I am sitting here drinking a good, strong cup of Irish Breakfast Assam tea--truly a morning blend of strength, energy and bold flavor if ever there was one--and pondering the whole idea of bad restaurants.
Why? Because last night I watched the premiere of Kitchen Nightmares the new Chef Gordon Ramsey show. I adore me some Chef Ramsey! Yes, he cusses like a motherf***er and rants and raves like he's straight from Bedlam, but how can you resist that British Boy Charm and the fact that he really CARES about the food he serves?
Chefs throughout history have been known for their delicate sensibilities and artistic temperaments, and he is the Chef of Chefs! I was already a fan of Hell's Kitchen and now I am a fan of Kitchen Nightmares. It was just so much FUN to watch that greasy, poisonous dive be turned into a first-class fabulous establishment!
I just cannot believe that restaurants exist with rats, cockroaches, green rotting hamburger meat and really greasy-greasy kitchen equipment. Actually, I do believe it because now that I think about it, I've never worked in a clean restaurant kitchen. My first official job was a cook in an old style roadside truck stop; one of those "We Never Close" eateries from before there was such a thing as frozen shoestring hash browns. This place boiled and peeled about a bazillion real potatoes every night for the next day's shift, and made all it's pies and cakes from scratch right there in the kitchen.
But it was known to serve ham so old it had gotten that gasoline-slick rainbow sheen on it's surface and the owner made us rescue the uneaten yeast rolls from the diner's plates and reuse them!
And my first local-dining experience in Las Vegas led me to the firm belief that 'off the beaten path' was NOT a good idea in Nevada. Best to stick with the casino food and those fresh and plentiful buffets. I had gone with friends to a barbecue joint, and had gotten some chicken that had turned. You know, where it starts to taste dusty and entirely too chicken-y! I told the waitress that I thought the chicken was bad and I'd like to send it back and order something else, and she told me, "You can't send it back! You've bitten into it and so now we can't reuse it!"
I kid you not! And even here in the mecca of Fresh Foods in the Land of California Cuisine, I've had some iffy experiences. I will never again order Chinese from the kiosk deli's at local grocery stores. I ordered garlic chicken once, and upon biting into it discovered that it had a previous life as Generals Chicken (with red sauce) and was just re-coated and used over, one assumes, in an effort to cut costs and not let anything go to waste. But there is no mistaking weeks old, dried, gamy chicken. Yuck!
Still, even after a host of bad dining experiences, I really love to eat out! If I had unlimited funds and all the time in the world, I'd work my way through every restaurant in Sacramento. I am forever seeing a little, interesting place tucked into a side street or on the first floor of an old Victorian. Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants alone could keep me busy for a year!
And I feel like it's a real shame that some of these places will come and go before I ever get the chance to eat there. It seems like the privately owned, unique restaurants are closing to make way for yet another upscale, trendy, brand-name joint. And yes, I mean YOU, Starbucks, who have now populated every single street in midtown, spreading like a yeast infection and killing off all the healthy alternatives. Starbucks, where they BURN THEIR BEANS, and call it Dark Roast.
Oops, I digressed. What I started to say is that on last night's news I saw the shocking story that Carrows on J Street has closed it's doors forever. I've eaten dozens of breakfasts there, hunched over a bottomless cup of coffee with my friend the author, Peter S. Beagle. It was the place we met on the morning of 9/11. The management opened the banquet room and turned on a television so we could all watch the coverage together. I was just devastated to hear that it is being torn down to make way for downtown parking.
Downtown parking. Another parking garage that nobody can ever afford to use. And goodbye to the old standard family restaurant. It just makes me wonder...where will all the cockroaches live now?