Wednesday, May 04, 2011

slipping, redux

A little over six months ago, I wrote about what happens when a restaurant starts slipping. For places you count on, it starts with a meal or a part of a meal that just isn't as good as it used to be. You let it slide because the kitchen has always been good; maybe they're just having an off night. The chef isn't there. The staff changed. Whatever. You go back because you count on the next meal being as good as the ones you've had before.

Except it isn't. That next meal might even be worse. Or just continuing in the same, mediocre vein you saw in the last one. Or maybe the staff just isn't as enthusiastic as they'd always been.

For us, it finally happened with a long-time favorite. The rumbling started when news that the chef-owner had sold his stake and was moving on to another project. This guy has a track record of leaving restaurants, though, and they always seem to survive — and continue to do well. So, yeah. No big deal, right?

At least, it's no big deal when the kitchen sends out standards that are just as good as they were and adds a new dish or two that gives you hope. But what about when the opposite happens? Because it has. First, there was the standard appetizer/entrée item that L always gets — a set of seafood cakes — that came out less flavorful and with more breading than before, and the new entrée I ordered that was less than impressive. We gave them a pass, though, because that's what you do when you love the restaurant and they've always come through for you in the past.

Until the next meal. Until that beet salad that suddenly has pickled onions and peakéd micro-greens. Until the roast duck that comes out as tough as a state fair turkey leg. Until the mussels that are simply inedible — poor quality, and served in a bland, gloppy marinara sauce rather than a light tomato brodo. Until the bored staff spends too long in the kitchen hanging out, and the food takes almost an hour to arrive. On a slow night.

Nope. That's the point when you say Our favorite restaurant has slipped. We may not be back. And you hope the owners take notice and kick the kitchen back into gear.

What would you do?