I need someone to try and explain why I'v noticed a trend where chefs are added pickles or pickling an ingredient in traditional comfort food dishes? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a pickle. They are fine on top of a Hamburger. They work well when the complement other strong flavor.
A while back, I went to Red Stag and ordered the Beef Stroganoff. It comes to the table and throughout it are little pieces of diced pickle. I take a few bites and the only I thing I can taste is the sourness of the dill. It overpowerd the meat, noodles, and sauce. It was so tart that it was basically unedible. To Red Stag's credit, they took it back and brought me a new one without the pickles. The watiress explained that the pickle was the chef's addition to "add some flair to the dish." It added something all right, but flair wasn't the right word.
Flash forward to the Grand Cafe in Minneapolis on Feb 20. We decided to eat there prior to our concert at Orchestra Hall. We started with the scallop appetizer from the special menu. They split it. We eached received one "diver" scallop (it was about the size of a quarter) with a seared cipollini onion and some blood orange sauce. Cost was $12. Needless to say, two small scallops with onion and orange for $12 didn't exactly get the evening off to a rousing start. It was adequate, but for the price I would have either expected larger diver scallops, another one, or a stronger flavor profile.
I ordered the Short Ribs. Here is what it said it came with: Roasted Root Vegetables ~ Toasted Barley with Wild Mushrooms ~ Pickled Cranberries ~ Sauce Bordelaise
My gal ordered the Cassoulet. I am not the biggest fan of cranberries, but I figured I'd just push them to the side and eat the rest. My entre arrived and I started to assmeble the various components together. I thought it was a little weird as the sauce at the bottom of my plate was very, very light red and I know from making it that Bordelaise that it should be darker in color. I took my first bite and I almost had to spit it out in my napkin. The best way I could describe it was that it was like chewing on solidified red wine vinegar. I began to eat each of the individual components. Each of them was so overwhelmed by this sour and overpowering taste that I could barely tell the difference between a mushroom and the root vegtables. The only thing that was saved was my short rib as it had been set atop the dish. I carefully removed it and set it on my bread plate and ate it. At this point, I didn't realize what the culprit was that made everything so sour tasting. I just knew it didn't taste right at all. My girlfriend too a bite too and to summarize her opinion in one word....."YUUUUUUUKKKKKK"
The gal very much enjoyed her cassoulet. I took a bite of it. It wasn't Meritage or Heartland quality, but a nice take nonetheless. The garlic sausage was easily the tastiest part of the dish. If you go, and based I"m what about to write I wouldn't recommend it, I'd consider this as your entree choice.
It, hard to believe, got worse. Our server stops by as we were finishing (I mean, how long does it take to eat one short rib you know) and says, "Oh you didn't like the vegtables?" I explained to her that the sauce was awful, that I thought it was like someone spilled red wine vinegar on the plate. She went and checked with the kitchen and came back to inform me that it was likely the result of the pickled cranberries. Ok, maybe it was. That could make sense. But I thought the sauce was Bordelaise. Did the kitchen just spoon the sauce from the cranberries instead? I wasn't in the mood to argue or question and time was running short in terms of getting downtown so I just let her know that it was something they may want to look at changing. She leaves, comes back 5 minutes later, and offers to buy dessert. We can't, we have to leave for the concert we explain. She comes back with the bill. It's the full charge.
I'm not sure what the correct thing to do is here and I'm sure some of you will rip me for the way I handled it. That's fine, I'm a big boy. I decided to tip her 10%. My reasoning was that she never checked in until far too late in the meal to see if everything was satisfactory. That could have given the kitchen time to make a new dish and hold the cranberries. She diid offer to buy dessert for both of us which would have come to around $14 according to their menu. Seeing as we couldn't stay, why not just comp the appetizer then? Or charge me half for the short ribs seeing as I didn't touch 75% of the dish? I felt that while the kitchen had made, in my opinion and taste, a poor dish, she hadn't done anything to properly rectify the situation. I will note that my standard operating procedure is to tip around 20% going as high as 25% when service is truly outstanding (LBV, Heartland, Heidi's (RIP), etc)
Upon leaving, I noticed that the owner was near our table. I wasn't sure it was her, so I approached and asked her if she was indeed the owner. I explained to her that I felt my dish was inedible. I also told her that I was only tipping the waitress 10% and explained the paragraph above. Her response:
"Oh, well we hardly ever receive complaints."
Well Sugar Plum, you got one. And I let her know exactly that. That the food was some of the worst I'd had in the Twin Cities and that I'd never, ever be back.
I guess you could say that the Grand Cafe left a sour taste in mouth, both litterally and figuratively.