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A Bad Taste In Your Mouth

May 24, 2016

We all eat. If you’re lucky, for the most part, you get to eat good food. And by good, let’s withhold value judgements, and just say delicious. You get to eat delicious food. Cereal with ice cold milk can be delicious. So can a slice of pizza, or a crisp apple, or a cup of soup.

Let’s say you aren’t so lucky. Even still, in this day and age, most likely the food you eat isn’t actively bad. We’ll put aside for a moment that this phenomenon is largely thanks to the invention of modern preservatives that will keep mold away, and extend the shelf life of processed foods. The upside is an existence virtually free from eating rancid foods.

But we eat. A lot. Most of us eat every day, and multiple times per day. At that rate, eventually, your luck is going to run out.

That could mean a bad piece of sushi or an off oyster. Perhaps one rare burger contained a colony of bacteria hell bent on doing you harm. Heck, maybe you did yourself in by overindulging with some favorite beer, wine, or spirit.

We’ve all been there. And I’m not going to linger on the physical consequences. What I want to discuss are the psychological ones. Because sometimes, all it takes is one bad experience to turn people off something forever. I get it.

What I learned recently, is that this has a strong corollary with bad experiences at restaurants.

This all came about when chatting with a friend over Facebook messenger. The two of us were comparing our past meals at a local place. His was bad. Mine were good. I believed him, and I have every reason to think he believed me.

But he’s not going back.

At first I felt like that was an overreaction. Clearly, my buddy ordered wrong. Not through any fault of his own. Sometimes the best dishes at a restaurant can be hard to find. At places like Bomber’s Burritos or Gus’s Hot Dogs, you might think the burritos or dogs are the best bets. But in reality it’s the piggy fries and the sausage sandwich. Go fig.

Then I remembered my tragic experience at Cafe Capriccio during restaurant week many many years ago. The company was great, but the food was really underwhelming. Since that time, I realized a few things.

1) The place didn’t take restaurant week seriously and pushed inferior food for the promotion
2) One has to think of this as less of a restaurant and more of a friend’s Italian kitchen
3) There are far better options on the menu, a few of which are must-try dishes

Here’s a confession: Despite having learned all of these things a few years back, I still have yet to return. I believe my friend Silvia who provided me with a better context for the place and some top picks from the menu. But the truth is that the restaurant week experience left such a bad taste in my mouth, that I just can’t get very excited about the prospect of going back.

Especially when there are other places I really want to try. Not least of which is Silvia’s own new restaurant, which isn’t even that new any more. Lark + Lily opened over seven months ago! Yikes. I don’t know where the time goes.

The big idea here is that restaurants need to take heed. There is a lot more competition out there today than in the past. The bar has been raised, and raised again. Now, more than ever, restaurant owners need to take a long hard look at their menus and see what doesn’t meet their high standards. And they need to make sure the kitchen is properly executing those dishes.

Additionally, the time of restaurants paying lip service to restaurant week is over. Do it or don’t do it. Half-assing the promotion is just asking for trouble, and a surefire way to leave a bad taste in customers’ mouths.

I wish could figure out how to undo the powerful effects of one bad experience. It really doesn’t seem fair. My old friend Bill hasn’t been able to drink Champagne for his entire adult life thanks to some prankster who gave him a few glasses of the stuff at a party when he was just a boy.

But bad experiences don’t need to be dramatic to have lasting effects. However, it’s important to remember, these are psychological blocks, and they can be overcome. It just may take a bit of effort. One of these days I’m going to make it back to Cafe Capriccio. But I’ll probably dip my toe in the water first, and grab a plate of beans and greens at the bar.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. EPT permalink
    May 24, 2016 12:14 pm

    Frankly, I wouldn’t go to any restaurant during restaurant week. It’s very hard for a restaurant to produce an excellent meal, usually three courses with the budget constraints. In addition, choices are very limited. I’ve had excellent meals at Cafe Capriccio and will go back. Did you EVER have a knockout meal during restaurant week?

  2. May 24, 2016 2:05 pm

    Awww – thanks for the shout out. Let me know when you want to belly up to the bar at Capriccio and I’ll join you. We had a terrific meal there on Mother’s Day – a day I typically wouldn’t ever dream of dining out. I generally give a place 2 chances, but beyond that believe there are to many other options to continue being repeatedly dissatisfied. I’ve learned that some places just aren’t for me – I’m looking at you, Terrapin.

  3. Yup permalink
    June 7, 2016 4:48 pm

    A bit off-topic but I remember when Restaurant Week was fabulous. Restaurants used it to showcase their strengths with the hope of gaining more regular customers. Their menus were straight off their regular menu for a fraction of the cost.
    Unfortunately, today’s Restaurant Week is sullied by menus non reflective of the actual restaurant offerings and sullied with cheap house salads or soup, cheap pasta dishes and infamous bread pudding, for example.
    I’m generalizing but it’s getting harder and harder to find restaurants offering decent Restaurant Week offerings.

    • EPT permalink
      June 7, 2016 5:27 pm

      Unfortunately, Yup you are correct. I remember when Dale Miller first took over Stone Ends and they offered dinner for 2 with a bottle of wine for $40 AND the food was damn good. Actually we loved Stone Ends but it’s gone for quite some time now.

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