First, I’ve been considering a blog for quite some time. I fancy myself as a creative individual, which lends itself very nicely to my frequent insomnia. So, I figure a blog is going to provide many services, including a creative outlet, a buffer to prevent me from driving my family insane with thought, a reflective record of my “epicuriquest” and therapy (all at little to no cost). Secondly, I would like to say a nice big “F U” to the individuals on this blog site who have domain  names that they aren’t using. Not cool….but I do like what I eventually came up with.

I’m still not certain what I want to do with my culinary and sommelier degrees (when I get them) because there are so many ways to go! One thing I have become fairly good at (according to myself, of course) is being able to analyze and dissect restaurant food. I always thought being a restaurant critic would be interesting, and I was hoping that getting my culinary degrees would give me more credibility. It is a very intense relationship between chef and critic…

So, with that in mind, I feel it necessary to write about a particularly disappointing restaurant/customer service experience we had last week. Let’s be honest, Colorado Springs is nowhere near a gourmand destination, as most of the restaurants are huge nation-wide chains that focus more on price & quantity. I know my limits. We have had a few “diamonds in the rough”…but so many of them fall by the wayside or fall into the same “mass” standards as the huge chains. This is a story of one such restaurant:

On a Friday evening, I will always make reservations for dinner out. It’s just something I deem necessary. Since most restaurants are now not taking reservations on their busiest evenings (Friday & Saturday, respectively), I try to make them for a restaurant that I am aware still takes them. We made the decision to see Alice in Wonderland (not Allison Wonderland…moron at the theater), and since my husband was home early we established our game plan. First: matinée! The last time we tried to go to Hollywood Theater on a Friday evening, we were there with about 87,000 high schoolers. Shrieking, macho, obnoxious high schoolers. I could barely stand most of the people I went to high school with at that age, so my threshold has diminished significantly by now. (A thought of Darwinist homicide crossed my mind, and how to justify it.) If we hit a matinée, we can avoid all that crap and save some $. Second, make a reservation for our favorite sushi joint nearby and have some good sushi. (Let’s be honest, there is no such thing as great sushi in Colorado. It just doesn’t happen. And no, Rocky Mountain Oysters are NOT seafood.) Seeing as it was the premier of the movie, we got our tickets online to ensure (to an obvious limited degree) we would have seats. (To go on a tangent, I am not a fan of viewing movies in theaters. In the past 4 years, I have been maybe 4 times. That is a function of my historically bad experiences: first time seeing 300, I was incessantly kicked in the back of the head. Once I snagged the offending appendage, I applied enough pressure to let them know they would not have the luxury of feeling that same pressure if the kicking did not cease. Another visit, a couple next to us spoke the entire time and as the movie got louder, so did they. When I had someone with “power” tell them to please be quiet, they did so. However, after the movie they began to heckle me and my husband. Once we got tot he parking lot, it got worse. We turned around to confront them and they were 30 years our senior.  Despite the harassment, I was not about to go to jail for “geriatric assault”. Because of those experiences, I prefer to sit certain places. Let’s go back from that tangent.) I will spare the details of the drive, as it is unnecessary. With our printed tickets in hand, we get our drink and ask the young man if our printed tickets will suffice for entry. I’m given a not so reassuring “ummm…sure”, and we go towards our movie. Upon approaching the ticket podium, we present the printed tickets and are immediately met with a “oh, you have to have those printed out front.” I don’t expect everyone to know how all the jobs are done at the theater (I’ve learned not not expect terribly much from most), so we exit the complex to their box office out front. A young lady doing everything but her job, finally notices our presence and asks how she can help us. We present her with the paper to which she responds “oh, you can just take that to the ticket podium…”. Now this begins to irritate me. Someone must know how to get me into a theater. It’s not like they are on hold…these are paid tickets. I tell her nicely we were just told the opposite and all we want are our tickets. We finally get to head inside and wait in line for the theater to be ready. However, part of our plan may be backfiring. Many adults with gaggles of tweens (or younger) begin showing up. (I now loathe Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber even more.) It is funny to watch each person approach the ticket podium with the exact same response: show ticket, “we’re not seating yet”, they look at the line and become irritated at their current place in it. One youngster even attempted the pity look on the first few of us…no sale. We finally got our seats and begin watching the previews. The first few are in standard 2D, and nothing special by my account. However, there was one cartoon that looked like what an absinthe & acid fueled bender must look like. My husband made the comment “what the hell happened to Looney Tunes?”, which solicited a laugh from anyone over 25. NOW ITS TIME TO PUT ON YOUR 3D GLASSES  Here come the “woah”s and “ooh”s. the next 7 previews were 3D. Seriously? We live 3D folks, but any movie coming out next year will be 3D. Personally, I didn’t feel 3D did Alice in Wonderland any justice. But I did enjoy the story. But who cares about a movie review…we’re hungry!

