueberry pie.  Stat." Our refills and dessert make it to our table a few minutes later, and by this point, we are decidedly more hostile than when we arrived.  After all, if there is any surefire way to put us in a bad mood quickly, denying us more bread AND cocktails is it.
Don't You Want to Make More Money Off of Us, Waitress?  Bring Us the Booze!
We ask for the check, and try to use our failing math skills to attempt to figure out what would be considered a "bad" tip, being that our waitress disappeared for at least half an hour of our meal (however, because we never properly learned how to calculate percentages, we end up giving her like 18%.  We're such rebels).
There Is a Reason We Didn't Major in Calculus
In the meantime, we stab our spoons into the dessert, of which the buttermilk ice cream and accompanying crumble is rather delicious, but the mini-blueberry pie itself is not impressive (though the best reason we can come up with for the reason behind this disaster is "The blueberries taste funny").
Perhaps Because of That Weird Smear of Ketchup on the Plate
We pour the remainder of our cocktails into our mouths and stumble outside, remarking loudly to one another, "I am not impressed with this place."

And, needless to say, not a single staff member compliments our beautiful auras on our way out.

The Red Cat's Tempura Bacon: 2 stars

Monday, May 20, 2013

It Looks Like Multiple Characters from The Godfather Died Here

Caesar Salad -- Pietro's

"It's a good thing I made a reservation," Vodka mumbles to Ginger as she arrives at our table.  Looking around, Ginger finds the dining room of Pietro's nearly empty, even at our relatively-normal eating time on a Saturday night.  In the place of actual customers, we find decor that is so heavily old-fashioned that we are convinced half of The Godfather must have been shot here.
Wine Bottles from the Prohibition Era
Don't Peer at the Figure Behind the Curtain
Despite its rather creepy ambiance, we are heartened by the fact that within moments of sitting down, we are handed both a wine list and a bread plate -- clearly, the lack of diners has given the Pietro's staff time to get its priorities in order.
So Was it 1932?...
...Or 1984?! Very Shady, Pietro's
We order a bottle of pinot noir to split (as Ginger is still claiming to abide by the Mediterranean diet) and vow that upon our deaths, we will have bar stools named after us, Pietro's table plaque-style.
Here Sat Vodka and Ginger. They Ate A Lot and Also Complained
"Before you arrived, the wine guy told me his life story," Vodka tells Ginger, glazing over the fact that the "wine guy" is actually our waiter, but has been given the title of "wine guy" since it is his most important function.
"Wine Guy" Will Soon Become Known as "Bread Boy"
Ginger hardly inquires about said story, as we are each too wrapped up in consuming bread ("It's nice that we each have our own loaf").  We find the bread deceivingly good based on its looks, and Ginger correctly asserts that it is due to the extremely salty butter.
"Better Give Them Each Their Own Portion. They Look Like They Enjoy Carbs"
This inherent saltiness feels like a good omen, since we are here to taste Alex Guarnaschelli's chosen Best Thing I Ever Ate SALTY GOODNESS dish, the Caesar salad.  Displaying evidence that we will never stop being overeaters, we quickly shoot down our own idea of ordering one salad to split, since we both love a Caesar salad and are not in the mood to share.
Double the Goodness, Double the Fat, err, Fun
Overflowing portions of the salad soon arrive before us (though we thought they were going to be prepared tableside... was that only false theatrical magestry for Best Thing I Ever Ate purposes?).  The salad, which we top with fresh pepper and even more parmesan cheese, is certainly good: the lettuce is crisp, the cheese is salty, and again, we have a lot of it to eat.  But it's just not that... amazing.
Standard Caesar Fare
In fact, it's a tad greasy for our tastes, as if it had been laden down with olive oil.  We typically prefer Caesar dressings of the creamy variety, and this one is somehow more spicy than salty.
Has Pietro's Hidden Red Pepper Flakes on Us?!
Naturally, we lick our plates clean, but this is not necessarily a sign that we were blown away -- just a sign that we like to get our money's worth.
Also, We Requested Extra Cheese. Naturally
For our entrees, Ginger chooses the linguini with clams, and Vodka the shells a la Nat.  Ginger's bowl is tasty enough, if a tad too filled with clams and thus a bit much on the "fishy" side.
"I'll Have the Linguini with Clams. Hold the Clams"
Please Note the Decided Greasiness of the Plate
The shells a la Nat, which also seem to be a house specialty, are fairly delicious -- like a less creamy version of shells in a vodka sauce.  However, both of these plates are also decidedly greasy and would be markedly improved with a splash of heavy cream and even more salt (indeed, when Ginger begins sprinkling her own plate with the salt shaker, she confesses to Vodka, "I'm turning into you").
Someone Buy Us a Salt Mine, Will You?
Who Is Nat and How Did He Become an Expert in Shells?
When we deny ordering dessert, we are presented with a plate of four delectable homemade biscotti, which prove to be the most successful item of the whole night.  Softer and chewier than typical biscotti, Vodka's attempts to sweet talk the wine guy about them (merely a ploy to gain more free dessert), fails miserably, and we tip our wine glasses back for a final swig.
"So What You're Saying Is... You're NOT Going To Give Us a To-Go Bag of These? 3 Stars for You"
Overall, Pietro's is providing a stronger meal than we would have anticipated from its boondock midtown Manhattan location (after all, it is wedged amongst a slew of car rental places), if one that is not quite good enough to warrant their exceedingly high prices.
As They Are Essentially the Hotel Restaurant of the Hampton Inn
As we head out, Vodka mocks our social lives, as Ginger had asked her only hours before if she was available for dinner with the caveat, "I assume you already have plans."

