Friday, February 17, 2012

Restaurant Experience Points

On Valentine's Day, I celebrated by having a eat out meal with my family. We don't get much of a chance to get together, so when the opportunity comes, we take advantage of it. In this case, we went to a buffet-style restaurant known as Vichy's.

Once we got some food on our plates, we started talking, which wasn't easy with all the noise, since everybody else was celebrating too. My sister compared the current meal with a bad restaurant experience she had. (Reminiscent of a horror story) She and her husband's side of the family had dinner reservations at 7:00, and sat down ready to order. Only, they had trouble getting the waiter's attention. Every time they waved at anybody passing by, they would either ignore their raised hands or have their backs turned.

An hour later, long past their breaking point, a waiter finally noticed them, and was in the process of taking their order. My sister had long since memorized which parts of the menu she wanted, having had puh-lenty of time to think about what to eat. Then only thirty minutes later, the waiter came back and asked "what did you order again?"

Her husband was upset with the waiter's ineptitude and demanded to see the manager immediately. (his sister was equally furious, because she was paying for a babysitter on an hourly rate) After meeting with the man in charge and giving his complaint, the manager apologized profusely, had their meals served immediately, and gave them a 50% discount to make up for their discomfort.

So they finally got their meal an hour and a half after they'd first arrived at a price reduction. The food was delicious, but the service was atrocious. Their only saving grace was that they filled up the guests with plenty of bread & butter and refilled their water glasses. Compared to that, Vichy's was a Godsend.

I can understand their frustration, since I've had bad experiences with restaurants as well. For my last birthday, I was given a surprise for going out to eat with a friend of mine. However, the location that was chosen just happened to be the one day that all the nearby restaurants were closed. Finding a nearby alternative wasn't easy, since I'm quite finicky about seating and lighting conditions, and can be quite unpleasant and grumpy if things aren't to my satisfaction. But since it was my birthday, everybody was willing to give me benefit of the doubt. I finally settled for a place that had lamb chops on the menu, since I'd never had them before. However, this turned out to be a poor choice, since there were more bones than meat on the plate. I could barely take a bite without risking denting my teeth.

In addition, the waitress was quite rude with her service, demeaning our menu selections, and venting barely repressed hostility at our reasonable requests as torturous labors that had to be done against her will. (I had to have this pointed out to me, since this flew over my head unnoticed) Despite the letdown, I didn't feeling too bad about it. I'd already braced myself up for disappointment, since the days of my birthdays have regularly become less than enthusiastic rituals where I just have to survive throughout the day. However, things might be different this year, since we may be going back to Vichy's.

Normally, buffets are looked down upon because the quality of their food and selection is inferior and sub-par at best. But Vichy's is different. They have a wide range of choices and multiple varieties of multiple meals. And such choices. (There's a partial list of what's available further down) In addition, the trays are constantly rotated so that the food is always steaming and fresh. Most other buffets just leave their foods lying under the lamp until the supplies run out and are replaced with a newly cooked batch, but Vichy's doesn't even bother to wait until the trays are empty. Sometimes they'll be replaced even when they're not even half-eaten. In addition, there's a section devoted to slabs of meat that can be sliced with the help of a nearby assistant who's always on hand to peel off a thin layer for your convenience. That's not even counting the desert side, which has a variety of cut cakes on allumnum boards or single-serving plates, cartons of ice cream, jell-o bricks and chocolate and vanilla mousse.

I prefer going to buffets instead of restaurants for several reasons. One is that I don't have to wait for my turn in line for a waiter to come and take my order, then wait again while my meal is being prepared - I can just simply walk up and pick whatever's to my liking. Two - continuing off from the first one, I don't need to concern myself on the name of the food I'm eating. One of my
in trying new things on the menu is that I'm always worried that I won't like what I ordered. I could be choosing something that SOUNDS tasty, but because menus don't have pictures of the foods they're offering, and assume their customers are knowledgeable about their choices, I always wind up chickening out and choosing something that sounds safe and familiar to me. Why waste perfectly good money on something I won't like? (I once ordered rigatoni, thinking it was ravioli, but it turned out to be the round noodles, instead of the stuffed noodles I wanted)
But with buffets, I can choose any food from the tray without having to worry about paying a full meal for a sample that I might wind up hating in the first place.

