You know how movie previews give you an indicator of what genre of movie you are getting ready to watch? That's what happened Friday night when we went to the show at the new Riverwalk theatre complex. We were there to see a chick flick, so all the previews were, yup, chick flick previews!
Thankfully that wasn't the scenario on Sunday, when we went back to visit The Grille at The RiverWalk Crossing in Jenks, part of the third phase of businesses, apartments and office space on the west side of the river in Jenks, Oklahoma.
We started out with a preview of bruschetta. Four pieces of soggy bread topped with a mound of tasteless tomatoes, a few shavings of Parmesan or Peccorino: I couldn't tell which because it was all overpowered by some of the strongest, rankest, raw onions I have ever tasted. Truly overpowering. There may have been oil, fresh basil and other ingredients in there (I really don't think so), but I couldn't tell. So, to say I was pensive about my upcoming main feature, a Rib Eye steak, and my wife's scampi, is an understatement.
In the most technical of translations, bruschetta (brus-ketta) or "coal bread" refers not to the tomato concassee that accompanies the dish, but in fact to the grilled, oiled, garlic rubbed, and sometimes herbed bread that is the vehicle for getting the relish to your taste buds. Probably the most common accompaniment is a combination of virgin olive oil, seeded and skinned tomatoes, fresh garlic, and sweet aromatic basil, but it can be anything the chef or diner desires it to be. In this country it has become synonymous with the tomato relish for the most part.
The server (loosely used term in this case), came over to the table after several minutes and asked if we were ready to order. I could hear him, but eye contact was difficult since his ball cap was pulled down pretty low over his face.
Well, are there any specials tonight? "Oh, yeah!" he said. Out came a piece of paper, (I think the back of an old receipt) and he listed off several items so we could shop by price rather than appeal. Pu-leeeeze!
I had my heart set on the prime rib special listed on the sign at the front door, but alas, it wasn't available, nor was it even a special that night. I am supposing that they forgot to erase last night's sign? At any rate, it was a disappointing way to start.
Prime rib and rib eye steak are the same cut of meat with different preparations, so I opted for that instead. The menu at The Grille advertised my steak as a 14 oz. rib eye, hand-cut, in house. I'm guessing here, but after more than 40 years of cutting steaks, this one was probably no more than 12.
Nonetheless, it was an excellent piece of beef. Tender, juicy, and albeit ever-so-slightly overcooked, it was very, very, good. It came with a huge pile of real-deal, garlic infused mashers -- even had a few lumps as evidence as well as good flavor, and fresh broccoli.
My wife chose the Parmesan Crusted Tilapia. Much to her disappointment, they were out. In all my years in the business, I have never definitively decided whether it's better to have the server go to the table and announce that you are out of something, or let the odds play out and hope that won't be the item the customer chooses. Both set the tone for a less than perfect first impression, and for that reason, I have always tried to find an option to offer in it's stead: and always something of equal or better value. Turning a negative into a positive is especially important when dealing with hungry diners. There are very few restaurant kitchens that can't come up with something on a moment's notice to get them through the evening.
Her second choice was the Scampi. Let's get something straight here. All across America, many restaurant menus offer "Shrimp Scampi." That's like saying "Rib eye-Rib eye," or "Penne-Penne." Scampi IS shrimp, so just say scampi and be done with it.
She happily reported that it was very good. The bite I tried was flavorful, cooked perfectly and the shrimp were plump, moist, and large. Shellfish are so easy to overcook, and become dry and tough very easily. Luckily these were not.
Her baked potato was starchy and flaky, fresh and hot. Often kitchen staff will either wrap the potato in foil which creates a steamed, gummy potato, or grease the outside, resulting also in a soggy steamed potato, with a fried skin to boot. For best results, wash it well, air dry it, poke a hole or two in the skin to let the steam out, and bake it at 350 till just done. Perfect potato every time. This was, I am happy to say.
We both had broccoli. It was a bit soggy, but that tends to happen when it is boiled to order. The stems were actually cooked perfectly, but the buds were soggy and only half present. A better preparation might be to par cook it by steaming, cool it down for ala minute preparation, then gently heat it to order for 45-60 seconds in a bit of butter or olive oil. The buds would maintain their integrity a lot better. A minor detail, but if you like your veggies, this is a big deal.
Our dessert was Crème Brulee. As I have mentioned in the past, custard is as much about mouth feel as flavor, and this was absolutely one of the best I have ever had. It was creamy, rich, and not too sweet, and left us debating about whether to order a second one or not. The final vote was not, but it wasn't because of the food, but rather because of the service. More on that in a minute.
As we walked in, the front outside wall was adorned with a huge banner announcing the beer specials. OK, that's fine. Kind of a sports bar feel to it. We noticed a hostess stand about 20 feet into the area. So, we walked up to it and stood there. There was no indication of whether it was self-seating or not, but since we couldn't even figure out where to sit, it kind of answered the question for us.
We stood there for probably two-and-a-half minutes. There was a hand written sign announcing the evening's specials which I had time to read over and over ... and over. A half rack of ribs, moderately priced in the low teens, and a prime rib special for $18.99, that as I said wasn't on the menu that night. As we stood there, no one approached us for seating or greeting. Finally, I moved past the hostess desk to see if there was a process I wasn't getting, and as I neared the two girls one of them finally acknowledged me and asked "Oh, did you want to be seated?"
I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt here and say that with a huge game room/pool hall area, nine regulation pool tables, 16 or 17 flat screen tables with games on them, two full sized shuffleboard tables, a darts room, and another entertainment area set up for live bands and small concerts, maybe she didn't know we were there to eat, even though we stood at the hostess stand for several minutes with the proverbial "deer in the headlights" look.
We were escorted toward the dining area, and I asked if we could be seated outside, which we were. Several Tahiti style bamboo and reed roof structures are available near the water, after a pretty long walk through a number of picnic tables set up for seating for an outdoor small concert venue, we were put under one of them. It was lit with Japanese lanterns and rather pleasant actually. Menus were placed in front of us, and the waiting began.
Now, I don't know about you, but if you see a diner walking from his table, with his napkin in hand, obviously needing help, wouldn't you ask if there was something he needed? I would. But two other servers who both passed me and looked right at me didn't. What I was after was salt and pepper, which wasn't on the table, and which I need immediately after our young fellow put our entrees down. As he finally came out the door I asked him for the necessary condiments, and he responded with a polite, "Sure! Now where are you sitting?" Cheesh! I know I'm an old dude, and not that memorable, but come on!
According to our server the huge group of brand new, very attractive condos, a very short walk from the restaurant, are leased or owned somehow by Slumberget, and are used for putting up students that are here for temporary schooling. They have the potential to do a huge amount of business from a group of people who are probably in town for a week or two, and most without a car.
That's pretty much the service perspective of the whole evening. The servers were all very young, and very inexperienced. Nice kids, just totally left to their own devices as much as we could tell, sort of dining room anarchy. They need some serious training, coaching, scripting and supervision if The Grille is ever to become a "fine dining" establishment as they claim to be. There is a huge difference between good eating and fine dining, and they fell short of the mark.
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