"Have we met?" Vodka asks.  "Why would you think I have plans?  I was going to cook pasta and drink wine."

"I meant that I'm sure you had A PLAN for the evening," Ginger clarifies.  "Not necessarily PLANS."
So Same Plan, Different Pasta
And with that, we manage to escape out of Pietro's ominous wood doors stroll uptown to Bloomingdales to engage in one of our favorite activities: drunk shopping.
We're Telling You -- The Godfather Had to Have Been Filmed Here
It is at this point that Pietro's love of grease turns into a real national emergency, as Ginger discovers that her doggie bag is dripping into a pile of paper mush.

"Excuse me, do you have a Little Brown Bag?" she asks a flummoxed salesgirl.

"Um, not one that would fit that container," the girl answers (clearly, she's not familiar with the MEDIUM brown bags?!).

"Then could you throw this out for me?" Ginger pretty much shoves the container into the shoe department trash can, all but assuring that customers will be gaining a bit of fish stench along with their Stuart Weitzman's.
Hey Pietro's -- BLOT YOUR FOOD
After that classy display (and -- naturally -- a shoe purchase each), we meander back to our own residences to engage in the only other post-Best Thing I Ever Ate hobby we enjoy more than drunk shopping: couch drinking, an activity for which we never need to make a reservation. 

Pietro's Caesar Salad: 3 stars

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Off the Map: Only Hostile Diners Eat at 9:15pm

Hanger Steak with Agrodolce Sauce -- Fig, Charleston, SC

If there is one surefire way to annoy Vodka and any of her compatriots before we even sit down to eat in your establishment, it is to give us a "late night" dinner reservation.

And then not even seat us on time.
We Are Essentially Sophia Petrillo. We Like an Early Bird Special
This is the problem that Vodka and Diet Coke face upon entering the final restaurant of their Charleston trip, Fig.  Despite the fact that Vodka made a reservation the day they became available, called twice to try to change it, and arrived in person the day before to sweet-talk them into seating us at, say, 5:00pm, we have a 9:15pm reservation.

9:15!  That's a solid hour past when we're even comfortable being outside!
We Only Like to Venture Out During Daylight Hours
Forging ahead, we stumble into Fig at 9:12pm, and we are told that our table is not yet ready.  We are led to the bar area to wait.

And to wait... and to WAIT.

And predictably, Vodka is becoming furious.
#1 Thing Vodka Hates to Do? WAIT
"Your table will be ready in a few minutes," a hostess tries to appease us, with which she is greeted by a silent nod by Diet Coke and a hostile glare from Vodka.

"The table where we're going to seat you has paid, but they're lingering," another hostess approaches a few minutes later.

"Can we go harass them?" Vodka asks.

"I mean, I can't encourage that, but I won't stop you...," the hostess replies, which would be a challenge Vodka would be prepared to meet had the hostess actually showed us which table was the one in flux, and not just skedaddled away at warp speed.
Hey Fig, It's Time to Start Comping Some Drinks Around Here
By 9:25pm, Vodka has decided that if we are not seated by 9:30, she is going to throw a complaining fit worthy of her New Jersey upbringing.  Free food and drinks and general bowing down best be involved.  After all, we discover from our time facing the Fig wall that the chef won the James Beard award in 2009.  FOUR years ago.  This is old news, now, Charleston -- WHY are you still grappling with seating issues?
Lucky for the entire Fig staff, they deign to seat us at 9:29pm, just as Vodka is placing one of her pointed witch boots on the floor to march off to the hostess stand.  We flop ourselves down at the table in a decidedly unpleasant manner, and all of the Southern geniality which has infused us over the past two days is certainly long-forgotten.
Goodbye Southern Charm. You Were Nice While We Knew Ya'll
It's barely been 20 minutes, and Fig is already demonstrating perfectly how restaurant mismanagement can hinder a diner's opinion of the place instantaneously.  Especially when said diner is as prone to annoyance as Vodka.
Time to Start Drinking. Heavily
Trying to soldier on, Vodka orders a glass of pinot noir ("Which one are you getting?" "Are there two?  Then the cheaper one") and attempts to use the restroom.  Upon reaching the area, she finds a line of people five-deep waiting for the individual stalls.

