Monday, February 18, 2008

I am a curse to Fresh Mex fast casual restaurants

I love Fresh Mex food. You know, the places where you can get a burrito filled with whatever you want? Problem is, I am picky, too. I don't like Chipotle because their meats are too spicy (except for the carnitas -- but who wants to eat pork every day?). I don't like Q'doba because, well, I just don't like the food there -- the rice and beans taste funny to me. So I'm always on the lookout for new to the area Fresh Mex restaurants.

Salsarita's opened up about a year and a half ago down the street a bit from where I work. I went there at least three times a week. And, I always brought new folks with me. I wanted them to enjoy it too. Now, it was never really crowded, but I was hopeful that maybe it was more of a dinner place and that's why it was so empty around lunchtime. About six months later, it closed. No warning, one day it was there, the next day it was gone. And, there are no other Salsarita's in the area. Sigh.

Then, in November, another Fresh Mex place opened near my work -- Panchero's. Their claim to fame is freshly-made tortillas. They were great! I felt that I had finally found a place to replace Salsarita's in my lunchtime repertoire. I had the burrito, I had the burrito bowl, I had the tacos. All were delicious and the toppings were great, especially the grilled corn salsa. Again, I brought my co-workers, my friends, my family. I was even two stamps away from a free burrito. Then, they were gone. Vanished overnight. The entire place cleaned out, closed down. They had only been open two months. I checked and there are two more Panchero's in the area but both are at least a 40-minute drive from me.

How can Chipotle's continue to thrive and grow and these other franchisees wither and die? Were they both bad locations? Neither one had a lot of walk-by traffic. But I couldn't help thinking that if it was an established brand, such as Chipotle, that both locations would have done well. We'll just have to see what goes into those locations (yeah, the Salsarita's still sits empty). And I'll keep looking for new Fresh Mex.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Why so blue, menu?

Have you ever been to Joe's Crab Shack? It is a casual, table-service restaurant featuring beachy food and drinks and an eclectic, kitschy, "found objects" decor. I like their food, and their decor, and I used to like their menu, too. It had a beachy look which matched everything else in the restaurant. There were fun graphics of driftwood, the ocean, sunsets, etc.

Then, a few months ago, Joe's Crab Shack changed their menu. The look... not the offerings. It is now blue. A sky blue, maybe a little lighter. And that is about it. No fun graphics. And they have just about removed any photos of the food. Uh, I don't know if they did any testing of this menu or if there was a real reason for it but, psst, blue is a proven appetite suppressant. I am not making that up, go ahead Google "blue color" and "appetite". People have done studies on it. There is even a blue light blub that you can get for your refrigerator if you are dieting. So I'm just astounded that a restaurant would remove all the fun from their menu, plus all the appetizing photos, and replace it all with plain blue. I can only imagine that Joe's Crab Shack is starting to see a decline in same store sales, and all the marketing folks are blaming it on the economy, or the war, or the price of gas, because of course it can't be the new menu we designed. That would be crazy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Disney's Victoria and Albert's Restaurant Bans Children... so what?

There has been quite a lot of press recently from the announcement that Walt Disney World's Victoria and Albert's restaurant, a 5-star designated restaurant, has decided to "ban" children under 10 from dining there. Now, I should reveal that I am a current Disney Cast Member although I have nothing to do with the restaurants or any decisions they make. However, when I heard that announcement I thought it was a good decision.

For those who have never dined at Victoria and Albert's (I have, twice), it is a very high-end restaurant with an ever-changing prix fixe daily menu that runs over $100 per person, even without any drinks. It is comprised of several courses served over a 2-hour period. They also have a strict dress code requiring gentlemen to wear a jacket (and if you don't, the "community" jacket will be provided for you to wear that night). I am quite sure they do not have a children's menu and I believe when they have made reservations in the past, they have always discouraged guests from bringing their children. Apparently, some guests didn't take the hint and must have brought their children. And some of those children must have acted up and other guests must have taken notice. And so, the recent "ban" was enacted.

This could only happen in Walt Disney World, I believe. I would hope that when parents are in their hometown, they would not think of bringing their 4-year-old with them to an exclusive, expensive, 5-star restaurant, no matter how well-behaved they believe their child to be. I know I wouldn't dream of taking my 4-year-old to a place like that. And now, the ban makes sure of that at Victoria and Albert's.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

An encounter with a pushy waiter at a upscale steak restaurant

I recently dined at an upscale steak restaurant in the Dallas, TX area. You know the kind of steak restaurant I'm talking about. The ones where everything is a la carte and the shrimp cocktail is almost $20. We were there for a business dinner and I'm sure our waiter could smell our expense account a mile away. Now, I've had semi-pushy waiters at places like this before. They will "recommend" the priciest items on the menu, and ask if they can prepare a suite of appetizers for the whole table, and insist on pouring the bottled water versus tap water. But, they've also always been pretty polite and will say things like "good choice!" and "that's one of my favorite entrees, too", and will generally back off if the table doesn't want the three tiers of seafood as the appetizer. This guy was different. I don't know if he couldn't "read" the mood at the table well or if he is just generally a pushy guy. His first gaffe was to bring the wine list to the table and immediately recommend that we order a magnum of wine (that's a HUGE bottle equivalent to two bottles of wine for those of you who don't know). There were only eight of us at the table, most were driving home, we had just had cocktails at the bar, and we had also just decided before the waiter appeared that that only four of us would be drinking wine and we would probably just have one glass a piece. Our designated wine orderer said exactly that back to the waiter. He STILL insisted that we should order a magnum because it was a better value. Our wine orderer declined again and said just one regular-sized bottle would be fine. Our waiter then turned and walked away and was clearly upset by this!

