December 29th, 2007

Roman

kitchen nightmares influence

I've gotten hooked on Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on BBC - and also on the newer American version, Kitchen Nightmares on Fox. Both feature chef Gordon Ramsey visiting failing restaurants and figuring out what's wrong.

There are different difficulties in the different restaurants but some themes have come out. Most of the restaurants offer over-complicated menus with food that is uninspiring and not fresh. Watching the show has made me more aware of what is possible and what I should be looking for when I eat out at any place above a deli.

Today I tried to find a couple of books that were left at the Avila Beach post office by another bookcrosser. The books were gone but I was there in Avila so I decided to go to the Gardens of Avila restaurant, which is part of the Sycamore Springs resort. The resort has improved over the years and the last time I looked at that restaurant it looked fresh and like some place I might want to eat, but that was a while ago.

When I stepped up to the hostess the place seemed very quiet. She asked if I had a reservation. I almost laughed out loud. Like I'd need one. I was led to an almost-empty dining room, where I sat in a booth. The server gave me bread and an oil and vinegar mix that was loaded with garlic for dipping. I mean a whole head of garlic was lying in the bottom of the little bowl, split into cloves, along with some green stuff. It tasted quite good. I did think, later, that they couldn't very well re-use that garlic. Seemed a shame, a waste.

The choices had changed from when I last looked at the menu. The menu is one of those padded black things. On the first page is a bio of the "executive chef". Here we learn that the guy graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in NYC and spent time in a fancy famous restaurant in Chicago. We even get a quotation from him, that he believes in simple preparations that let the food stand out. That sounded good to me, and rather like what Ramsey pushes all the time: keep it simple, do it well.

Only in this case, not so well. My green salad had some nice ingredients, mainly some baby beets and shredded somethingorother, but the way it was put together and dressed was uninspired. I couldn't help but think of Ramsey. Why bother? I ordered the only thing I could imagine eating, something called an eggplant napoleon. This turned out to be crunchy round breaded slices of eggplant - fried, in other words - layered with fresh spinach, lightly cooked, and some kind of cheese, with some slivers of peppers and other veggies. Again, nothing to write home about. I love fresh spinach but I didn't really notice its flavor here, and the eggplant didn't stand out either. I was feeling really full but I wanted to try a dessert. I ordered tiramisu. It was okay but seemed a bit watery and I left about half. The coffee was fine. The cost was ridiculous for such a boring meal. I don't figure on returning. So now what? I'm a restaurant critic? Why not?