Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chef Jose Garces Reigned Supreme In Kitchen Stadium, But How Did He Do In His Own Restaurant? Part One

What would you have done? Would you have watched Jose Garces on Iron Chef first and THEN gone to his restaurant? Or, do what I did? Go to the restaurant FIRST, to get the mettle of the man, BEFORE he challenged an Iron Chef?

H and I went to Amada, specializing in Spanish Tapas, last week, accompanied by the friend who had alerted me to the chef’s appearance on Iron Chef.

Chef Garces is a successful chef/owner of 3 restaurants in Philadelphia: Amada, Tinto and the newest, Distrito. He talks about them in this interview.

He was nominated the past 2 years for a James Beard Award for best restaurant chef for the Mid-Atlantic region. (He lost out this year to Chef Eric Ziebold of CityZen in DC.) Garces also has a Latin American cookbook coming out in the fall focusing on how Spain has influenced Latin American cooking all over the world.

Now about his restaurant...but, first, a plea to restaurateurs!!! PLEASE don’t make the entire party arrive before seating those who are there. H and I were told we had to wait for everyone (ONE more person, for goodness sake) until we could be shown to our table. So we’re left to skulk by the reservation area, fortunately not for long, but still it gives a terrible first impression of a restaurant. PLUS they KNEW we were all coming, because I called to confirm. Mightn’t I have mentioned that the numbers would have changed during that conversation?

Our huge party of three goes to the table. I take the customary seat of the lady (okay, settle down, I wanted to take pictures) against the wall, which happened to be a banquette. H and F(riend) sit catty-cornered in nice chairs at the square table. I sit down…and down…and down…until I am completely 12 inches lower than anyone else.

The height of the bench seating is completely ludicrous. I’m not talking slightly ridiculous; I’m talking completely totally off the wall WRONG! This could not possibly have been intended. It would be one thing if all the seating were at pre-school height, (Stephen Starr’s Tangerine has low chairs, but not THIS low) but here it was ONE SEAT at a table for four with the rest of the seating at normal height. (Not every table is like this. This was just in our section of the restaurant.)

The lady-with-the-menus-who-made-us-wait-at-the-door did say that “people” sometimes sit on the cushions that were on the back of the bench. So I sat on one pillow, still too low, way too low. Then I took a second pillow and shoved it under the first one and it made the table that was obviously designed for a munchkin with an extraordinarily long neck manageable. But you know how I am with KITCHEN hygiene…who knows where those pillows have been or where what had been on the pillows had been?

The next wrinkle was our server. In his defense, he ended the night MUCH better than he started, but that isn’t saying much. He was clearly very busy, but, after all, WE should have been what he was busy with. After way too long a wait initially, he came to tell us the deal with the restaurant: food served family style; dishes come out as they’re ready: dishes are meant to be shared. Fine, great…

He was about to walk away, when H told him we wanted to order drinks, because I guess that wasn’t something he couldn’t think of himself. I was mad, though, I really wanted to see how long it would take him to get around to the drink orders, but H could tell I needed my cocktail.

As our waiter took our order - I can’t remember if it was the drink or the dinner order - he went around the table POINTING at each person. In fact, he poked his index finger only inches away from F’s chest as he said, “And YOU?” It was quite appalling. Then H asked him if they could do Guisantes (peas) as a first course without the meat. Mollejas Con Guisantes was on the menu, which is peas with sweetbreads, but plain guisantes with a bit of ham is a very common starter in Spain.

Pointing Pete said “I’ve never had anything like that.” He repeated it several times…not…”Let me check” or “Let me ask the chef”…not even “Let me see”…just…”I HAVE never had anything like that.” WELL, BUDDY WE HAVE!!! AND I’m sure, so has the chef. But the waiter was so painful, we just let it go.

It was a shame we had a few issues, because even from my vertically challenged perch, I could see that this was a potentially REALLY good restaurant. Next post...the food.


Heather said...

Wouldn't it be nice if chefs ate at their own restaurants, perhaps just a snack before service, and sat at a different table every time? They could have a different server every night and then they would have a better sense of the entire experience of their own restaurant? I've sat at a table that had seating so low my chin literally hit the table.

Who wants to sit on pillows? If patrons normally have to reach for pillows, then it's time to update your seating. I'm already annoyed and I've never even been there.

Sue said...

Hi Heather,
You're right, if SOMEONE had just tried out those seats, I can't imagine they would have been chosen.

You're getting me worked up just THINKING about it.

Emiline said...

Ohh, Pete. Pete Pete Pete.

That table sounds crazy! I don't blame you for not wanting to sit on one of those pillows. Kinda gross.