A few years ago, things were rough at school and I was a bittermelon*. I got upset easily, turned people away from me, was critical of everything and mostly found faults in mankind. Long story short, I became a misanthrope and immersed myself in two things: anime and foreign language. Ironically, the former taught me to think more positively, and the latter brought me new friends. Then I realized that when I suppress my negative thoughts, eventually they dissipate on their own and I would feel so much better without bothering anyone with my complaints. In America, we are encouraged to express our negative feelings. People like to see and hear about problems (that’s why the daily news are mostly bad news and the reality shows are full of anger). Some people say that it’s good to let it out. That’s true, but it’s only temporary. Complaining is like eating chips, it’s impossible to stop**. Anger multiplies when it’s let loose. The more cynical I feel about a situation, the more depressing scenarios I envision, and it only goes downhill from there.
These days I try to appreciate everything more, and when some incident doesn’t seem so appreciable at first, I find it funny, which clears my mind and then I can see something to appreciate. But sometimes I lapse back into the critical mode, especially when it’s about food. It’s easy to lower my expectations and like everything. It’s also easy to write a very bad review. But it’s hard to find the good points while maintaining my high expectation. A bad review gives the temporary satisfaction of being in the position to judge. A good review for a not-so-good experience makes me appear goody-two-shoes and lose my credibility. One solution is that I only write about the good experiences. But I think that defeats the meaning of a blog. A diary doesn’t have only happy entries, why should a food blog talk only about the good food?
Every bad experience at a restaurant puts me into this dilemma. Cafe Rouge is the most recent one. Here’s my first draft when I sat down to write about it:
On my birthday, we went for drinks at Teance and then we got famished. Drinks for me are not alcohol but a few pots of tea. That’s the great thing about tea: it gives you an appetite. If you ever feel like you ought to eat something but just don’t feel hungry, drink some tea on an empty stomach, the next thing you know is that all you can think about is food. So we were famished, and we headed over to Cafe Rouge next door.
I should stress again that I was famished. Everything tastes better when you’re hungry, that’s a known fact. I could hardly wait to spread the velvety duck liver flan on my tongue and sink my teeth into a succulent slab of steak. The good thing is I didn’t have to wait too long. The problem, though, is that neither of my dreams came true. The duck liver flan was underseasoned and not smooth enough. The steak was so tough I thought I was chewing on a coil of rope.
Would a rare sear make it better? The full story goes like this: on the menu it said “Grilled bavette steak with sweet potatoes, broccoli, red wine cippolini onions and herb butter 24.” — I didn’t know what bavette steak was. The waitress asked me how I’d like my steak, I told her somewhere between medium and medium rare, she said let’s do the medium rare and if it’s too rare I can send it back to the kitchen for more sear. Turned out the cut was extremely sinewy. Even in the middle, where it’s still bright red. I told the waitress, and she said yeah well this is not like New York steak so hmm too bad…
So I gave up halfway and grudgingly waited for desserts.
We narrowed it down to 4 choices: vanilla panna cotta, chocolate streusel cake, granitas, and chocolate ice cream profiteroles, then we asked the waitress what she thought. She highly recommended the panna cotta, and said the following about the granitas: “it’s like a sorbet, if you’re into that kind of thing then it’s good”. We’re into sorbet, so we got the granitas. But granitas ain’t no sorbet, it’s water ice. Seven dollars for a tiny cup of water ice is too much. And not even very flavorful water ice at that. Huge disappointment.
So that’s my luck with Cafe Rouge. The seafood cioppino and the cassoulet that my friends chose turned out a little too seasoned for my taste, but a hundred times better than my steak.
Here’s what I should think:
The restaurant is well-designed, I enjoyed looking from the upstairs at the people’s plates down below. My friends enjoyed their seafood and stew. Today Cafe Rouge’s dinner menu has “Grilled hanger steak with flageolet beans, radicchio and almond bread sauce”, so I wiki-ed “hanger steak”. This cut is “prized for its flavor”, which means its texture is tough. Then I clicked around and read about the other beef cuts. In the end, the steak taught me something new.
We should have listened to the waitress in the matter of desserts. Again, we went in not knowing what “granitas” was and went out knowing exactly what it was, so we got wiser by paying 7 dollars. That’s a cheap price for information.
Most customers around us ordered the burger ($14). While fancy burgers are like Rothko’s paintings to me, some people appreciate them. Maybe the rest of the menu also connects to people at such levels, which I simply couldn’t comprehend.
I probably won’t go out of my way to revisit Cafe Rouge, but its menu changes often and I go out of my way to Teance all the time anyway. When I have a more forgiving heart, and maybe a lot of hunger, I’ll stop by.
I prefer the mild, more positive view, although it’s like steamed rice. Next, I need to figure out how to make it funny. 😉
(*) Actually, I LOVE bittermelon! Bittermelon soup, bittermelon stir fried with egg, stuffed bittermelon. I love it so much that the first word I could think of that contains “bitter” was “bittermelon”.
(**) In high school health class, the teacher showed us a video about two anorexic twin sisters. When asked how they became anorexic, the surviving sister said that they were chubby when they were little, so one day they decided to lose weight and competed with each other to see who could lose more weight. The only detail that I remembered is that they would eat only 2 potato chips when they ate any chips at all. The interviewer asked her “How could you eat only TWO chips?!” With a lot of willpower.