when I grow up...

when i was very young I wanted to be a ballerina. my favourite story was "the little ballerina" - a book my parents tired of quickly, and one I knew so well that if mum tried to skip a page to hasten the proceedings I would pull her up and let her know I wanted the whole story.

somewhere along the line i dropped this ambition; puberty wasn't kind to me and unless they had a ballerina troupe for elephants, unemployment was an odds-on prospect. I decided I was going to be a pilot; goodness knows why, although it probably has more to do with my dad, his travels, and we talked about planes.

In my final year of school considering being a doctor. I missed out on the marks - a good slice of fate, as i have a particularly sensitive nose and start dry reaching as soon as i smell vomit, and don't particularly like anything squishy, slimy, bloody or ugly.

for the past few (perhaps 10) years i have thought that my dream job would be "restaurant reviewer". Can you imagine dining out as an occupation, getting the scoop on the newest, the greatest, and the tastiest? or so I thought until last week...

my family went out for my mother's birthday to a picturesque establishment on Sydney's north shore hosting a menu that is, prima facie, reasonably priced (nothing over $30) with a easy to please list of dishes. Its location is so discreet that we got there and turned around before calling and finding that we had been in the right location. once seated, our bottle of bubbles was surrendered to join the other bottles that had been brought to imbibe.

to begin we ordered stuffed zucchini flowers amongst us to share. I was gobsmacked when they arrived. these were not the luscious fertile looking zucchini flowers plump with soft cheese and tender stalks that I had become accustomed to at cafe sopra. on the plate sat 3 tiny, wilted, anaemic looking zucchini butts, with chewy petals, the batter sitting heavily upon them, and the caponata resembling more of a cold leftover ratatouille. we smiled our way on, pleading the staff to fill our now empty glasses with some of our wine that we had brought and they had hidden.

and then the mains arrived. I rarely order pasta out; i think it's a waste of money to pay for pasta, but on the night a prawn angel hair pasta fitted my mood and so I (and my sister) had ordered that. "be careful the plates are hot" warned the waiter as she popped our plates on the table and the next set of alarm bells started ringing in my head.
smiling to keep the peace, I sarcastically thought to myself "excellent, my meal has been sitting under a heat lamp for 10 minutes".

the rest of the meals came and the table tucked in. the pasta had been garnished with ever-so-fashionable micro mix, which had fallen foul to the heat lamp and resembled the remnants of dried oregano sprigs that you find in the bottom of the bag. The pasta had been overcooked and was in danger of turning to one single rope. The prawns were tough; they'd been cut in half (which i have no issue with) but as such don't need much cooking. the 10 minutes under the heat lamp would have been enough for these babies but i suspect they were well done before they got there.

the other meals on the table were steak - a safe and simple choice, cooked quite well and the best choice of the night, duck -which had the trademarks of the pre-cook preparation, and then a speedy reheat, and something else which was unmemorable. desserts were nice, but unremarkable, coffee for those that wanted, a bit more begging for the last of our wine (which I meanly poured the dregs into glasses to ensure the staff weren't actually trying to keep it for post-work drinks) and off we went.

I had a lovely evening. eating, and dining out, is something I am pretty good at, however frequenting good restaurants is a habit that I am currently unable to support. But if I could afford it, if I had paid for that meal, I would have been bitterly disappointed. Despite this establishment touting its "reasonable prices" I felt that it was anything but reasonable.

with good produce and simple execution it is really hard to bugger up something in the kitchen. yet time after time 'professionals' manage to do this; particularly in mid-range eateries. My comments on this are usually met with "but you've had a privileged life with parents that can cook" or words to that effect.

cooking was once a skill of survival - eat or die; now having someone, let alone all of us, do it well in a family is a privilege?

but back to my dream job... I realised that if I reviewed restaurants in a professional capacity, tolerating such mediocrity and finding words to describe them, without landing myself and my publishers in a defamation case, would be a very bad dream.


Pat said...

You've hit the nail on the head there - the problem with eating out for a living isn't so much the defamation suits, the arteriosclerosis or the barely contained urges to scream when you see people writing 'crispy' in place of 'crisp', but the crushing mediocrity of most of the food.

It's almost an improvement when you find somewhere genuinely, creatively awful just because it breaks up the tedium.

Having said that, it is an excellent job for anyone genuinely obsessed by restaurants (this is a slightly different mania from the straight-out obsessive love of food), but I've seen a great many interested people tire of it very quickly when they get down to the business of back-to-back restaurant meals far from home for weeks on end.

There's something to be said for eating what you want, when you want to eat it, crisp, crispy or otherwise.

stickyfingers said...

Nice one Gorgeous!

The other downside to mediocrity and losing your palate in reviewing - as I found working for Stephanie and John - is managing the waistline, especially when you have 20 places to review in a very short time for one of the guides....thankfully we were poisoned occasionally which helped a little - LOL!!

purple goddess said...

moderately priced or not, there is no excuse for turning out garbage.


If you can't serve a simple dinner of pasta and prawns without a heat lamp, then you shouldn't be running an **ahem** restaurant.

thanh7580 said...

I guess there are down sides to every job. Trying to write a "good" review for a really bad restaurant would be hard. However, I think the pros would outweigh the cons. I too would love to be a paid restaurant reviewer. But until that happens, I'll just happily continue reviewing places for free and post on my blog.

purple goddess said...

revisiting this, as I am about to write my first mediocre (at best!) "review"

"Crushingly mediocre".. going to use that.


Pat said...

Then there's my other favourite: praise with faint damning.