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Defensive Chefs


Randi
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I posted something on the NJ Forum but thought I would post the general situation here, and see if others have had this happen to them. Here is my story:

I was out to dinner at a new local seafood restaurant. I ordered crab cakes for my dinner because the week prior I was there and tasted my friend's crab cake appetizer, and they were the best I had ever tasted.

However, I was disappointed with them this time. They did not taste the same as last week. They were salty and had much more breading, altho the (sparse) pieces of crab in them were large and tasty. And there was no peppery kick to it like last week.

I did ask the waitress if there was a different recipe for the dinner than the appetizer, and of course there wasn't. She mentioned that they were probably breaking in a new chef.

After our meal the owner of the restaurant (she owns it with her husband, who is the main chef), came over to see how our dinner was. I mentioned that the crab cakes were just okay, but that everything else I've had there has been great. She apologized and said that next time her husband would make them for me and I said, that's ok, I would probably just order something else.

A few minutes later, while we were looking over the dessert menu, she returned...with the CHEF...who had with him a plate with 4 uncooked crab cakes. She said he wanted to talk to me. I was kind of embarrassed, so was smiling nervously and she said "see that smile? that's how we want all our patrons to feel" (but I was smiling because I was mortified! )

Anyhow, the chef pointed to the crab cakes on the plate, and proceeded to tell me that there is no "filler" in them, only the jumbo lump crab meat. (By filler he said he meant some other fish, or inferior crab. When I mentioned filler, I meant the breading, which there was LOTS of.) The examples he brought out to me still had quite a bit of breading but did seem to have more crab meat than the 2 I'd gotten.

He said only he and the owner make the crab cakes, and I was feeling very uncomfortable. Maybe she told him I thought they were breaking in a new chef (which was what our waitress told us)? I know she was trying to make it right, but I felt like I was being challenged...so I was pretty uncomfortable.

She did say we could choose any desserts we wanted from the menu, on the house. So we did - and only mine was comped. We just paid for the other, it wasn't a big deal, but we thought she meant we could both order dessert. (She did look at my friend as she was offering the dessert, and he also had the impression that we could both order one.)

Anyhow...it was an adventure, but I would still go back, as I like the place, like the food, and I understand that she was trying hard to make sure I was happy, even though it pretty much had the wrong effect on me.

So, I am wondering if anyone else has ever been confronted by the chef when they expressed disappointment in a dish, and if they were confronted, would they return to the restaurant?

Edited by Randi (log)

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best --" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. - A.A. Milne

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question: why were you embarassed? you werent embarassed when you mentioned how different it tasted. maybe what you think of as embarassment is really your defensiveness about being confronted by the chef

i think that it is unfair on your part to call the chef 'defensive'. the owner obviously valued you as a patron and went out of her way to make you feel better. basically, you were dissing the chef's crab cakes. not that anything is wrong with it!! afterall, you are paying for a meal and you have expectations.

btw, just plain talk. no offence intended.

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I took a shot at a restaurant in DC here on eG and got a somewhat heated respnse from one of the cooks. I was actually unhappy with the service, so I was a little surprised to see that haymaker come out of the kitchen. No problem, a good tussle is what eG is all about, and I changed my sig so I can no longer be accused of "cowardly anonymous posts."

More recently, Sunday night in fact, I told the #2 guy at a very swank Italian restaurant that I thought his pasta courses had been significantly oversalted -- an opinion shared by all at the table. He apparently had other things on his mind, possible the attractive woman to his left, and declined to take a swing at me, so I have no real idea how my opinion was received.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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question: why were you embarassed? you werent embarassed when you mentioned how different it tasted. maybe what you think of as embarassment is really your defensiveness about being confronted by the chef

i think that it is unfair on your part to call the chef 'defensive'. the owner obviously valued you as a patron and went out of her way to make you feel better. basically, you were dissing the chef's crab cakes. not that anything is wrong with it!! afterall, you are paying for a meal and you have expectations.

btw, just plain talk. no offence intended.

Hey now,

Nobody wants to be seen as causing a scene while at a restaurant. Here, by confronting him in what appears to be a very hostile manner, the chef forced him to be the center of attention for everyone in the restaurant. I, too, would probably have been embarrassed in this situation. It seems that until the chef came out both the patron and the owner were acting in a very polite manner.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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So, you go to a restaurant that you've been to before for dinner. You've tasted their crab cakes before, and you really like them. You order the crab cakes for dinner, and they aren't as good as they were when you tasted them. The server gives you some excuse. The owner asks about your dinner and you tell her that they weren't as good as they were before. Apparently, the owner talks to the chef, and brings the chef out to show you some uncooked crab cakes.

