The Worst Meal I’ve Had Since I Moved To New York

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“Calm down, Adam,” said Patty. “You can take it all out on your blog later.”

I have rarely ever used my blog to seek revenge on dining establishments that perform poorly when I’m out to dine. Usually, I’m very generous about bad situations. If a friend takes me to a favorite restaurant and there are big bones in the fish (as happened a few months ago), I’ll contextualize my review so that it’s clear this is still my friend’s favorite restaurant. If I’m out to a meal at a lesser known restaurant and the meal just isn’t very good, I usually won’t write about: why pan a place that no one really cares about anyway?

No, it takes a lot to set me off. And our meal at Orchid on Friday night set me off to no end. I was literally fuming in my seat.

Here’s what happened. Patty, Lauren, Craig and I were going to see “Show People” (a horrible play) at 2nd Stage Theater at 8 pm. We met there at 6 and decided to walk to 9th Ave. to find a place for dinner. This is almost always a winning strategy for cheap adventurous eating in the theater district (NOTE: I get lots of e-mail asking where to eat cheaply in the theater district. Go to 9th Ave.)

We journeyed down 9th, laughing all the way, when we spotted the restaurant you see above: Orchid.

“It looks kind of sketchy,” said Craig.

“Yeah,” agreed Lauren.

But I was seduced by the blurbs taped to the door. Good press from sources I trust (New York Magazine, The New York Times) usually gives me that extra little nudge I need to try something new. Plus the food here–Carribean Soul cuisine–sounded intriguing.

“Let’s give it a try,” I urged and everyone shrugged and agreed to go along. [NOTE: Perhaps my fuming came from a sense of personal responsibility?]

We sat at one of the tables on a long bench where very few other people were sitting. “Not very popular tonight,” said Craig.

And then we met him. The very worst waiter in the history of dining. Let me explain: there are waiters who are hostile and rude who you can easily villify and then there are waiters who are lazy, inept and completely apathetic. That was our waiter.

A huge warning flare should have shot up at the very beginning when, taking our order, he told us they’d ran out of homemade macaroni and cheese “so we’re using Stouffers.” All of us eyed each other. “Uh oh,” we thought.

Here’s what we ordered: Lauren ordered a spicy shrimp dish, Craig ordered a spicy fish dish, I ordered roasted chicken and Patty ordered fish and chips. Patty and Craig ordered Caribbean lager to drink:

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I ordered a lemonade and my facial expression, upon trying it, betrayed my true feelings to anyone watching. “What’s wrong with it?” asked Patty.

“Too sweet,” I replied craving water. I looked down at my water glass and it was empty. It was never to be refilled again.

Eventually the food started coming. Lauren’s dish came first. Her $17 shrimp dish came with five–count ’em, FIVE–shrimp. She had a stunned look on her face.

Craig’s fish looked decent enough but it was over done.

Here’s my roasted chicken with yams and collared greens:

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Everything tasted fine, nothing exceptional. That’s not where my grievance lies.

My grievance lies with Patty’s dish. Where’s Patty’s dish? Funny you should ask. It didn’t come out.

“It’s ok guys,” said Patty. “Start eating.”

We began to nibble a little thinking the food would come in just a minute. It didn’t. The waiter stood behind the counter on the other side of the room and I caught his eye. “Can you check on her food?” I asked. He went into the kitchen.

He emerged moments later with a dish that he placed down in front of Patty.

“What is this?” asked Patty.

“Oh,” said the waiter. “You didn’t order this?”

“I ordered fish and chips.”

“Oh ok,” he said and started walking back to the kitchen with the plate.

“Will it take a long time?” I asked.

“No, he said: just a few minutes.”

Those words–“just a few minutes”–echoed around the room and morphed into vicious laughter. For “just a few minutes” turned out to be almost half an hour. Not only had Craig, Lauren and I finished all our food, we’d gone home, written novels, started families and returned back with time to spare.

