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  1. Holly, it appears to me that you operate with this idealistic image of a struggling husband and wife team pouring every ounce of their energy and money into fulfilling their dream of operating a restaurant. I imagine this scene painted by J.F. Millet with a soundtrack by Bon Jovi ca. 1988. C’mon dude, business is business. Let me propose this to you: would you have had such a visceral reaction to my opinion if it had been about a corporate entity like Oceanaire Seafood Room within its first month of opening? Or would you have just shrugged it off or even possibly smirked? I understand where you’re coming from, but I think you have too much emotion guiding your opinion on the matter. Someday soon I will find myself once again vulnerable to the type of criticism I doled out. When my time comes I’ll have to deal with the criticism, good or bad, constructive or destructive, and use it to make sure my guests are satisfied. Also, I would like to speak to the issue of responsibility in posting on the internet that keeps coming up. I think that by continuing to discuss the matter beyond the initial rant and within the context of a group discussion with varying opinions, I have been “fair.” Unfair would have been to post and run; I have continued to argue my viewpoint as articulately as I can (for being just a cook) and tried to bring the discussion towards some sort of synthesis. Honestly, if the restaurant fails it fails through its own shortcomings, not because of a strongly opinionated but very valid critique on the web. If it makes you feel better, Holly, I did send the restaurant an email alerting them that I’m the one who started this thread and that they should read it. Sidebar: Slow is no excuse. Trying too hard is no excuse.
  2. No, Matt, I just said “in the office” for brevity, and people are taking that quite literally. You and I both know the whole damn kitchen was his office and he had no compunction about where and when we got routed.
  3. Holly, you can continue to take the tangential, slightly elevated road in this discussion, but the fact remains that I as well as other guests of this restaurant had negative experiences there. When I was in college I helped open a restaurant where the owners grossly misjudged the volume of business the restaurant was going to do versus the kitchen staff they employed. We were packed, doing 250 covers a night and tables were waiting like 45 minutes for courses. We had a fair amount of walk-out tables, but the food was pretty good and things eventually stabilized. My point is that my specific complaints were more than just “kinks” to be worked out over a few services. We were one of maybe four tables in the place and the meal took four hours, was not especially tasty and cost me a good amount of money. These aren’t “kinks.” And furthermore, why should I have to be nice? They’re the ones charging top-tier prices for the tasting menu, which should be the culinary tour de force of the place. You know I just realized that I’m more interested in arguing with you than talking about this restaurant. Oh well. I love your line: “James deserved better.” It has such a dramatic and empathic ring to it, almost eulogistic. What I say is not that important.
  4. Would this 48hr moratorium apply equally to heaping praise on mediocre restaurants, discussions of pizza or cheesesteaks and lauding the Chairman’s Selections??? Seriously, though, my comments are tantamount to how I used to get my ass chewed out by Lacroix in his office for 15 minutes. When it’s over, you wipe the spit off your face and begin to sift through the b.s. to get to the real problems that you need to address. It wasn’t fun, but it gave me the resiliency to sublimate my ego, take criticism and fix problems before they get worse. If I ever read something like my original post about my (hypothetical) business, I’d be mortified. But, I’d make sure that every single criticism were addressed by and with the entire staff. I apologize if my rhetoric offended anyone’s delicate sensibilities and I do not wish to dissuade anyone from going to this restaurant. If James addresses any of my complaints, then you all will have benefitted.
  5. I sort of like that "come one come all" attitude of the place. As long as you wish to spend your money there, you are welcome. I thought snackbar might run the risk of becoming too scene-ey and compromise that attitude. That's why I usually go in the afternoon (but I don't wear sweatpants) instead of after dark.
  6. sounds like someone has a case of the i should have just gone to vietnam blues. ← Perfect example of a restaurant from which you always leave satisfied. Good food, pleasant atmosphere, friendly service, inexpensive to boot. Plus Benny has done a superlative job of growing the business over the years from a typical Chinatown joint to an attractive and well-appointed restaurant/bar. Much respect. Let's go sometime Skull-key.