I'd be extremely annoyed if this happened to me. Not only was the chef being defensive, but his defense was irrelevant. You aren't in a position to judge uncooked crab cakes, only to compare what you had at that meal with what you had tasted before.

I'll bet you don't feel like going back to that restaurant any time soon, if ever. If they had just said that they were sorry you didn't like the crab cakes as much as before, and comped you a free dessert, you would have been happy.

I'd have been embarrassed, and would not return to that restaurant.

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question: why were you embarassed? you werent embarassed when you mentioned how different it tasted. maybe what you think of as embarassment is really your defensiveness about being confronted by the chef

i think that it is unfair on your part to call the chef 'defensive'. the owner obviously valued you as a patron and went out of her way to make you feel better. basically, you were dissing the chef's crab cakes. not that anything is wrong with it!! afterall, you are paying for a meal and you have expectations.

btw, just plain talk. no offence intended.

Not offended in the least. To address your points above:

1. I was embarrassed because I was being confronted directly by the chef, and I guess I felt that I offended his cooking skills. It was not my intention to offend. Also there were diners at the tables around us, and it was a wee bit of a scene at that point.

2. Why is "defensive" a bad word? He defended his crab cakes - so he was being defensive. I didn't diss them - I didn't say "these crab cakes suck" - I said I was disappointed since there seemed to be more breading and different seasonings than the ones I had the week prior. Zero hostility on my part.

I agree that the owner went out of her way to address my concerns and for that reason I will definitely be returning there.

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best --" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. - A.A. Milne

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so what is the appropriate response? take the complaints and smile away?

isnt feedback normal when a complaint is made?

So, you go to a restaurant that you've been to before for dinner.  You've tasted their crab cakes before, and you really like them.  You order the crab cakes for dinner, and they aren't as good as they were when you tasted them.  The server gives you some excuse.  The owner asks about your dinner and you tell her that they weren't as good as they were before.  Apparently, the owner talks to the chef, and brings the chef out to show you some uncooked crab cakes.

I'd be extremely annoyed if this happened to me.  Not only was the chef being defensive, but his defense was irrelevant.  You aren't in a position to judge uncooked crab cakes, only to compare what you had at that meal with what you had tasted before.

I'll bet you don't feel like going back to that restaurant any time soon, if ever.  If they had just said that they were sorry you didn't like the crab cakes as much as before, and comped you a free dessert, you would have been happy. 

I'd have been embarrassed, and would not return to that restaurant.

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Nobody wants to be seen as causing a scene while at a restaurant. Here, by confronting him in what appears to be a very hostile manner, the chef forced him to be the center of attention for everyone in the restaurant. I, too, would probably have been embarrassed in this situation. It seems that until the chef came out both the patron and the owner were acting in a very polite manner.

Yes, true, I didn't like the scene that was caused. But to be honest, the chef was not impolite or hostile - just a tad upset and defensive.

(p.s. I am a "she" not a "he" :raz: )

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best --" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. - A.A. Milne

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I'd be extremely annoyed if this happened to me.  Not only was the chef being defensive, but his defense was irrelevant.  You aren't in a position to judge uncooked crab cakes, only to compare what you had at that meal with what you had tasted before.

I'll bet you don't feel like going back to that restaurant any time soon, if ever.  If they had just said that they were sorry you didn't like the crab cakes as much as before, and comped you a free dessert, you would have been happy. 

I'd have been embarrassed, and would not return to that restaurant.

Yes, Mark, you totally get it :biggrin: But, I do want to go back, because I won't hold the owner responsible for the chef's behavior. And, darn it, I like the place. (ok, that's the real reason I want to go back!)

But, to be honest, I am going to feel self conscious when I return (as I know the owner will come over and bring up the issue again, in some supportive way.) And (I know this is silly but) I do have some concerns about what that chef might do to my food if he knows I am there. Do those things really happen? (i.e. spitting in it??)

:huh:

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best --" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. - A.A. Milne

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Not offended in the least.  To address your points above:

1.  I was embarrassed because I was being confronted directly by the chef, and I guess I felt that I offended his cooking skills.  It was not my intention to offend.  Also there were diners at the tables around us, and it was a wee bit of a scene at that point.

2.  Why is "defensive" a bad word?  He defended his crab cakes - so he was being defensive.  I didn't diss them - I didn't say "these crab cakes suck" - I said I was disappointed since there seemed to be more breading and different seasonings than the ones I had the week prior.  Zero hostility on my part.

