welcoming a new year is like trying out a new restaurant. it looks nice from the outside. you hope it's nice inside. but, at some point after a few days of surreptitiously glancing in the windows while running errands, you just have to suck it up, open the door, and go in and see for yourself. sure, you can hesitate awkwardly on the street corner for a minute, reading the sample menu posted on the window right next to the door, getting in the way of anyone trying to get in or out of the building and pretending you're actually debating the dishes the restaurant has to offer, but you know you're going to go in no matter what. it doesn't matter if their appetizer list looks generic or if you made it in time for the happy hour specials or not. you'd go in even if you didn't have that 15%-off-your-entire-meal promo coupon that got photo-copied and passed around your office.
when you do finally open that door, it's a heady moment. besides the rush of warmth (it's january. and where i am, it snowed last night. go with the heat sensory image, even if you're lucky enough to live somewhere that's warm in the winter) and light (if it's night time), there's the anticipation of something new, the hope that the place won't totally disappoint you, and the absolute uncertainty of how the next few hours (or months, in the case of the new year) are going to go. then there's the justification. like the beginning months of a year, if the restaurant is newly opened, poor service and dishes that miss instead of hit can be blamed on inexperience or finding one's footing. older restaurants and months can blame poor quality or bad experiences on apathy or rotten luck. yet, when the year or dinner is over, we still feel a need to review it and make a final, staying judgement.
so here's my restaurant review for 2009:
stepping into 2009, i wasn't quite sure where i found myself. the decor was okay, nothing special, but homey. if i had to describe the look of 2009, i'd say it was sort of like a a gastro pub that had crashed headlong into a dive bar. this wasn't a white linen and polished silverware year. you could take your kids there if you wanted, but you'd probably enjoy it more if you left them home with a babysitter. the crowd in 2009 seemed to ebb and flow oddly, with patrons showing up and leaving in strange intervals, not the orderly happy hour rush to dinner crowd clamor to late night lushes you'd expect. it was almost as if some people had got the memo, others hadn't, and others found it too late to come for dinner, but got there just as everyone else was ordering dessert.
our drinks at the bar (january and february 2009) while we waited for a table were cocktails - strong lemon drop martinis a touch too sweet. cloying, almost. and clearly trying to cover up the fact that the vodka wasn't top shelf. we had a bit of a wait to get to our table, but we had a few good laughs (march) and time passed quickly. when we did finally sit down, the menu (april) was well-rounded, easy to read, and reasonably priced.
appetizers (may and june) arrived quickly, and looked promising, but ended up vastly disappointing. buffalo wings were drenched in a vapid, overly acidic sauce; the coconut shrimp too heavily breaded and flavorless; and the calamari was pretty much inedible. the only saving grace was the bruchetta, which at least left a refreshing taste in our mouth, even though there was a bit too much basil.
the soups we tried (july and august) were good, though maybe a bit too hearty for summer and a little over salted. both were hot, and while the flavors were okay, it was, sadly, a bit of a relief to see them cleared away.
our main course (september and october) looked good and we started off well tasting a lovely bouillabaisse, but from there it was just down hill. the steak was unevenly cooked, with some parts rare and others shoe leather, and it's accompanying salad was composed primarily of chucks of wilting iceberg lettuce. the shepherd's pie was greasy and bland. it stuck like a lump in my throat and sat like a ball-bearing in my stomach. the last dish we tried, the home-made, black bean, veggie burger was better than it predecessors, but oddly lumpy and mushy.
dessert (november and december) was a confusing affair. ice cream fresh from the maker was tasty, but a bit egg-y. baklava was a nice surprise, and fairly fresh, but a touch too sweet. a bite of the molten chocolate cake was warming and pleasant, especially considering the cold, but the winners were the aperitifs, the cayenne hot chocolates, and the irish coffees.
the bill was a bit high, but such is the way of things when you try to taste a bit of everything. our evening ended on a middling note with such mixed courses. there were, luckily, mints by the door, to refresh us before we made our way back out into the cold. with such mixed reviews, i guess it's only fair to describe my dining experience in 2009 as an experience - one i'm glad to have had, but i don't think i'd think i'd care to repeat. the service was a bit slow at times and left much to be desired. our waiter was friendly, but clearly over-worked. the premises appeared mostly clean, but the restrooms did not - which is a warning sign in any establishment. and, it was only as we were leaving that we realized we'd ordered seafood on a monday.
was your experience better or worse dining in 2009? it's an open interpretation.
Where: In the past, thankfully.
Hours: 24/7, though I'd suggest going later only if you prefer the diner experience. Regular hours appeared (note: appeared, not were) more respectable.
Parking: Street. You're lucky if you get it.
[Amazing****, Good***, Eh **, Blech*]
on another note, the cactus garden is quietly kicking off 2010's main anthropology project. i'm starting a large, on-going, visual anthropology project that should make it's home in the anthropological archive gallery soon. (hopefully tonight or this weekend.) simply put, i'm looking for pictures of people and their favorite foods. so, send me a photo (or send me several) of you and/or your friends or family with your favorite (or a favorite - i understand having more than one favorite food). as of now, i don't have a photo resolution rule. (i'm waiting to see if there are problems with photos from phones and the like.) please give me the initials of the person or persons in each photo and tell me what food(s) are being showcased. (i'm good at guessing, but i'd prefer just to know for real.)
for questions, please send me a note here, either through the contact sm link or by posting a comment or starting a thread on the delectable debates page. if you've linked to this post through facebook, i'm on a brief hiatus from my account there. (i just clicked the share on facebook button to share this post.)