As the 30 minutes passed I found myself filled with a rage I rarely experience when out to dine. Mostly it was because of the waiter who was completely 100% unaplogetic about the situation. We kept asking where her food was (because this was literally THIRTY MINUTES) and he’d say, “Oh, we have a new chef, she’s really backed up right now. We have lots of take out orders.”

Excuse me but the woman sitting at an actual table in your restaurant STARVING takes precedence over any take-out order. That’s just good business sense.

Lauren, who also found herself enraged asked us, when the waiter left, if we thought Patty would have to pay for her dish.

“No way,” I said. Everyone agreed.

So when the waiter returned without the food for the 8th time Lauren said she didn’t think Patty should have to pay for her dish. He reluctantly agreed.

And when the dish finally came out, it was laughably easy-to-prepare food. The fries were absolutely, no question about it defrosted frozen french fries. The fried fish looked like standard fried fish. I could’ve rented a boat, caught a fish, fileted it, brought it back and fried it in half the time it took them.

So in conclusion it wasn’t necessarily the ineptitude that angered me so much, it was the total indifference to Patty’s plight. Extreme cases like this highlight why service matters. When you’re in any dining establishment, I don’t care if it’s Jean-Georges or IHOP, you want to feel like you’re being cared for–the way that any guest would want to be treated by a host. When that doesn’t happen, all the pleasures of dining out begin to fade away.

After we saw “Show People” (which we all hated) Patty said “sometimes it’s instructive to see bad theater.” And I echo her sentiment about bad dining though I pray you never set foot in Orchid: let our bad experience be your own.

How I Survived The Blizzard

New Yorkers today had a laugh talking about yesterday’s blizzard. “Did you survive the blizzard?” we asked each other, kiddingly. Perhaps it all seemed so funny because the sun shined bright today like it’s been shining most of this winter. This is the least wintery winter of my life–and I say that having lived in Atlanta and Florida through many winters. At least those winters were typical for their locations. But this New York winter has been so tame that yesterday’s blizzard felt inevitable, if not downright welcome. “It’s the first snow of the season,” someone pointed out today. No kidding.

Here’s the snow from my window, yesterday morning:

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It did, indeed, look wintery and blizzardy outside. Lucky for me, I’d done my homework, having gone the day before to Whole Foods to stock up on necessities. To see how I fed myself during the Blizzard of ’06, push da button.

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Ikea, Therefore I Am

There comes a time in every New Yorker’s life when he or she must ride the A train to 42nd street and 8th Avenue, snake their way past the crowds to the Port Authority, climb down the stairs and board the bus at Gate 5 for Ikea. This is a rite of passage for any new New Yorker, and though I’ve been here for a year and a half now it’s better late than never. Lisa joined me for the journey and the free shuttle shuttled us to New Jersey in little more than 30 minutes. My favorite part was going through the New Jersey Turnpike tollbooth: I felt like Tony Soprano, except thinner and less prone to murder. Here’s Lisa outside the bus upon arrival:

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Now you may begin to wonder: why write about Ikea on a food blog? What does Ikea have to do with food? What’s love got to do got to do got to do with it? Click continue to learn the truth, the truth about Ikea.

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Revelations of the Oven Thermometer

The Revelation of The Amateur Gourmet, which his new oven thermometer gave unto him, to shew unto his readers a new way of baking: blessed is he that readeth, and they that readeth will baketh better forevereth more…

For I, The Amateur Gourmet, have seen the light. Many a baker, many a cookbook has told me to purchase an oven thermometer. My attitude’s been similar to that of the lookout at Pearl Harbor who was told “watch for planes.” “Sure, sure,” he probably thought. “I’ll watch for planes.” Well we know what happened to him. He starred in a movie with Ben Affleck and Josh Harnett. Me? I’ve been cooking at the wrong temperature for more than a year now.

Last night I roasted chicken (see post below) and I wanted the oven at 425. I inserted the oven thermometer:

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And turned the oven on to 425.