I agree that the owner went out of her way to address my concerns and for that reason I will definitely be returning there.

I am picking apart this thread as a case study. a study of commuication..sorta..:)

re #1, the issue *was* about the food..not service or the drinks. maybe thats why the chef came out? no comments re #2.

think of the alternative. you cannot be beckoned into the kitchen. surely, you'd have been miffed if the chef took you to a corner and explained the crabcakes to you in whispers.

what I am trying to understand here is quite simple. what would have made you(or any customer with complaints, rather) feel comfortable? an apology by the owner(with or without a comp) and the chef still remaining in the background?

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so what is the appropriate response? take the complaints and smile away?

isnt feedback normal when a complaint is made?

I see your point. But feedback was what I got from the waitress and the owner. What I got from the chef was the feeling that I was being told I was incorrect.

He was challenging my opinion. In my opinion :cool:

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best --" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. - A.A. Milne

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what I am trying to understand here is quite simple. what would have made you(or any customer with complaints, rather) feel comfortable? an apology by the owner(with or without a comp) and the chef still remaining in the background?

I'm not sure, to be honest with you. I think my discomfort was purely at being challenged and the concern that I offended him in some way? I don't know...

I am basically a non-confrontational sort, so I am sure I am more comfortable with the more indirect way of expressing my dissatisfaction. I am not defending this, just admitting it.

One point we seem to be overlooking is - he misunderstood my complaint about "more filler". I meant the breading - he thought I meant the fish - that there was some kind of inferior "filler" fish used and he wanted to show me the lump crabmeat in the uncooked cakes.

I don't think he would have come out had I simply said the seasoning was not up to par.

Hey, how did this happen? I am defending the chef! :wacko:

And to answer your question above, I was fine with the innocuous feedback from the waitress and the owner and would have comfortably returned (but not ordered the crab cakes again). OK, I still won't order them. :raz:

I wasn't looking for an apology or a comp - I was just letting them know about an inconsistency. Remember, they are a new restaurant - and they've had a somewhat slow start.

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best --" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. - A.A. Milne

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Hi Randi, I am with you.

You said:

"She apologized and said that next time her husband would make them for me and I said, that's ok, I would probably just order something else."

You told the owner you were coming back.

It was a newly opened restaurant and you had a problem with the food, but you were going to return.

Comp you for the crab cakes or not, they just should have thanked you for your patronage and been polite.

But then comes out the owner/cook/chef with a plateful of uncooked crab cakes to intimidate you?

How stupid can anyone be?

Sounds like these guys are not going to be in business very long.

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As a chef...I understand how the guy in the Kitchen felt....but at the same time....what you said to the waitress and what was said to the chef, may not have been the same thing. Perhaps the owner told the chef that he had to go out and see you?

The thing to remember here is that what you stated about the crab cakes was your opinion. You are allowed your opinion. If something differs in quality and consistency, then the kitchen should be glad to know that.

I have confronted a diner once (in a twelve year career).....because he pissed me off, and because he was mouthing off to try and impress his friends dining with him.

I was working in an Italian restaurant, which sold pasta. We made everything from scratch....down to the bread, ice cream, aioli...etc. We took great pride in our work there, and used the best quality ingredients.

The gentleman in question ordered a seafood pasta. In Italy, it is very rare that cheese is served with seafood...it is considered a no-no. When he got his pasta, he asked for a side of parmesan...and asked why his pasta wasn't garnished with it? The waitress explained to him our policy of not serving cheese with seafood, as it was not authentic nor pleasing to the palate...but brought him his side of parmesan cheese anyway.

He looked at his cheese and didn't taste it and told the waitress that he didn't want it because it wasn't "real parmesan" anyway. This is when our waitress assured him that it was and came to me. She says: "The guy at table 12 doesn't think that we have real parmesan."

I assured her that we had authentic Parmegianno Reggianno and that the guy should rest assurred that it was "REAL" parmesan.

She came back with: "He says that real parmesan doesn't look like that."

I told her: "Does he want to see the stamp on the side of the wheel? I can bring it to him."

She comes back with: "He still doesn't believe us. He's making a scene."

I said: "Fine... I'll go get the cheese"

So I go downstairs to the walk-in fridge, heft this 7# 1/4 wheel of reggianno upstairs and bring it to his table. I said: "Sir, I believe you are questioning the validity of the authenticity of our cheese. Here is the stamp that says it is reggiano. It is one of the most expensive parmesans in the world, and that is what you have here in your side dish."

After all of this...he says: "But the colour is different! The colour of that cheese and the colour of what is in this side dish is different. There is no way that that is the same cheese!"