I made the reservation anticipating some lag time for who knows what seems to always happen to us. Now let me give you the history of this sushi restaurant. For so many years, Jun Japanese restaurant held the “best sushi” restaurant, according to so many local publications. We would drive across town to enjoy their sushi whenever the craving hit. And they did not disappoint. A new sushi restaurant, Kura, opened near where we were living and curiosity led us there. Initially, it had a gorgeous interior, wonderful menu and great service.  However, part of that service may have been due to the lack of clientèle. We were so impressed, not only did we recommend Kura to friends and family, but we took them there too. I even developed friendships with the wait staff that banked with me at a previous employer. We frequented the restaurant enough to be “known”. Now I never thought we had any relationship parallel to something seen in The Sopranos where we expect a table at our arrival, regardless of how busy they may be. The last few visits were bringing to light what I feared may eventually happen. Upon our arrival about 10 minutes early, we were greeted and I made sure to mention our reservation. We were seated at a table with a reserved placard (we had a reservation…) with one dinner menu, one sushi menu and no pen. While we waited for our server to introduce themself or for water or something, I began looking around. They were busy…which is a universal good sign. But then I noticed it wasn’t a “buzzing with activity” kind of busy…it was a “desperate to catch up” kind of busy. I also noticed 2 things that were a tell tale sign that they were en route to the restaurant equivalent of an iceberg to the Titanic: 1)a net of blinking Christmas style lights hanging from the ceiling near a window, probably about 1 foot from the top. Why? Seriously, why? 2) A flat screen TV broadcasting ESPN. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never thought to myself “hey, lets go to the sushi bar and watch the Red Sox game!” Sorry, but no. This was a sign of nondescript desperation. By now, it’s been about 5 minutes and no one has made contact with us. No “hello” or “I’ll be right with you”. at 10 minutes, a young man approaches us and tells us “this table is for a reservation and I need you to move.” Well, I explain to the young man “we have a reservation.” He seems pretty new to the restaurant, and then entire restaurant career field, so he returns to the entrance to seek direction from the manager. I was not trying to be snarky, but I had a reservation. What’s the difference? He returns to explain that it was reserved for a party of 4 and needs us to move to a 2-top. So, we grab our menus and move to the table behind us. He leaves without so much as an offer for water or a pen. We’ve been here 15 minutes now, and I’m getting more frustrated. We have people milling around the tables around us, and not a single acknowledgement of our existence. (Before anyone comes down on me, I have worked for restaurants as a hostess and waitress before. I try to take my previous experiences and not only be a good customer, but teach those around me who have not had said professional experience to be a good customer. Yes, I said good customer. While they may be there to “serve” you your food/drink, you can have a huge impact on your own experience. If you have seen “Waiting”, I consider that an exaggeration, but it’s not that far off. I encourage anyone who has or even has not worked in a restaurant to read “Waiter Rant”…lots of good info in there.) So, it has been 15 minutes without anyone even bringing us water or a pen. I realize its a Friday night and the truth of the matter is you will experience your worst food/service on a Friday or Saturday night. They are the highest volume nights and they will use that to get the highest turnover, which means the food is not of highest quality and servers are pushed to turn tables over. I’m not stating its going to be awful, but it certainly will not be the best. And that is what were were in the middle of. We hit the 20 minute mark and that was enough. My husband had put his napkin on the table and was getting up when the same young man who moved us came and asked us is we wanted something to drink. Now, was it his fault we hadn’t gotten service? Partially. Was I going to make a scene and be nasty to him No. It’s never justified. My husband very tactfully explained “we have been sitting here for 20 minutes, no one offered us water or even acknowledged us. We will be leaving, but thank you.” Without knowing how to proceed, this young man returned to the entrance to dictate to his manager what was going on. We did not say anything to anyone, we just got up and left. What struck me as odd is we got out the front door, past the manager without any contact. I didn’t realize it was that bad. As we walked into the parking lot, we heard a the voice of a lady asking “excuse me! excuse me!”. I knew what she wanted. This was her chance to change our outlook on our experience. So far, we were on strike 2 with them for the evening, let’s see what she would pitch. “Come inside and I’ll pay for your dinner.” STRIKE 3. Why do I say no to a free sushi dinner? Well, first of all, I didn’t have 3 hours to spend at a restaurant for the sake of a free dinner. There wasn’t any value she was providing me. So, I get a free sushi dinner, to not return again? It doesn’t solve the problem. We told the young man the problem. Secondly, we felt slightly insulted. Are we the sole reason they had the business? Of course not, but we certainly made a dent. We would have friends and family (and even customers at the bank) come back to us and say “thank you for recommending Kura, it was great!” It felt nice to share something we thought was “special” with people, and being previously employed in sales, we both appreciate the value of a personal referral. We felt like we had ultimately contributed to the awful experience we just had. We politely declined, and left.

