July 7, 2010

Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

A condiment conundrum

I hate it when servers bring me something and try to pass it off as something else entirely, don’t you? Earlier this week, my boyfriend, John, and I were trying out a newish spot in the Highlands. On initial reconnaissance at a new place, I like to find out if the cook can actually, you know, cook, before I trust him to feed me offal or prepare some deadly poisonous blowfish sushi. So we ordered burgers and frites … but like the culinary magpie I am, I was distracted by something shiny that caught my eye from the other page of the menu. Artichoke aioli, it said — and like the magpie, I had to make it mine.

The server looked puzzled. “It’s right here,” I said, pointing to the words. “I know it doesn’t come on the burger, but I’d love to try some.”

Well, that aioli was a long time coming, but finally the moment arrived, and (with a drum roll and cymbal crash heard only in my head) the teensy, weensy soufflé cup of the marvelous substance was set before me while angelic voices sang softly from on high. John watched with interest to see my reaction, the server peered at me from behind her bangs while pretending to clean another table, and I’m pretty sure the cook was peeking from around the corner leading to the kitchen.

I lowered the tines of my fork toward the surface of the aioli and dipped, then tasted. Nothing. Artichoke? Really? Maybe mayo, maybe a little garlic powder. Certainly no discernible flavor of artichoke. Now let down, of course I felt obligated to make a “yum, yum” sort of face so I could eat the rest of my burger sans audience. “Mmm, it’s good,” I lied. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t special.

Later that week, I found myself lunching at a popular Baxter Avenue eatery, trying their famous fish and chips for the first time. Tartar sauce de rigueur, natch. Déjà vu overwhelmed me as I lowered my bite of fish toward the teeny, tiny soufflé cup of what was supposed to be tartar sauce, only to find it was … not tartar sauce, but something akin to tzatziki (the Middle Eastern condiment made from cucumber, yogurt or sour cream, and dill weed). “Is this tartar sauce?” I asked the server innocently. He allowed that it was. Now it was my turn to look puzzled. “You sure?” I asked. He assured me it was. Did he not know the difference? Had he mistakenly served me the wrong sauce and couldn’t bring himself to admit it? I obsessed on it for a good 10 minutes.

In the end, after writing in a generous tip despite several other service missteps, I impulsively wrote at the bottom of the ticket: “Dude, that was not tartar sauce.” Then I closed the check portfolio and skedaddled. So empowering! You should try it some time.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Café Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University.