  7. Alright y'all, I concede that my original post was harsh, but that is honestly how I felt when I left the restaurant. I went home and bitched to my wife for a half hour before I decided to put my thoughts to paper. I mean really, $115 (plus tip) could have bought my groceries for a week. No customer should ever leave a restaurant feeling like that. And it wasn't just me, to address those who think my unilateral decision to rant was unfair to my friends. We all spent the ride home discussing the price and quality issues. We all worked together at Lacroix, so we have a common expectation of what constitutes a good dining experience. We were criticized 200 times a day by the same French a***hole (term of endearment) about attention to detail and making sure the guest is happy. The fact that I have worked at Lacroix and Four Seasons means nothing more than that I have PTSD anxiety when I see fingerprints on plates or food is cold or plates are not warm, etc. I don't expect every restaurant to be the second coming of Christ with a liquor license. Honestly, if I had just ordered two courses off the menu I would have been nonplussed with respect to the food, but not aggravated. I certainly would not have posted anything about the place. And, I prefaced this whole thing by saying that it was a rant, not a professional review or critique. It's just my impression from a dining experience, which I thought was the purpose of eG. Finally, I feel justified in so doing, because other people have shared similar experiences. Maybe the chef should read this and see how people regard the dining experience at James. I used to do it weekly for Sunday Brunch at Lacroix. Philadining's Brunch pictures did make the food look really good, thanks.
  8. The practical joke has nothing to do with any sort of "trickery " vis a vis the price of the tasting menu. It's that by their own mission statement on the website they purport to be a fine-dining establishment in Bella Vista. The food was nowhere near the level of fine dining in this city let alone in comparison to any national or international standard. It's Busch League. Look at what else they say on the website: "our service is impeccable; the dining environment, elegant yet friendly." This wasn't Fountain service. Nitpick: every single plate had a thumbprint on it from the servers. The dining room looks pretty cool, but has few of the appointments that separate casual restaurants from fine dining ones. Hell, there weren't even linens. Vetri has the market cornered on "rustica" in this town. That space is not hyper-fancy, but has unique touches like the espresso machine and the prosciutto slicer as integral parts of the interior design. And the food is damn tasty, if annoyingly simple to me, which goes back to my basic complaint about this place. As Buckethead mentioned, you can eat three good meals at other restaurants in the area for the same price. And did I mention that it took FOUR hours? GordonCooks: I was just along for the ride.
  9. All semantic issues aside for a second, has anyone used preferredmeats.com? I was looking up Snake River Farms beef and pork, and their website linked me to this one. It's not cheap, but it might offer the type of product several of you are looking for. Not dry-aged beef, but other nice stuff. Oh yeah, and like I said when we tackled this topic last summer, I find Chinatown to have the best quality fish in town. Not that you could tell by the smells emanating from the shops. Mind you it's not "gourmet" species, but I routinely find very fresh spanish mackerels, pompano, flukes, squids and these little flatfish that look like turbots. Shellfish are often as good or better than I'd get at work from Sammy's, especially razor clams at $3.99/lb. Plus they have live tanks for shrimp, crab, lobster ($6.99/lb), and some bass-like fish that they ship in every day. One time I found red porgies that were basically as good as dorade royales from Sammy's at $3/lb. They made a pretty f***ing good dinner for two for $7. You just have to get in there and look.
  10. V: as I have made the Cafe Boulud recipe like a ba-zillion times over the years, I too was amazed that pork belly could or would be prepared without a light cure. It makes the pork fat taste so good. I'm curious to hear how RAE is, if you don't mind sharing later.
  11. This is going to be a rant, since I need to write this post having just walked in the door from the most underwhelming meal I’ve had in this city in ten years. My two friends, let’s call them Jerry and Sean, came down from New York to visit for the day. Sean wanted us to go to James restaurant for dinner, because he’s friends with the sous chef and pastry chef there from a previous job. Joining us were two other friends, let’s call them Jim and Pat. Pat is friends with the owner’s wife from a previous job. We arrive for a 6:30 reservation with bottles of wine, since they don’t yet have their license, and sat in the private dining area-separated-by-a-velvet-drape. The owner’s wife greets us and says they’d like to cook for us. My understanding of this statement from years in the restaurant business is that you willfully and generously cook for your friends and/or other restaurant workers at minimal or no charge as a professional courtesy. I’ve done it a million times. I’ll return to this issue later, though, after a discussion of the food. Amuse: brandade on a baguette crouton. The brandade was austere in its lack of flavoring other than salt cod, no garlic or herb taste, and it was