What is WRONG with this place? 

Refusing to wait for the second time in less than a half hour, Vodka stomps back to our table to complain about the bathroom situation to Diet Coke, who confirms that individual stalls are the bane of restaurants' existence due to the primping factor that goes on at the sink.  Poor showing, Fig.
We Don't Even Have Food Yet and We Already Dislike You
In an attempt to boost our own morale, we get down to ordering.  Not exactly starving after our full day of bar-b-que and hot dogs, Diet Coke asks how many gnocchi are in the appetizer.  "Nine," our waitress answers.  Deciding that this will not be enough for her entree, we order the gnocchi as an appetizer to share.

And when it arrives, there are only eight gnocchi.

Seriously, Fig?  Now you're messing with our pasta portions?
Go Ahead -- Count Them. ONE IS MISSING
"Disappointingly," said gnocchi are actually rather delicious ("I almost wanted them to be bad just cause this place is so awfully managed").  Draped in bolognese sauce with a hint of mint and shredded parmesan, the gnocchi themselves are light and fluffy.
Okay, Fine, Fig -- This Is Better Than We Thought You Were Capable Of
But You Still Cheated Us Out of a Gnocchi!
We enjoy them much more than we're prepared to, though we are less taken with the fact that instead of providing a bread BASKET (read: lots of bread), we are each handed a single slice by our waitress on which to gnaw.

Um, could you spare some more carbs, Fig?
Is There Some Kind of Flour Shortage in Charleston?
The bread is fine (though the butter is unsalted, and no salt shaker is on the table, which we can all agree is a travesty) -- generally nothing special, which besides the gnocchi, ends up being the theme of the night.  Diet Coke orders the fish stew with shrimp, mussels, squid, grits, and rouille, and Vodka orders the closest equivalent to the Best Thing I Ever Ate dish, the wagyu bistro steak with wheat berries, cape beans, sweet corn, salad verte, and sauce bordelaise.  It should come as no surprise that Fig is proving to be one of those restaurants we despise: one which, once featured on a national program entitled THE BEST THING I EVER ATE, promptly stops serving the dish on a regular basis.  For this reason, instead of Alex Guarnaschelli's chosen SAUCED dish, the hanger steak with agrodolce sauce, Vodka has to settle for the only other beef dish on the menu.  And when it comes to Fig, we are more than over having to settle.
Beef. The WRONG Beef, But Beef Nonetheless
We sit twiddling our thumbs as the clock strikes 10pm, then again 15 minutes later, and there are still no entrees in sight.  At this point, to say Fig is mismanaged time-wise would be the understatement of the century.  Nothing in this place flows smoothly, and whether it's because they take too many reservations for any given time or are too busy in the kitchen sawing off single slices of bread is unclear.  But the place is not working well.
This Restaurant Should Be Renamed "Customer Hostility R Us"
Finally, our dinners appear before us, at a time when we would be much more comfortable snuggled up to our pillows.  Diet Coke's fish stew is strictly "fine."  It has a hint of licorice flavor to the broth, which is odd, and the grits at the bottom of the pot are the least successful we have had so far, but there is nothing completely offensive.
A Cauldron of Fish Products
Naturally, Diet Coke Refused to Use the Provided Mayonnaise
Once Again, The Bread "Portion" Is Incredibly Lacking
Similarly, Vodka's fake Best Thing I Ever Ate creation is tasty enough.  A long strip of thinly cut beef sits next to a side salad (which proves to be the most flavorful thing on the plate) and a portion of beans, corns, and wheat berries (which is at least interesting in texture).
When the Side Salad Is the Most Appealing Part of a Plate, Something Is Wrong
The beef is cooked fairly well but still proves to be a bit chewy, and the sauce on top is good, but it is nothing we would think twice about in other circumstances.

"Who picked this place?" Diet Coke asks.

"Alex Guarnaschelli," Vodka answers.  "The same one who picked that caramel apple."

"She must have been drunk while in Charleston," Diet Coke surmises.  "Or so overtaken by the humidity that she wasn't thinking straight."
Also, Next Time She Should Specify That The Best Thing I Ever Ate Dish Has to STAY ON THE MENU
By the end of our meal, which has taken double the amount of time that it should have, we are convinced that had Fig provided us with, say, a 7:45pm reservation (and then actually seated us at that time), they would have done a lot better.  But by the time we reached our table, this place was doomed.
Fire Up Your Cannons, Fig -- We're Going to War
If one only had a single night to eat in Charleston, we would recommend Magnolias 100-times over this place, if only because it is classic Southern, while Fig is not even remotely unique.  Though to be fair, we'd probably skip dinner all together and just recommend Hominy Grill, because nothing says Southern goodness like a side of chocolate pudding for breakfast.

Fig's Hanger Steak with Agrodolce Sauce: 3 stars