China Grill at 52 East 53rd St. has always been over-priced. Used to be "hot"--which normally makes me feel quite chilled. BUT--in past years we had some excellent dishes there, by asking questions and ordering carefully. Dishes like crisy, lemony calamari salad, sizzling, crunchy shredded beef, whole grilled fish, etc.
My last lunch there, two months ago, was a travesty of food and service.
Our favorite seafood starter arrived as a challenging new dining game--"Find the Calamari!" Hidden in a humongous tangle of what appeared to be an already chewed mound of lettuce (can they Osterize salad???), the limp calamari barely peeked out. We shifted thru the tasteless greenery, finding the existing calamari softened by all that salad stuff. Because it was the first time we'd had a complaint there, we let it go. (Plus--it was a Sunday--chef's day off in midtown?)
Then the lamb dumplings arrived, luke-warm, nothing special and about $13 for six of them.
My last hope was the main course (one I'd ordered in the past there.) One of my favorite dishes in any Asian restaurant is always fresh grilled whole fish in ginger and scallions. The menu described it as "sizzling in ginger and scallions." But when it arrived--insstead of grilled or pan-fried--it had been heavily fried in a batter--and coated with a sickly sweet, completely wrong, sauce.
I called the waitress over. She was sort of "duh....." and looked unhappy to be stirred from her post. She managed to summon someone "in charge"-- a guy who pointed to the menu and said "it doesn't say 'grilled'--it just says "sizzling." I reread the description. True! It DIDN't say grilled--but when have you ever ordered a "sizzling whole fish in ginger and scallions" from an Asian restaurant--and gotten a thick-battered fish in sweet sauce?" THAT is called "sweet and sour whole fish." It was so obvious that they'd changed the dish (I'd had the correct rendition the time before)--but not the menu.
I asked if they could just grill me the fish plain--and with the ginger sauce it was supposed to come in. "No," they could not do that. I guess all these fish portions had arrived at the restaurant already 'ready-to-go.' In fact, the manager looked irked at my request--or maybe he was just confused. He didn't appear to know a thing about cooking fish.
I haven't written to the owner yet--I wanted to check in with you fellow chowhounds, so you could let me know, if:
a) I was stupid to expect better from a midtown work-area restaurant on a Sunday.
b) Was I unreasonable when I told them if they plan to serve fish in batter, they should change that menu decription?
Their service and manner was, of course, inexcusable. But the food really had slid downhill. Maybe that's why, two months later, I'm still grumbling under my breath--and angry with myself for not writing them.
Please send me your own experiences at China Grill.
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