Even though we don’t go out to eat as often as many people we know, Beth and I really enjoy going out to eat. Since it’s not an everyday thing, and since it is usually a special deal for us, we tend to have fairly high standards. We aren’t going to have a fit if a fish fillet has a bone or two. Stuff happens, and our parents always told us to assume there were bones in a fish fillet. And, over the years, we’ve found they were right more often than not.
Still, we want good quality food, presented well, at least consistently with the projected image of the restaurant. Or, we don’t expect a white tablecloth at burger joint.
Yesterday, Sunday April 14th, 2013, we decided to go out to eat. After a day of lawn mowing and weeding and on and on, I just didn’t feel like cooking. We’d been driving by a new Italian restaurant in Sanger for a while, a few friends had recommended it, so we thought we’d give it a try.
Let me start out by saying I would not want to run a restaurant in a small town anywhere, and certainly not a small Texas town. Still, we walked in and the place was clean and neat. Some of the furniture and the booth dividers were left over from the place’s previous incarnation as an underwhelming Chinese buffet. Still, in the best Chef Robert Irvine tradition, it had been repainted and was bright and cheerful.
Looking back on it, there were warning signs. There was no smell of food cooking. We should have been able to smell tomato sauce simmering in the kitchen. Nope. And the menu was very extensive.
A small joint really can’t afford to keep the ingredients on hand to make that many dishes, nor hire a good chef who can make them. When the menu is insanely deep, the chances are good your dinner was delivered by a food service truck. The mussels in Marinara sauce were OK, though the mussels had been overcooked a bit. The sauce was decent, but we had to ask for bread to sop up the extra sauce. Beth’s baked canolli was very respectable. My fettuccine Alfredo was another matter. I’ve never had Fettuccine Alfredo made with white American cheese before. The fettuccine noodles weren’t al dente, they were all mooshy. A bit of parsley sprinkled on top would have dressed it up a bit, but it was just very liquid white American cheese sauce on overcooked noodles on a plate.
This isn’t a slam against white American cheese. I’ve had dishes that sing with flavor when you use it. Like the Crab Au Gratin from The Bon Ton Cafe in New Orleans. It’s just that it doesn’t belong in Fettuccine Alfredo. Of course, virtually no one makes Fettuccine Alfredo correctly. Doing it right is easy, but it isn’t cheap – it requires a GOOD Parmesan cheese. No, not the stuff in a green can.
Please understand, the food service companies can deliver anything from basic ingredients to pre-prepared meals that a hungry GI would shun to gourmet quality meals. It all depends on what the restaurant orders. Still, I’d rather go to a restaurant and eat a simple meal the chef made than eat something the truck dropped off as a heat and serve entree. Some restaurants think they can save on labor by buying prefab meals. However, the added cost of the food more than makes up for it, as does the lower quality. They should cut the menu back to what they can do well, and do that.
Oh, you want the name of the restaurant? It would really be cruel to share it. Chances are you’ll never see it. Especially since I’ll be surprised if it lasts through the end of the year. And, while our meal was sub-par, I still have a great deal of sympathy for the restaurant owners. To some extent they put their heart, their soul and their life savings into the restaurant. And the chances are that their heart will be stepped on, their soul will be diminished, and their life savings will evaporate. I hate seeing that. Really.
If you want to know how to make the real deal, here’s two recipes for Fettuccine Alfredo I really like.