Throughout the week, veteran restaurant world writers and critics will offer accounts of the worst shitshows they've ever encountered, continuing today with former Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton. Want to submit your own story of shitshowdom? The tipline is open.
Now let’s see. There is so much rich material to choose from. Might it have been a lunch at a trattoria in the beautiful Etruscan town of Orvieto when the chicken came with lots of hairy feathers lurking over breasts and legs? Or maybe it was the evening in the West Village at the short-lived restaurant, Cobblestone, when I and five guests ascertained that our Bloody Marys were made with spoiled (fermenting) tomato juice but got arguments from management and so cancelled the rest of the meal only to be followed down the street by a manager who kept shouting, “I know who you are. And the minute you walked in I felt the bad vibes! Bad vibes!” Or maybe it was a pre-Christmas evening at the then-new Water Club when after serving wine to my group, the captain refused to give us menus saying, "We have reason to believe a restaurant critic is at this table and we are not yet ready to serve critics."
Embarrassing enough as is, but imagine how I felt “disguised” in a long wig with heavy bangs and dark-rimmed glasses. (Management, of course, called Page Six the second we were out the door to ensure that the event would be reported the very next day, as it was.)
Looking back, however, I think such questionable kudos rightfully belong to the once-fashionable, high-society Parisian import, Regine’s. The famously red-headed doyenne had just opened her first American outpost on Park Avenue. Among several visits was the kind of Saturday night a restaurant critic (or, at least, this restaurant critic) longs for, full of the disasters that make great copy.
Having reservations made in the name of the friend who would accompany us with a date, we entered at about 8 and the place was jammed. The distraught maitre d’ looked us, sighed and said, "I don’t where I’m going to seat you. We are inundated with royalty tonight.” Then in an aside to a captain, he added, “The king will be here at midnight with six bodyguards.” Not a very popular king, apparently.
From there proceedings went downhill. The cramped corner he found for the commoners assured that the chairs of two of us would be systematically kicked all night by passersby. After a totally lacklustre meal the captain asked how we had liked it and, when we all just sort of shrugged, he said, "Well you can’t fight City Hall."
On this night, as at most of the several other meals I had there, I was refused soufflés for dessert although they were indicated as a house specialty. The reason given: The soufflé oven was broken, although just how a soufflé oven differs from any other kind was never explained. One night, I won and four of us got flavorless, soggy soufflés so perhaps the oven – or the chef – really was broken.
Looking back over the review I wrote, and which won Regine’s a “poor” rating, I find a litany of culinary misfires: spoiled mussels, dried out salmon, shrimp reeking of iodine, rubbery quenelles, an acidic metallic tinge to the duck foie gras, and beef carpaccio splintered with ice crystals. And more?or less. And so it went inspiring what proved to be one of my best-remembered, most often quoted reviews for the New York Times.
· Restaurants; Village steakhouse, East Side glitter [NYT]
· All Shitshow Week 2011 Content [~ENY~]