Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Land of Confusion

"Culinary school has ruined you," said The Man. "Before, you would have just been disappointed. Now, you try to fix it, and you won't rest until you work it out." (Or something along these lines.)

He's right, you know. I like to think I had a fairly sophisticated palate before culinary school, and going to school just enhanced it...as well as my entire outlook on the restaurant industry. I know I was hell to dine with during the Safety & Sanitation portion of the program, but I couldn't help it. (I've since relaxed my standards some, because I love to seek out the best local dives, but I'm still not eating at a Denny's with a health rating of 72!)

Anyway, what I'm trying to get around to is our Saturday night dining experience. We were out doing some holiday shopping, and decided to search for food. I mentioned that an old restaurant, the Oyster Cafe, which had been torn down about 2 years ago, had been reborn, and maybe we should check it out.

We were toodling along, on our merry way to the Oyster Cafe, when we passed a newish place called California Dreaming. I mentioned that I would like to try it sometime, and The Man suggested we do it now. I was up for that, figuring we could hit the oyster place sometime later.

A quick U-turn later, and we were pulling into the parking lot. We enter and are seated promptly. I begin looking at the menu, and something just didn't seem right. The longer I stared at the menu, the greater the feeling grew...I finally put my finger on it--there was absolutely nothing on the menu that excited me. Not one single thing stood out as actually appealing, and I think it had a lot to do with the name of the restaurant.

"California Dreaming" says (to me) things like "fresh," "Pacific-Asian influences," Guacamole made tableside," and the freaking Beach Boys...wait, that was The Mamas and The Papas, wasn't it? Anyway, "California Dreaming" does not say things to me like mediocre-sounding sandwiches, ordinary steak offerings, etc. Putting the words "Knob Hill" and "San Francisco" in front of an item's name does not California cuisine make.

The menu was boring. Flat out unimpressive and boring. The more I looked at it, the less I wanted to eat there. The Man was feeling the same way, but since we had already ordered drinks, we didn't feel like we could just up and leave. We compromised with an order of nachos, which were okay bar food nachos, which we ate while I revised the whole concept of California Dreaming.

When I took the Dining Room class, Mr. S., the instructor, spent a lot of time talking with us about menu design, themes, etc. We sat around with a bunch of menus from local restaurants and broke them down to their basic elements. One of the most important things we learned was to make sure that the name of your restaurant reflects the concept you are trying to get across...which brings me back to the whole idea of WHY this restaurant was poorly named, and WHY I think that contributed to my (lack of) dining experience.

As I stated earlier, "California Dreaming" says something to me, something that it obviously did not say to the people who created this restaurant. California says casual, breezy, and fun...not a dimly lit restaurant with faux European food and wine posters, a maze to get to your booth (it really was a maze, with ramps and everything!), and a giant palm tree in the middle of the room. Oh, wait...palm tree = California...now, I get it...NOT! The menu really could be the menu of Office Space's fictional Chotchkies or Flingers. Only without the flair...never can have too many pieces of flair, you know.

I kept trying to analyze why I was so offended by this place. And, it really did come down to the name. The name sold me a vision of the West Coast, and I really wanted some fish tacos, dammit! Baja this, buddy!

So, we ate our nachos, drank our drinks, and headed out the door and finished our evening at the Oyster Cafe...a place that serves fried oysters, raw oysters, baked oysters, along with some shrimp, and a few wings/chicken fingers to appease the folks who don't eat seafood. A prime example of what you see is what you get...or at least what the restaurant is named gives you a clue of what they are serving.

Although, the really funny thing about the new and improved Oyster Cafe is that it is way more upscalely decorated than the Xeroxed menu in the plastic holder would have you believe. Nice bar, decorative architechtural features, but the waitrons were in T-shirts and jeans. Go figure. But the oysters were most fine. We ordered a dozen raw and a dozen fried, and rolled on our merry way, sated at last.

By the way, the Thanksgiving Roast Who Beast turned out lovely...the Torte was a little dry, but the warm chocolate ganache made up for it. (The Man resorted to using it as a spread for the cake after it cooled in the fridge overnight...no wasting time heating it up in the microwave!). And, the big ass chef knife: 3; my left hand: 0. I swear, I have no business using knives at times. I managed to slice my index finger, through half my fingernail, which is looking lovely and gnawed upon now, while chopping parsley for the mushroom thing. Then, on Saturday, when I was slicing the rest of the Who Roast Beast for lunch, I managed to knick both my thumb AND my little finger at the same time. I resolved to only eat finger foods for the rest of the weekend, because I didn't want to risk my other hand...


J said...

As soon as I clicked on the link for California Dreaming, I was thinking the same thing, what about this menu says California? It's not even doing a "Claim Jumpers" kind of Cali (I believe we ate there on our California adventure). That hot vegetable salad just sounds wrong.

BTW, loved the Office Space reference!

LinC said...

It would have been funny had you told the waitress you wanted to pay for just drinks. She would have thought you were crazy. That's why I ask to look at the menu of a new restaurant BEFORE deciding to be seated. More than once we've smiled and said, "We'll have to try you some time!" and walked out rather than face a boring menu. But the oyster place sounds worth a visit. So you aren't a food snob yet if you still like dives.