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I waited til the timer went off telling me it was preheated and I checked the oven thermometer:

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Can you see that? I made the picture small cause it’s an ugly picture. Ok I’ll make it bigger:

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400.

Ok, ok, so maybe it just needs more time. I waited another 10 minutes. Still at 400.

So let me get this straight: I heated my oven to 425 but my oven’s 425 is really 400?

I reset the oven for 450 and waited. The thermometer went up 415. I raised it to 470 and finally the thermometer read 425.

This is the revelation of the oven thermometer: your oven temperature is not what you think it is. Go forth and purchase an oven thermometer and let the light of truth shine, finally, into your oven. The time is at hand.

Late Night Kitchen Makeover

Why does one start a massive kitchen makeover at 11 pm the night before he’s flying home to Florida, when he’s yet to do his laundry, pack his suitcase, or finish the homework he must do for class the next day? To answer such a question is to penetrate the psyche of one Amateur Gourmet and so it is with a profound sense of mystery and a certain amount of pride that I present to you my gleaming new kitchen makeover, accomplished two nights ago in a fit of hysterical renewal.

[Click to make larger.]

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I feel so dumb for not taking a “before” picture: this kitchen was a MESS. Spices were scattered all over the countertop, little plastic containers of popcorn and candied ginger were stacked in random corners, and giant bottles of olive oil and vinegar monopolized much of the countertop. As you can see, I installed a spice rack that I purchased from the Container Store; I switched the location of the food processor and the freestanding mixer (they were on opposite ends before) because I figured one could be the chopping station (to the right of the sink) (see also: cutting board) and one could be the baking station to the left of the sink. And I’m hoping that the space opened up near the mixer is large enough to roll out pie dough.

As for the cabinets, what was formerly a world of chaos is now a semi-orderly world of calm. Proceed ahead to see how I put things in a much more logical order.

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J’Going To Paris!

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So when the book thing happened a few weeks ago, I made a quick pact with myself to use a tiny portion of the proceeds to do something fun and exciting. Chatting online with my friend John, I told him that I really wanted to go to Paris.

“So let’s go,” he wrote.

Easy for John to say. John’s the most well travelled person I’ve ever met. You’ve read some of his accounts here–his trip to Iceland and his trip to Peru, to name two–so John doesn’t kid around when he says “let’s go.”

“But how will we get there? Where will we stay?”

John had that covered: Virgin Vacations. The deal is you have to prove your virginity by submitting blood and sperm samples, and they fly your way around the world…

Haha, ok just kidding. But Virgin Vacations offers wildly reasonable vacations for what seems like very little money. For example: you can get a round trip ticket to Paris and 6 nights in a hotel for $479. And that’s precisely what John suggested.

“A trip to Paris for $479? How can I say no?”

“Well there’s tax, too, and obviously meals and…” John continued.

“Stop trying to talk me out of it! I’m going!”

And so last night we worked out the details on the phone with Virgin, faxed over our credit card info, and today we got the confirmation. We’re going to Paris from December 14th through the 23rd! (Well I’m staying through the 23rd, John’s coming back earlier for work.) A whole week in Paris!

Parisian food bloggers Clotilde and David have already been notified (David’s getting back from his book tour on the 21st, so I’m staying two extra nights to finally meet him and experience what promises to be a superior Parisian chocolate tour) and I can’t wait to see them both in their natural habitat.

John and I are staying near the Arc de Triomphe, so if anyone knows any good places to eat around there let me know!

Actually: this is a great time to ask those of you who’ve been to Paris, who live in Paris or who have a superior knowledge of Paris, where should John and I eat when we’re there? John’s basically bankrupted himself with the ticket-purchasing, so cheap (or reasonably priced) places would be much appreciated. Also: we’re happy to take suggestions on fun things to do besides the obvious touristy stuff.

The Virgin people tell me our hotel will have internet access, so I’ll try to blog while I’m there. That way you can enjoy our vacation vicariously and comment as we go.

