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Duarte's Tavern -- What Am I Missing? (long)

mspea | Nov 15, 200410:26 PM

After living on the Peninsula most of my 50+ years, I finally made it to Duarte's yesterday. I really, really wanted to love the place. But try as I might to be forgiving, and with a few exceptions, our dinner was pretty terrible from start to finish.

The 5 of us (my parents, visiting brother, mrpea and I) were promptly seated for our (intentionally early) 5:00 pm reservation, after a brief sojourn to Harley Farms and Phipps Country Store. The place was filling up but not packed yet. Being a serious artichoke lover, I couldn't wait to try the much-heralded artichoke soup. Dad, Bro, and I ordered that; I convinced mrpea, an artichoke-phobe, to order the chile soup, which turned out to be one of the bright spots of the night: piping hot and piquant, with a nice texture and just the right amount of chile heat at the finish. The artichoke soup, by contrast, was barely lukewarm (my all-time biggest pet peeve), pasty, and almost completely tasteless. I added salt and pepper, then some lemon juice, hoping to liven things up -- it helped a little but not much. I finally asked our server to bring some tabasco; she obliged with both red and green. I put green in mine, Bro put red in his. I thought the green improved things greatly, but still ...

On to the main courses: We had had Mom's cioppino the night before, so it didn't seem right to order that, and they were out of sand dabs. Bro ordered the petrale; mrpea the snapper and chips; and I the steamed mussels. The petrale was sweet and tasty, but the plate was about as unappetizing as I've seen: white plate, white petrale, scoop of mashed potatoes, and canned corn (OK, the corn was pale yellow and had flecks of pimiento). The sides were downright bad: Bro, a serious cook, thought the potatoes were instant, but I think they had just sat around too long, and the corn had that overcooked/waterlogged look and taste. The snapper seemed overbattered, although the fish was fine, and the fries were pretty good. My mussels were truly awful: dry, rubbery and slightly off tasting. I ate a few and stopped. The best entree by far was the lamb chops, which we ordered when we saw it being served to the table next to us. Two small loin chops, cooked exactly medium as ordered, juicy and very tasty. Same bad sides as the petrale, although with a little undistinguished brown gravy on top.

Dessert was a little better but still nothing to write home about. The famous olallieberry pie was OK at best, although it is nearly winter, so I probably shouldn't complain. To make things worse, we were strafed by two annoying flies throughout the entire meal. At least our server was pleasant, if slightly forgetful about things like water, bread, tea, etc.

I realize that any place can have an off night, and I wasn't expecting The French Laundry, but is it me ... or does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

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