The worst happened when it was my turn to order. Let me preface this with a short history of my appetite up to this point. I had eaten a very large lunch and was still feeling the effects of it. I had a cream-based, and somewhat filling, cocktail at the bar (okay, yes, it was a choco-tini). We had just ordered a round of appetizers for everyone which was going to come as individual plates for each person and included two large shrimp, a crab cake and a bacon-wrapped scallop. And, the bread was really good and I had already helped myself to a few slices. So, I knew I was not going to be too hungry when my entree arrived. I couldn't even think about eating a huge hunk of steak at this point so I decided to go for seafood. The waiter had said the lobster tails came in 6 oz and 14 oz sizes and the 6 oz sounded about right for me. As he rounded the table to me, he asked what I wanted for dinner. I told him I would like the 6 oz lobster tail. He stared blankly at me. I waited. He recovered and asked if I wanted a filet mignon with that. Um, no, just the lobster tail. He paused and then asked again if I would like the 14 oz instead. No, I insisted, the 6 oz would be fine. He was clearly flustered and asked, well, then what did I want with the lobster tail? I answered that whatever normally comes with it is fine. I quickly skimmed the menu and mentioned that the menu said it comes with potatoes and vegetables. He started, recalculated, and then asked if I wanted their signature salad as well to start with. Um, no, since we will be getting the appetizers, I'll be fine. He then moved on to the next person, clearly exasperated. After he left the table, I breathed a sigh of relief. And then I said to everyone that I think he didn't like my order. Everyone agreed, he had clearly been upset with what I ordered.

Luckily, I didn't have to deal with him much after that as a whole league of servers delivered our food to us, refilled our water glasses, and took care of us. And, the food was really good, the lobster was done perfectly, still very moist and tasty. Also, I was the only one who finished my whole meal and didn't need a doggie bag.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Are you a skimmer... or a beginning to end menu reader?

My husband is a skimmer. He can pick up a menu, quickly scan the offerings, and then will stop as soon as he sees an entree that he thinks he will like. He will then put the menu down and wait the extra 10 minutes as I review, item by item, the entire menu from beginning to end. He can't understand what takes me so long and I can't understand why he doesn't want to review all that the restaurant has to offer. I want to make sure that I have chosen the very best item for me, without question. (Also, if there is an interesting dessert, I want to be sure and save room for it!) I also like the fun adjectives they use to describe a dish. The more upscale the restaurant, the more upscale the description. Suddenly, a simple Caesar Salad becomes, "Crisp whole leaf romaine hearts tossed with Grana Padana parmesan cheese and garlic croutons." (Yes, that is a REAL description from a upscale restaurant's menu.) So, are you a skimmer, or a reader like me?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Yellow is sweet talking its way into the sugar box

Have you noticed the color change happening at your local restaurant? Pink, Blue, and White are being joined by Yellow. Yes, Splenda packets are now showing up in greater numbers at most restaurants now. I've even seen them in those skinny stick-like packs, too. I'm just surprised that both Blue (Equal) and Pink (Sweet-n-Low) are still around, actually. I guess there are still enough Blue and Pink fans out there that restaurants don't dare get rid of those sugar substitutes.

I actually used to be a sugar only gal. Only the real stuff for me - Pink and Blue tasted funny. But, I'm also a big iced tea fan (see my previous post here), and regular sugar doesn't dissolve well in iced tea. And don't even get me started on Brown (those raw sugar packets that you occasionally see). So I decided to try Yellow. The advertising said it tastes just like sugar, right? Actually, I think they are right. One Yellow pack is much more sweet than one White pack but, to me, it has the same taste - no funky aftertaste. And, since it is much finer, it dissolves very nicely in iced tea. I, for one, am happy to see Yellow join the "Sugar Pack."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My leftovers get left over

I rarely eat leftovers I bring home from restaurants. Yet, I feel compelled to ask for a "to-go" box if I liked my meal. I'm concerned that the server, or even the chef, will think I didn't like my meal if I don't ask for the remainder to go. And, with portion sizes being as large as they are, I also rarely finish my meal. So, what happens is I bring home the leftover food and put it in the refrigerator with full intentions of having it for lunch the next day or maybe as an appetizer for tomorrow's dinner. That never happens. I don't like to eat the same food two days in a row. Plus, I worry that the food won't taste as good reheated. The leftovers eventually get forgotten and I find them weeks later still in the fridge and throw them out without opening the container. Because of this, my husband has forbid me from bringing home leftovers any more. I actually like the policy because now I have something to tell the server when he or she asks if I'd like the rest of my meal to go: "No, my husband won't let me bring home leftovers anymore because they end up rotting in the fridge." I always add, "But I really liked my food" at the end, with a quick smile. You know, so they don't go and tell the chef that I hated my food. Because I'm really concerned about that for some weird reason.