I say to him: (Thoroughly annoyed at this point.) "We have a special grater downstairs which cost over $1000 to buy to have it grated this way. Would you like a demonstration of the machine grating the cheese? I can still assure you that it is the same cheese."

At this point his friends are mortified on his behalf and said: "NO! He believes you!"

I hate it when ignorant people insist they are right. My feeling of the situation was, if he was going to make a scene, I might as well make it a GRAND scene and embarrass him for being a putz.

Now...in your case...I don't think that it was necessary that the chef come to your table. But I do have to say...I've been there on the other side.

Diners make comments about the food all the time. Some of them are very helpful and we should be glad as chefs to get the criticism first hand rather than have the word spread publicly on a food blog such as this.

:rolleyes:

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I think that coming out with the raw crabcakes was way over the top. I don't think that it is the chef's place to "defend" his creation to the customer in that way. It just makes for embarassment on the diner's part. I would think the owner would be after making the diner more comfortable, not less.

It doesn't sound as if any of the parties behaved poorly purposely. Still, I don't know if I'd want to go back.

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But then comes out the owner/cook/chef with a plateful of uncooked crab cakes to intimidate you?

How stupid can anyone be?

Sounds like these guys are not going to be in business very long.

a 'stupid' chef trying to 'intimidate' a customer with answers and a dessert comp.

yea right. they wont stay in business for too long.

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My favorite similar experience was when we went to a French restaurant in Buffalo with my parents once. My Mom was eating a dish with a cream sauce on it, and went "eeew" and pulled a small piece of a wisk broom straw out of her mouth that had been in the dish's sauce.

She called the waiter over and showed it to him and he went and got the manager and the chef. The chef took the piece of straw from my Mom, peered at it, and then said in a most condescending tone, "Madam doesn't seem to be aware that this is an herb called rosemary that was not properly crushed in the preperation of your dish, certainly not a piece of straw from a wisk broom".

Mom looked at the chef and replied, "Bullshit. Madam has a Master's Degree in Home Economics and has taught it for 20 years in high school, and knows God-damn well what She just pulled out of her mouth".

The look on his face was priceless, and She got a new entree and dessert on the house.

Edited by DeVeaux (log)

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

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My favorite similar experience was when we went to a French restaurant in Buffalo with my parents once.  My Mom was eating a dish with a cream sauce on it, and went "eeew" and pulled a small piece of a wisk broom straw out of her mouth that had been in the dish's sauce.

She called the waiter over and showed it to him and he went and got the manager and the chef.  The chef took the piece of straw from my Mom, peered at it, and then said in a most condescending tone, "Madam doesn't seem to be aware that this is an herb called rosemary that was not properly crushed in the preperation of your dish, certainly not a piece of straw from a wisk broom".

Mom looked at the chef and replied, "Bullshit.  Madam has a Master's Degree in Home Economics and has taught it for 20 years in high school, and knows God-damn well what She just pulled out of her mouth".

The look on his face was priceless, and She got a new entree and dessert on the house.

Cheers to your mom!! I'm sure she's just wonderful. :biggrin::biggrin: Great story, thanks for the laugh. I'll bet your family smiles everytime it is recalled.

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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Randi,

That would have upset me too.

I've managed customer service personnel in my time and it's always a delicate balancing act between preserving the customer relationship and preserving the feelings of the customer service rep. I don't believe "the customer is always right," but I do know telling customers they're wrong is a great way to create bad feelings and kill repeat business.

To me, the fault here lies with the restaurant owner/manager, who didn't handle the situation well. I think what she should have done was apologize to you, comp both your desserts, and then address the issue with the chef once you were out of the restaurant. I learned a long time ago that 9 times out of 10, when you go to a customer service rep with a customer complaint while the customer is still on the phone or on premises, the CSR will want to confront the complainer. And there are no winners in that kind of confrontation - the customer is taken aback about being confronted, the CSR's feelings are hurt and you as the manager look like a jerk for allowing it to happen. The customer doesn't see the exchange as "getting some answers" and the CSR doesn't see the criticism as constructive. The time to correct and make suggestions is later, when there's time to explore the incident more thoroughly, and people aren't in the thick of a situation, and therefore aren't as apt to get upset.

To me, whether or not a chef has direct contact with the customers, he or she is still in the business of servicing customers and satisfying their needs. Everyone who works in a restaurant, as a matter of fact, is in the business of satisfying customer needs. I understand that chefs are highly trained and many consider what they do to be art, and in some cases it is art. That doesn't change the fact that when someone cooks in a restaurant, or runs a restaurant, their job is to put butts in the seats and satisfy those butts so they keep coming back and giving over their money for the restaurant's product, so the restaurant can stay in business.

