Episode 429, In Which I Write a Critical Review

I do not ordinarily write negative things about restaurants. When I first started writing about food on my personal blog, I made it clear that if I had a bad experience at a restaurant, I wasn’t going to write about it; I simply wouldn’t go back. Given the number of outstanding restaurants in the area, why would I? I wasn’t being paid to critique restaurants; I wasn’t being paid at all. Any place can have a bad night, so it’s not fair to write a negative review based on one bad experience.

When I was asked to write for New Orleans Magazine, my remit was essentially the same – write about places I like and/or places too new to justify a review of the food. When I started writing this column online, I looked at it as an extension of the magazine column, at least where restaurants are concerned, but with no word-count limitation.

So although now and again I have a meal somewhere that makes me want to call attention to a place in a negative way, I follow the above-stated rule. I don’t write negatively about a place I’ve only tried once, and I don’t go back to places I didn’t like. I mean, the truth is that I don’t always get to return to places I do like because there are a lot of great restaurants in town and new places keep opening.

Here is the exception. And let me state from the outset that this is my opinion; it does not necessarily reflect the views of the organization that publishes this blog; is not based on facts I have not disclosed herein; and damn sure does not reflect the opinion of my wife, who is most unhappy that I am writing it.

That said:

On nights when my wife and I are both too tired/busy to cook, we sometimes order out. All three of my kids like certain items on the menu at this restaurant, and thus when we order out, now and again we order from this restaurant, which I will not name explicitly to avoid having this article show up in a Google search but which many of you will recognize by the time I’m done.

I’m talking about a restaurant that serves “Middle Eastern” food and currently has several locations in the New Orleans area. The ones with which I’m familiar are located in Mid-City and on Magazine Street. I have eaten at the location in Mid-City for many years. It is the original location and also where, I am told, they bake pita bread.

I suspect the food was better when I first started dining there. I know, though, that we have much better options for “Middle Eastern” food than we did when the restaurant first opened, and so maybe my view of the food from days past has been colored as a result.

I am not a stickler for service. All I require is that I can order, pay, and receive the food I ordered in return for my payment. I am patient when a restaurant is busy, and I am patient with people who are clearly new to the service industry. I know what a difficult job it is to wait tables, and I have a lot of respect for people who do it well. Hell, I have a lot of respect for people who do a mediocre job of it, because mediocre is all I really need.  

But at both locations of this restaurant I’ve visited in the past several years, I have put up with the sort of service that makes me think I have some sort of Stockholm syndrome thing going on. I always apologize for bothering the folks who take my order at this place. I mean always because they are always harried and flustered and apologetic, and I can’t hear an apology from someone in that position without also apologizing for making them apologize to me by ordering food from the restaurant. Yes, I am neurotic, and no, I am not proud of this.

But it finally occurred to me this evening that I have no reason to put up with poor service on top of poor food, even if my kids like it.

The particulars of this evening’s disaster are not all that important, but the gist is that I ordered some food to pick up and was told it would be ready in 10 minutes. I knew that was complete fiction, or at least wildly ambitious, because I’ve been patronizing this restaurant for a long time. But I showed up about 15 minutes after ordering and then spent the next 10 waiting for the only employee in the front of the house to take additional to-go orders and deal with other folks who were picking up food before acknowledging my presence.

I assumed my order would be ready by that point – nearly 15 minutes after I’d been told it would be ready – but instead we started a discussion about what I’d ordered that eventually involved jointly perusing a long printout of to-go orders until we puzzled out which was mine. Then I waited another 15 minutes or so.

Eventually I got up and asked him what was happening and said I was a bit frustrated and then realized he wasn’t paying any attention to me – I think because he was on the phone again – and so I went towards the back of the restaurant where the kitchen is located and gave the universal sign for “WTF?” to the two other employees in the place. That sign, of course, is made by putting your hands in the air, palms up, near your head, which you cock to one side slightly, while you raise your eyebrows and mouth “WTF?”

In response, I received the universal sign for “DUDE, I KNOW, WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON,” which is also made by putting your hands in the air, palms up, near your head, which you cock to one side slightly, while you raise your eyebrows – but distinguished by the fact that you instead silently mouth “DUDE, I KNOW, WTF?” In this case, it was mouthed in Spanish.

After some discussion, and because my Spanish is pretty bad, the best I could discern was that they were trying to figure out what had been ordered and were working on it. Once I made contact with the kitchen and let them know what I was looking for, I had my food in about 5 minutes. So that’s nice, but it was also about an hour after I’d ordered and at least 45 minutes after I’d been told my food was going to be ready. I got food home to hungry kids very late, and reports indicate there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in my absence.

You might rightly observe that these are “first-world problems,” and you wouldn’t be wrong if you did. In response, I might rightly observe that if you came to Haute Plates seeking in-depth commentary on the political issues of the day, you’ve made a terrible mistake and should visit some other website.

Your opinion may differ from mine about the restaurant in question or on some other topic, and you should feel free to share your opinion in the comments. Just bear in mind that my opinion is the best opinion because I am awesome.


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