Going to Paris as an adult (I was there in high school) has been one of my highest ranked dreams since the time I graduated college; and now that I’m so into food (and also smarter than I was in high school!) I can’t wait to soak in everything Paris has to offer. J’can’t wait!!

The Smoky Aftertaste of My Semi-Burnt Caramel Corn

Two days ago, on a generous late night whim, I had the idea of making caramel corn for my thesis class because (a) who doesn’t like caramel corn? and (b) our thesis instructor is allergic to gluten and, as far as I know, caramel corn is gluten-free.

And so I set upon the recipe that proved such a success last time and somehow, in the process, felt like the caramel was getting a little too dark. So instead of 5 minutes of stir-free boiling I stopped it at 3 and, after adding baking soda and vanilla, poured it on the corn. Into the oven it went and when the whole process was done the caramel corn tasted sweet but slightly burnt.

The shyster in me decided to pass this off as a more sophisticated caramel corn: a bitter undertaste for those with more refined palates.

As it turned out, yesterday’s class was cancelled and I felt like all my efforts were wasted until I set upon the idea of bringing it to my 9 – 12 Cabaret class this morning. It was there, in fact, that I told Patty and Alex (who were sitting to my right at our class’s large table) about the sophisticated popcorn with the burnt undertaste. “It’s sophisticated,” I assured them with manipulative charm. And so they chewed their first bites like a philosopher chews an idea: “yes, I see the merits here, perhaps there are flaws, but I accept the challenge this caramel corn provides: I shall savor the journey.”

They snacked for several minutes and then Molly at the other end of the table waved for us to pass the tub. Molly hadn’t heard my warning about the corn and our professor was talking so there was no way for me to package the smoky bitterness with sweet manipulative words. Alex, Patty and I watched her grab a large cluster and bite into it. She smiled, at first, the look of “good job, Adam! You’re a great chef!” And then, like watching a tire deflate, her face began to change. Alex elbowed me: “Look at Molly’s face.” She stared at me puzzled. “Is it supposed to taste like this?” And then she placed the remaining cluster of caramel corn back on the tub.

And then somewhat slyly Dan, sitting across from her, grabbed a cluster of his own. We watched the same process occur with him: there was nothing we could do. It was like that scene in Rear Window where Grace Kelly’s across the way and you see Raymond Burr coming back to his apartment and you want to scream: “Run, Grace Kelly, run!”

But afterwards Dan assured me that though the corn was bitter and disturbing at first it grew on him. Patty and Alex agreed.

And so should you slightly burn your caramel corn before bringing it to class, don’t hesitate to do so. If people tell you it tastes funny just convince them they’re unsophisticated and you’ll walk away a winner.

I’m The Food Guy

Many of you know that I’m a grad student in dramatic writing at NYU. What most of the dramatic writing department at NYU didn’t know, at least last year, was that I had a food blog. This year the cat came out of the bag when one of my professors, I won’t say his name, made the discovery and informed all the other professors about it. Now I’ve gained a reputation in the department as something of a food guy.

The reason I bring this up, though, is because I think it’s funny how my teachers are using food metaphors now to help me see their points about my work. And so it was last week, for example, that my masters’ thesis teacher was talking about losing the one thing that you love and having to go on. “Imagine that you couldn’t cook anymore,” she said to me, “what would you do then?” And then this week she was talking about the book “Blink” and she said some things are worth mulling over, like what play you’re going to write for your thesis, and other things are worth trusting your instinct on: “Like Adam, when you cook, you say: ooooh marjoram would taste good here, maybe some garlic. Those are things you can make split-second decisions about.” I took her point well and accepted my role as The Food Guy.

And in an e-mail from one of my TV-writing teachers regarding the “South Park” spec script I’m writing (yes, I’m writing a South Park!) he wrote: “Make sure you feed Chef too, and a couple of other traditional SP walk-ons, to taste. I can talk that way to you. Fold them in.”

The cat’s out of the bag. I’m The Food Guy.