It's really easy to blow complaints off as "idiot customers," but the fact of the matter remains: that customer who has a bad experience will not return, and will tell other people, who will not patronize that establishment. Every unhappy customer takes hard dollars out of a restaurant's pocket. It takes much more money, time and effort to attract new customers than it does to retain existing ones - that's Customer Relationship Management 101. And the bottom line is that most customers are either not sophisticated enough to understand the art behind good cooking (or the science of restaurant management), or they don't care. Your average Joe Customer is not interested in getting answers (which they will see as excuses) for a bad meal, hearing a chef justify themselves about the food, or listening to explanations about why things are a certain way. They want good food, well prepared, and good service. If they don't get those things, there are a lot of other restaurants in the world they could go to. To me, that's the bottom line about situations like this.

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Once I was sitting at the counter at a restaurant with an open kitchen when I was overheard by one of the chefs telling my friend that the black beans served alongside our $8 tacos were a bit under seasoned and sort of bland. The eavesdropping chef was very offended and became quite angry, which surprised and embarrassed me since I had not meant for him to hear my comment, but I defended my opinion.

He proceeded to argue that I didn’t really know beans like they did, a point to which I conceded as I offered to agree to disagree, but he wouldn’t accept this. He basically wanted me to take it back, to say his beans were good and I was wrong. I couldn’t do that, the beans were terrible and they were charging $8 for a plate with only a single, small fish taco, so I apologized for making the comment and thanked him for addressing my concerns. He took this as condescension and from there things quickly turned ugly.

We were eventually asked to leave, free of charge, and asked not to return. My friend, who quietly ate his $8 taco while I argued with the chef, at least got a free lunch out of it… I learned to be a lot more quiet when I criticize food in restaurants.

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question: why were you embarassed? you werent embarassed when you mentioned how different it tasted. maybe what you think of as embarassment is really your defensiveness about being confronted by the chef

i think that it is unfair on your part to call the chef 'defensive'. the owner obviously valued you as a patron and went out of her way to make you feel better. basically, you were dissing the chef's crab cakes. not that anything is wrong with it!! afterall, you are paying for a meal and you have expectations.

btw, just plain talk. no offence intended.

I'm guessing from your spelling that you're based in UK. This is not a value judgment, just a comparison. I live (like the original poster, I think) in the US and have traveled in UK. My impression is that over there, it is somewhat more common for customer complaints to be met with some sort of response or rebuttal from a chef, manager or whatever. It may also be a little less expected for customers to complain; I'm not sure. In the US, the chef's behavior as described by the poster is considered fairly unusual, I think.

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Having spent a good deal of time on both sides of the pick-up window I can say what that chef did was way out of line. Right or wrong, I would have issued my apology and offered a free round of grappa for the table. Cost $5...happiness... ensured. Move on and get it right next time.

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First of all, the owner dropped the ball. It is the job of the front of the house manager to controll these matters. She could have prevented the chef from comming out. She could have presented you with an uncooked cake, showed it to you and let you take it home. She could have waited to tell the chef of the critique and simply comped a dessert. There are many ways this could have been handled. Bottom line....the owner screwed up.

To be honest with you, I could go the rest of my life without seeing another crab cake. Everybody is an expert on them. Everybody has a secret or better recipe. Especially people from the east coast. From a chefs perspective, you take an engredient that is extremely expensive, sell it for less than your usual percentage and get to listen to people spout about their dead grandmas recipe form maryland. You have to use something to hold the crab together. Some use only mayo. Then it doesn't tast like crab, so people season it. Crab cakes suck. Face it, a fifty cent potato cake is as good if not better than a ten dollar crab cake.

Heres my secret recipe: FORGET THE CRAB....it is over rated. Use potatoes, or zuccini, or salmon, or even cod. This is even better...use rissotto.

On a serious note....What were you drinking each time?

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I had a very bad experience last week. I posted a review on a local restaurant on tripadvisor.com.. http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews...yler_Texas.html (and here in another thread but he didn't see that)

and last Monday I received an e-mail from the chef/owner threatening to ruin my local reputation if I don't take it down. He said "you wouldn't know high quality food if it slapped you in the face.. you should quit eating at McDonald's and learn what quality is... you are a cheap bastard who was probably looking for a free meal..."

Edited by Mnehrling (log)

"Instead of orange juice, I'm going to use the juice from the inside of the orange."- The Brilliant Sandra Lee

http://www.matthewnehrlingmba.com

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