Of course, this brings the downside of having such a large selection of food - I'm spoiled for choice, and I want to sample everything, so I usually wind up throwing up because I've eaten too much. (Having desert doesn't help either) In the past, I tried to limit my barfing rituals outside, but continuously failed. I've been told multiple times to "slow down and enjoy your meal", but I find it so hard to implement this seemingly simple method of cleaning my palate.  I simply eat whatever looks good until my stomach feels full, then wash it down with a little water, walk around a bit to get the ol' circulation going, and go to the bathroom to burp in peace. Once I start feeling a little better, I make room for chocolate mousse. This usually has the result of reguriating the contents of the meal in the car or on the restaurant floor, where I try to look as inconspucious as possible, and failing. Especially since my hands can barely contain the amount of chocolate-covered tasty puke that pours out of my mouth.

Lately, I've tried to keep a handle on my eating habits so that instead of taking large portions of every tray, I instead took maybe one or two samples of each, piled them up on my plate until it was full, then ate them one at a time while mentally registering which items I liked, which items I really liked, and which ones to avoid.

On that day, I had the following (in no particular order);

Slice of pizza
half a lasagna
two tortellinis
two small sausages
one large sausage
crab cream sauce, combined with
linguini noodles
onion rings
squid rings
fried potatoes
fried shrimp
veal (I think)
chicken leg
prime rib (damned tasty!)
french fries

Once I'd tasted everything that I was interested in, I went back and had larger portions of the stuff that caught my attention. Even though I tried to keep my pace, I practically inhaled the contents down my mouth. I'm constantly being told to slow down and enjoy my food, but I find it so difficult to take my time. The only exceptions are where I've got something to read, or when I'm employing the Counselor Troi method of eating chocolate.

However, when it comes to slow eating manners, my dad is the King of that particular realm. His breakfast rituals are a lesson in zen patience. First, he'll take out his various fruits out of the refrigerator, then cut them up into a bowl, while having coffee brought to a boil. Then he'll select various sections arranged precisely onto a bowl, which he'll laboriously custom to his meticulously designed pattern to be positioned while poring over a newspaper. This usually takes several trips from the kitchen to the table before he feels satisfied. Finally, once everything is in place, he'll sit down to eat.

Then he'll go back to the microwave, because his coffee's gotten cold.

This happens ALL THE TIME. It's not unusual for a typical breakfast to take over two hours (or more) to complete. Longer if he's poring over the newspaper, since he'll read a sentence, take a bite of toast, re-read the sentence to make sure he didn't misread anything, then start chewing his toast. Then once he's finished, he'll get up and rinse his plates or bowls, then sit back down to eat another item on another plate. It wouldn't be so bad if he stayed in one spot to eat his meal, but rather, it's his constant getting up and adding new items that infuriates me. I'm like, "why don't you get all your stuff ready and eat everything in one go?" It would normally take me half an hour or less to go through what the man does, and I'd get to finish the paper even faster.

As much as it infuriates me, it's actually kind of admirable. Taking your time to taste the food you're chewing (which is the proper way to eat food) is something of a lost art. Especially in a culture that emphasizes shoveling portions down our throats as fast as humanly possible, and slow cooking meals are dismissed in favor for fast foods that're easier to consume.

But it still drives me up the wall.


  1. Those are rare variety of restaurant comics right there, good stuff! do you actually have this in reality? Or you just rip it off the internet? In accordance to the first comic strip by Lynn Johnston, that is the reason why restaurants preferred beautiful waitresses because it catches attention which can turn into a customer.

  2. Pathane - Answering for my bro - he really does have all those comics in hard copy ... the whole basement and most of his room is stocked with them. It's pretty amazing.

    DBT - You mostly got the resto story right, sorry I didn't have a chance to type it out earlier. Just to correct a few details - the other waiters were good, we just had the bad luck to be stuck with a terrible waiter. It wasn't five minutes between one visit and the next - he took our order about 30 mins after we arrived and disappeared for the next hour. We were patient at first because the resto was really crowded and busy, but then it got ridiculous... at least the food was good once it arrived, though!

    Anyway, Vichy's sounds like a good choice for your next bday - as long as you don't throw up anywhere! :P