Not everyone may be familiar with the old expression to dine out on, but basically it means to have an experience so bizarre that it will provide dinner table conversation for a long time to come.
After a pleasant exchange of several emails with Mark Millerapparently the restaurants email reservation system had malfunctioned when I originally placed my resomy friends and I arrived for the much anticipated feast. I asked the young woman at the desk to inform Mr. Miller that his correspondent was present, but that never seemed to happen. Minor lapse.
When we saw the menu was entitled Indian Market, we probably should have had more than the small frisson of concern that passed over us. When the waiter seemed unable to answer the most basic questions about the various itemsand informed us that the staff had not had time to actually taste the menu ahead (does Indian Market come as a surprise?)our apprehension increased just a tad.
One of our party could not eat cilantro, and it turned out to be an unmentioned ingredient in numerous items. (Often, waiters volunteer to ask the kitchen simply to omit an unwanted ingredient or make a version without it, but that did not occur this time although it was very early and not busy at all.)
That individual finally settled on the quail with an interesting-sounding pine nut pancake (that may not be exact) accompaniment. The waiter stared blankly for a moment, then said that would not be available for another hour.
We asked where the salmon originated in a main course called Cold-Smoked Salmon with Blackberry BBQ Sauce ($26) (doing this from memory, so dish titles may be inexact); he eventually returned to say the TROUT came from Idaho. We asked if we could have a side order of the appealing pine nut cake and the waiter replied that was the hang up.
After a while we received some underdone in the middle and to my taste overly rich cornbread fingers (a later refill was better cooked).
My Smoked Trout Salad ($10.50) consisted of a spinach salad with three tiny triangular pieces of trout and some tasty pecan sauce. It looked more like a New Yorker cartoon than an appetizer in a serious restaurant. I often make smoked trout appetizers for my BH and me at home; I take half a smoked fish, divide it in half, and garnish it with seasonal fruit and a wasabi-quark sauce. Id estimate the amount of trout was less than a quarter of that.
My companions shared a large bowl of posole-filled soup ($8.50) which they enjoyed.
We finished our appetizers and waiter. And waited. Not once during the approximately 35 minute-long hiatus did our waiter explain, apologize, or otherwise make any contact, though he was visible from time to time. I finally called over the busperson and asked to see a manager; within seconds our food arrived.
My cold-smoked (sic) salmon turned out to be regular cooked hunk of salmon with no hint of cold-smoking in either taste or texture. The sauce was undetectable. My friends enjoyed their respective dishes, a sampler plate of New Mexican selections ($26) and buffalo ribs ($21), though the latter seemed to have been sitting around cooling for a bit before being served and thus tasted greasier than it should have.
We asked for the dessert menu, made our choice, then attempted to get our waiters attention, which should not have been that difficult since he was carrying on (a second) animated conversation with the folks at the adjoining table, once again resting his hand on our table with his back to us! Three attempts at Sir! achieved no reaction.
We finally managed to get him to acknowledge our calls and ordered something described as fire-roasted peaches in tequila with a caramel tart and, I think sour cream, ice cream ($8.50). What we ultimately got was a little sliced peach tart with a caramelized topping and a ball of ice cream!
I tipped only 10%--not wanting to stiff the poor crew, which had done a good job-and wrote very disappointing service. To my amazement, the waiter hung around outside the rest room waiting to corner me and ask what on Earth I'd meant. Im seldom speechless, but . I wish Id replied, If youd been half as attentive/responsive throughout our meal as you were just now, wed had left considerably happier and youd have had a normal tip! I wondered about the diners he was neglecting while he waited for me.
Moral: No matter how experienced a diner one is, theres always a tourist trap waiting to snap closed around ones dining-out ideals.