Now, I’ll tell you what I thought she should have done. 1)Don’t let us pass the “threshold” of the front door. If we’re physically out, we’re already in the car mentally. Had she spoken to us in the entryway, we may have stayed. At the table, much better odds we’ll stay. Nip the dragging service in the bud, personally. 2)Don’t offer to just pay for our dinner. First of all, that is such a HUGE financial liability. At a sushi restaurant no less! You are going to screw over your servers tips, your bottom line and odds are we won’t be back. You haven’t given us any reason to return. 3)Give us something to make us return. A gift card, something we have to come back to use. Odds are, we’ll spend in excess of the gift card, and even if we don’t…we came back.

We got to our car and sat there in disbelief. That had never happened. Some of these people knew who we were and that we’d been going there since they opened. It’s not their fault…but this restaurant may not be much longer. I’d call Gordon Ramsay for Kitchen Nightmares but I don’t think he goes any further than the east or west coast. So, here we are, on a Friday night with no reservations and no food. Some light must have gone off in my husband’s head (most likely the “fuck it, I just want food” light) and we proceeded to our next destination. A “New York Style” pizza place. Oh boy…

Apparently, Borriello Bros is a well known pizza chain, brand new to Colorado Springs. I can’t comment on NY style pizza, because I’ve never had it. What I do know is the only things New York about this restaurant were the Yankee Stadium photos. They had Sinatra photos all over the walls and playing his music on the stereo, which was a huge disconnect for  me: Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. Moving on to the menu. I cannot wait for the trend of “Italian” (term used VERY loosely) restaurants to let go of their desperate and white-knuckle grip of anything Godfather/Goodfellas/Sporanos in relation to their menu. With Borriello Bros menu sporting sandwich names like the “Grandma Marie”, “The Godfather” and “Uncle Sonny” in lieu of “chicken parmigiana”, I just can’t take this seriously. My husband made a comment that he would respect the menu more if they wouldn’t take themself so seriously and take a cue from “Analyze This” by naming sandwiches “Benny the Groin, Sammy the Schnazz, Elmer the Fudd, Tubby the Tuba, and once as Miss Phyllis Levine.” (Per Billy Crystal). The other beef I am currently having with so-called “Italian” restaurants is when they take a ravioli, fold it a different way and call it something completely different. Olive Garden, you’re on notice. But, I digress. We ordered what is called a Sicilian Pizza and it was decent. Not sure if its truly Sicilian, but it was food. I then took notice of the dessert menu. A NY style restaurant hocking NY style cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. Ummmmm, no. Cheesecake is not that hard to make, not to mention I know of a cheesecake bakery out of NY that even ships, called Juniors. Having had the opportunity to taste their cheesecake, I find it delightful. Expensive, but tasty. Then again, how hard is it to bake a cheesecake. However, the pizza does not re-heat well.

There is a hard truth I’m learning in my desire to become a chef/sommelier: I’ve learned to cook food that I like better than what I can get at a restaurant. I’m trying to find a voice as either a critic, chef, both…who knows. It has been interesting to observe the restaurant world in a different light and I hope that maybe I can provide some perceptive to myself and others. Unfortunately, considering the lack of dining options here, I hope to write more about my at home culinary adventures/disasters. This will not be a recount of the famed Julie & Julia (despite the impact it has had on my life), but it will be a reflective collection of random thoughts, ideas, tangents and perhaps a few epiphanies. So begins my “epicuri-quest”…couldn’t get any cheesier. Mmmm…extra sharp cheddar sounds great.