Saturday, April 21, 2007

Restaurant woe

Don't you hate it when someone raves to you about a restaurant and then you go there and have a not-so-great experience?

I do.

One of my employees attended a business dinner at Gabrielle in Rockville Centre, and came in raving the next morning about how fabulous it was: the ambiance! the decor! the food! So because the rave was so strong, I decided to take Jess there last night to celebrate his finding a new job (on the island, no less! Yay!) and so we went.

The ambiance was as promised. Set in a narrow but deep storefront along one of the nicer avenues, it was very Manhattan-ish. High ceilings were moderated by a set of 10 stained glass arcs that hung side-by-side above the rear seating areas. A large aquarium split the space in the restaurant and was nicely, if not originally, lit. chair-rail-to-ceiling beveled mirrors added depth to the narrow railroad-car space. There was a long bar as you walked in that was flanked by six cozy 2-person canopied dinettes.

The elegant hostess was quite warm and friendly, and led us to a banquette table in the corner. We sat and perused the menu, which was strictly prix fixe. There were some interesting choices, but nothing that really called to me, and Jess apparently felt the same way. He looked at the menu quickly and then laid it on the table. Thinking he was done, I asked, "what are you having?"

"I don't know," he said, with look that was half puzzlement and half agitation. "There was nothing there that really hit me." Not a good sign.

My whiskey sour arrived. It was not great. How can you screw up a whiskey sour?

A server appeared with a breadbasket bearing two small, very hard baguette rolls, which were overdone on the bottom. No butter was served. No oil was offered by the server, either, and we wondered why. However, there was oil in a carafe in the center of the table which had whole rosemary and other spices in it, and we decided to use. it.

Problem 1: the restaurant made the very annoying mistake of choosing dinner china that didn't work with the rolls. The rolls, as I said, were very hard, so they slid all over the glossy plate surface The sides of the small dish were angled and the lip was also angled, sufficiently so that when the oil was poured into the center of the plate, the bread slid down the side and into the middle of the oil, so that what you wound up with was a hard roll bathed (and I do mean bathed) in olive oil. There was no way to rest the roll on the edge of the plate as the angle was just too steep, so the bread just kept sliding back into the oil.

Problem 2: The herb-infused oil was terrible. It was bitter and long-lasting on the tongue.

When we ordered our appetizer and first course, Jess chose the corn chowder and a hanger steak with creamed spinach. I opted for a roasted beet salad with goat cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette, and risotto with chicken and white cheddar cheese.

Problem 3: Jess' chowder was creamy but had little flavor; the corn was more an additive than the main ingredient, and although there were pieces of carrot, celery, and some spices in it, there was almost no trace of their flavor. It was as if they had been cooked to death...but the didn't appear to be overcooked. It was strange.

Problem 4: My roasted beet salad wasn't that much about roasted beets, to my disappointment. A heap of rocket covered the 6 thin slices of ruby and golden beets, sprinkled with perhaps a teaspoon of finely crumbled goat cheese. I don't like goat cheese, so the amount was fine, but it was so finely crumbled that I couldn't pick out the pieces, and that annoyed me. It wasn't a terrific starter.

Problem 5: Jess' steak was charred too heavily for a steak cooked to medium, the mark of an inexperienced or inattentive cook, which was too bad, because the flavor was robust. The glaze over it was sweet and piquant, and I really liked it. The creamed spinach didn't appear to be that creamy at all, and Jess said that it was forgettable.

My risotto with chicken and white cheddar was as stated: more risotto than chicken. It was nicely spiced, but the risotto was not creamy, which was disappointing; it was very firm, a touch before al dente. Something else that annoyed me was the very strong and unwelcome taste of horseradish I kept picking up about every third or fourth bite; I finally narrowed it to the white cheddar.

Finally, the dessert: Jess had what was described as passion fruit cheesecake with mango whipped cream. it had four tiny pieces of mango no bigger than a fingernail decorating the plate. He said it was okay. I opted for the warm apple crisp with "Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream". Probably the poorest excuse I have ever had for an apple was barely on the crisp side, more crumbly...and the apples were dull, almost flavorless. This is a dish that should be prepared with tart apples and appropriately sweetened, but they had obviously used sweet apples. And the ice cream was practically devoid of any rich vanilla taste. They should have used Haagen Dazs or Double Rainbow, it would have been much better.

All in all, a disappointment, even at only $25 per person. I won't be asking that person for future any dinner suggestions!


At 3:39 PM, April 21, 2007, Blogger Michelle Ann said...

What a sad dining experience. I hate it when we get let down by food, because it usually brings so much joy. do you screw up a Whiskey Sour???

At 7:55 PM, April 21, 2007, Blogger Jess said...

You know, hon, I'd never want to see you go into the restaurant business for your career. It's a brutal business. Still, you know more about good food, food preparation and presentation than most of the people who operate under the delusion that they know how to run a good restaurant. It makes for some great meals at home but a critical eye when it comes to eating out.

With that said, yes, that place was disappointing.

At 8:22 AM, April 22, 2007, Blogger Cincy Diva said...

There is nothing worse than going someplace on a recomendation and not enjoying it. Maybe the chef was having a bad night, but who really wants to take a second chance at bad food?
Tell Jess I said Congrats on the new job!

At 9:26 PM, April 23, 2007, Blogger pinknest said...

wow! only $25 per person for a prix fixe?! i can't get over that! i'm sorry it was so horrible. sounds like everything was a nightmare.

At 7:32 PM, April 24, 2007, Blogger Marc said...

Yes, $25 is cheap for a prix fixe, even by LI standards. I suppose that should have been the tipoff...and I should not have expected anything better than a piece of shoe leather floating in some broth. But if you are going to parade yourself as a metro-chic place, then you need metro quality food. They didn't even come close.


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