Sunday, October 22, 2006

Storm the barricades

I have been long shocked and appalled at the rising, ridiculous prices at New York restaurants. Things have been going out of hand for a while now. What used to be a $15 simple plate of pasta is now at least $22. And nothing animal is now less than $29.99, even if it's boiled chicken.
And I don't even go to the really fancy places. Now it seems, a $4o entree is going to become a fact of life. And I say, only if you let it happen. The consumers are being totally ripped off by restaurants, and like suckers, they go for it:

A new breed of menu “engineers” (puhleeze!) have proved that highly priced entrees increase revenue even if no one orders them. A $43 entree makes a $36 one look like a deal.

“Just putting one high price on the menu will take your average check up,” said Gregg Rapp, one such consultant. “My mom taught me to never order the most expensive thing on the menu, but you’ll order the second.”

I think this is appalling, but it's your own stupid fault if you fall for it.

Fortunately in New York we still have a lot of very decent eating choices that are not armed robbery, yet. The problem is that when you go to a middling restaurant which now has the audacity to charge you at least $25 for entrees, you most of the time get mediocre food, bad attitude and sloppy service. You are the paying customer, but even as you make a reservation, they treat you like an orphan friend of Oliver Twist: you get warned that you have to call and confirm you are coming or else your credit card will be charged, when you get there on time you still have to wait at the bar for your table, if your "party" is not all there, they won't sit you down, which makes me want to brandish a kalashnikov and rip the place apart right then and there; you get snooty, rude people at the door -- the list is endless. The customer is made to pay for the restaurateur's headaches. I am supposed to feel sorry because their rent is huge and their overage is high, and Miguel from Puebla called in sick. Is there any other business that behaves so spectacularly ungraciously in this city? I doubt it.
Forget about $40, even if I am to pay $25 for an entree, I expect the experience to be nothing short of magnificent. And I have terrible news for you: yesterday I went to Shanghai Joe's for soup dumplings (my very own hangover cure) to find the dumplings greatly diminished in size and plumpness and rather lacking in their special magic broth. I don't know if it was an off day for the kitchen, because the pea shoots were also dryish, and I hope it was, because if even this place is going to start skimping out on quality, I am going to tear my hair out. Well, not really, but it just can't be.

Restaurateurs say rising rents, ever more elaborate interior-decoration schemes and the increasing cost of premium ingredients — especially beef and fish — leave them little choice.

And I say BULL-SHIT. Everybody knows that the profit margins of food are quite healthy, let alone what they make up on what they charge you for drinks. So I don't want to hear their boo-hoo stories. I know there is a lot of overage in restaurants and it is not a cheap business, but I can tell a rip off when I see it.
This is one of the few cities in America where you can eat well, and I like to try out new places. But one needs to be extremely careful with the hype, because most of the times places that are hailed as the cat's pajamas, disappoint.
In the end, I am willing to pay extraordinary prices for an extraordinary meal. When you get fantastic food and service you don't feel cheated, no matter what you've paid. I go to Jewel Bako and I know I will spend a pretty penny on sushi, but the experience and the food at the sushi bar are worth it, and the attention is always gracious. In contrast, the other night I went to this place aoc bedford and it was horribly disappointing. The service was very charming but the food was just not good enough, and we paid over $65 a person for just one entree and a glass of wine. Outrageous.

So I think restaurant customers have to start demanding some respect.
Don't be an ass and pay $40 for a roast chicken or worse, dover freaking sole. You are making it tougher for the rest of us.


• Bellavitae: rude service and impossibly greasy pasta. A horrendous rip-off.
• Mercadito on 7th Ave: Outrageously expensive bad tacos and they don't even bring you a decent lime.
• Tia Pol: I have never been ignored more rudely at the door anywhere. I don't care if their tapas were made by El Greco himself. I will not take arrogance from restaurants.
• Corner Shop on Bleecker and Bway: The hostess is both evil and stupid, the waiters are the epitome of obnoxiousness and the food gives me the runs.
• Village, on 10th St. The food is not good enough. It is hard to fuck up a potato leek soup, but they were able to do it here.

Not terribly impressed:

• Dressler in Williamsburg: Not that great for the prices.
• aoc bedford: same, too expensive for mediocre food.
• The Modern: even at the bar, outrageously expensive and highly uneven quality.
• Barça. Big, obnoxious, noisy, mediocre, and expensive.


• Five Points. Consistently good, nice service.
• Bar Pitti. Service is eccentric, but the food is still great and affordable.
• Lupa. The best ricotta gnocchi ever.
• Blue Ribbon Bakery. Pricey but consistently good.
• Jewel Bako.
• Pho Pasteur vietnamese on Baxter St.
• Do Hwa korean. Great food, soso service.
• Virgil's BBQ. Whatever you think, this place is still excellent. Just try to steer clear from the Broadway throngs.

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