cold. The crouton was cut and toasted with no treatment of flavor from oil or seasoning. Risotto made with Prosecco and an Oyster: Undercooked, pre-blanched rice in a winey liquid with no butter or cheese, no creaminess at all. On top a shucked oyster. (nice bernadaud china however) Olive oil-Poached Bass with Chickpea Puree and Fennel: Very nicely cooked piece of fish over a smear of utterly flavorless chickpea puree, a dab of flavorless parsley oil and some thick shaved but undressed fennel. Why no taste? Why? All these ingredients can be made into flavorful things. Pappardelle with Duck? Ragu and “Umbrian” Truffles and Bitter Chocolate: Served at or below room temp somehow and quite dry. Once again no taste. Truffle, flavorless. Histrionic grating of chocolate over dish, flavorless. Braised and Crisped Pork Belly with Cabbage and 30-Year Balsamic: Once again, the pork was devoid of any salt, pepper, herb or spice flavoring. Why? And we’re not talking about any $10/lb Kurobota pork here that has intrinsic taste. Also, the crisp skin stuck in your teeth like caramel. Cabbage in chiffonade, blanched and picked up in a beurre nage. No indication of any balsamic vinegar, young or old. Roasted Squab over Parsnip Puree with Squab Sauce and an inexplicable plate of Salt-Cured Foie Gras on the side: Flabby skin, grainy puree, no seasoning, what the hell with the foie gras? Hanger Steak with Smoked Potato Puree and Beaujolais Reduction: I swear to God that this dish tasted exactly like a hot dog. Puree was smoky but again was grainy and devoid of any butter or cream or seasoning. Why? How can someone get steak and potatoes wrong? Why? (beef was like a 2 oz portion) Cheese: banal Dessert: Mostly good. Chestnut cake with figs was the best dish all night. Slice of chocolate pate on a piece of toast was laughable. And the torrone petit-four I can almost guarantee was bought from Claudio’s. Overall this meal was of unacceptable quality. Furthermore it took FOUR hours. We’re talking half hour course times when we represented almost half of the guests in the room. Why? This isn’t Per Se or Minibar. And the final insult: we were charged for five tasting menus at $90 each. IS THIS A PRACTICAL JOKE? There isn’t even a tasting menu option on the a la carte to give the guest a sense of expectation. Seriously I nor any of us there are interested in getting free food as a end of a dining experience. We enjoy food: it’s our passion and our jobs. This whole dining experience was an affront to my professional sensibilities, from the length of the meal to the quality of the food preparation to the price they expect to get for it. They have no business asking prices proportional to those of Vetri, the Fountain, Le Bec, the Bass or Lacroix. If this isn’t some sort of joke then good luck, James et al; you’re gonna need it. Once again this is why I cook at home.
  12. I'd like to see what the Michelin Guide would have to say about the Philadelphia dining scene, and particularly how it would deal with the BYOB. I realize that people do not like to compare Philly to New York, but within the context of an internationally accepted restaurant review I think the comparison would be appropriate. I just took a minute to flip through the 2006 guide for New York. Over 500 restaurants received mention, 31 got one star, 4 got two stars and 3 got three stars. The Philly Michelin pamphlet would have maybe 2 two-star, a half-dozen one star restaurants and then what? BYO's may sometimes offer good food, but they do not offer the type of service that characterize a restaurant worthy of mention. And they are not that cheap either. You can eat at Balthazar or Babbo for a similar outlay of cash as you can at Matyson or Django. As others have stated, they have a local appeal and cannot command the dollars from business and tourism that sustain city restaurants. To synthesize a sentiment I see peppered throughout this thread, what Philly lacks are the restaurants that would receive mention or maybe one star in Michelin. We need more restaurants that offer creative and appealing food, an interesting beverage program, good service and a pleasant, convivial atmosphere without being overly expensive. Let me go leaf through my pamphlet for some.
  13. rivesaltes or muscat de rivesaltes? both are vin doux naturel wines from the cotes du roussillon, one red and one white
  14. While I do often enjoy the benefits of the Chairman's Selection program, I acknowledge the fact that it is an appeasement for tolerating the monopoly pricing and taxes on every other thing I buy in the store. I almost laugh out loud when I go home to D.C. and see what the same bottles cost down there. If Rendell is in fact interested in any sort of liquor law reform, with particular respect to licensing, we should be open-minded. Maybe having a CEO with an AGENDA (matt sp.) would be good for the REGION (matt sp.).
  15. My guess is that the restaurant finally got the points for service it lacked during our tenure there. Having a capable and consistent manager over the last year, coupled with some necessary "culling of the weak," has probably resulted in a perceptible difference in the service experience that we in the kitchen would not notice. Like I said upthread, though, from what I hear from people that still work there, I cannot accept that the food has improved under the new management. And I do not mean that comment to be self-aggrandizing at all. I am curious to see what Laban says.
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