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This Day in My History

  Rude Awakening
  Bev Slept Here
 No Peanutbutter with this Jelly
2003:  The Moving Fingers Type
2004:  Not At All Intuitive 



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Why don't you just sit home and have a bowl of kibble, like me?


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30 May 2005

On the heels of last night's dinner out at Ludy's BBQ restaurant, prior to going to see Picnic at the Woodland Opera House, today's "Sunday Brunch" seemed quite timely.

1)  Do you enjoy eating out, and why?

I adore eating out, perhaps because we don't do it often.  I know people who eat out at least once a week, but we have never done that.  I love having someone else prepare a meal for me.  I love the choice of something I might never prepare at home.  Mostly, I love not having to make the decision about what to do with tonight's chicken breast.  After 40 years of creating meals every night, it's a real treat to be able to have someone else do the cooking.

2)  Where is your favorite restaurant?

That's a more difficult decision to make.  It kind of depends on what kind of food I want.  We are "blessed" with a plethora of ethic restaurants from which to choose around here.   I have a favorite Thai restaurant, several good places for Chinese food, a couple of nice places for Italian, a great place for sushi and a nice Greek restaurant.  Unfortunately, nothing really outstanding for Mexican, at least not in Davis.

I suppose if I had to pick a favorite restaurant in the greater Davis area, it would be Isabella, our Mexican daughter's place in Sacramento.  Not only because we know her and feel she is like a daughter, but also because she makes a darn good, varied menu, which is more "continental" than anything else.  (she also doesn't usually charge us for food, which is lovely)

3)  What are your standards for tipping?

Well, having had a son who worked in restaurants for years, I am fairly generous with tips if service has been good.   At least 20% and I'll go higher for outstanding service.  We once went to a restaurant for coffee/tea with Walt's mother.  We sat there for an hour or more over a cup of tea and because we didn't order food, Walt's  mother left a small tip.   Tom held back and put more money on the table, since he knew how much the wait person relied on the tip (He also was, at that time, the manager of that particular restaurant!)

4)  Do you have one entree, appetizer or dessert that you specifically go out to get at a restaurant from time to time?

Cracked crab.  I love dungeness crab and almost never buy it because it's such a pain to prepare.  But if we are at a seafood place that is serving crab, I will almost always order it.  (Except in Maryland, where they insist on ruining it with Old Bay seasoning.  I like my crab unadulterated). 

Also, while I don't go out to a restaurant specifically for a dessert, and we rarely order dessert, when I do get dessert, I'll go either for cheesecake or creme brulee.  All those rich-looking cakes generally don't taste as good as they look, to me.

5)  Describe a horrific incident that you had while dining out.

That one's easy.  Actually we had two horrific incidents, and both were at the same restaurant, Soga's in Davis.  Soga's is an upscale place that used to be a favorite until they moved to a new venue and got more fancy and more expensive.  

We gave them some settling in time and then one night when Walt’s mother was here, we decided to go out for a fancy dinner and thought we’d investigate the "new" Soga’s. The details of that night have blissfully blurred into oblivion for the most part, but the thing I remember most was that we arrived within the first hour of business and three of us ordered three different things from the menu and after waiting an interminably long time, we were informed that two of the choices were things they're out of. At 6 p.m.? So we re–ordered and again after an inordinately long wait, we were informed that one of the second orders was also something they were out of. By this time we were all ready to eat cardboard, so we just ordered appetizers and left.

I sent a letter of complaint to the owner of the restaurant after that experience. I am good about complaint letters. I’m also very good about praise letters. I figure if I’m going to bitch about bad experiences, I also need to conscientiously praise good experiences. I am generally polite, but somewhat sarcastic. And in almost all cases where we have had valid bad experiences, the restaurants have chosen to make it up to me in some way with a discount or a free dinner or something (one master chef told me mine was the best complaint letter he’d ever read and gave me a $100 gift certificate!). Soga’s, however, sent a letter of apology. Period.

We hadn't intended to return ever again, but decided to give them one more try, on the idea that maybe we had just hit them on an off-night.  Besides, we had a two for one coupon and figured the price was right. When we entered the restaurant there were four tables occupied and not a single wait person or hostess in sight. I timed it. We stood at the front desk for 10 minutes waiting for someone to notice we were there and show us to a seat.  By this time, based on our previous experience, I had started timing things to see how long it actually took to get served.

We were finally seated at a table and handed menus. Fifteen minutes later, the waitress stopped by to ask if we wanted something to drink. We ordered wine and Walt ordered a salad. 45 minutes after we arrived at the restaurant, 35 minutes after we were seated, and 20 minutes after the waitress took the order, Walt’s bowl of lettuce arrived. Now it was a fancy bowl of lettuce, I grant you--but 20 minutes for a salad? There were only four or five other tables occupied in the restaurant, people!

As for the entree, it arrived one full hour after we had been seated. Any other time I might have gotten up and walked out, but I was taking notes and wanted to see what would happen.

I’m not sure what the problem there was. But part of it had to be the computer. The waitresses spent more time at what looked like a laptop computer monitor than they did serving tables. (I swore at one point they had to be reading e-mail!) When I go to Denny’s, the cashier takes all of 3 minutes to ring up charges. The way these gals frowned at their books and frowned at the terminal and stood there scratching their heads, I was convinced that each bill came not only with items ordered, but with the eye color of the patrons, and their approximate shoe size.

The restaurant has a very classy look to it—fuzzy walls, fresh flowers at every table, candles for the tables which have zero lighting on them (ours, for example), and cloth tablecloths, but tacky butcher paper over the cloth. But then in the middle of all this plush decor, out comes a guy from the kitchen in a dirty t-shirt, a long dirty apron, and rubber surgeon-type gloves on his hands. He’s walking around the restaurant going over to the bar. I’m not sure who he was, but I know he was going back into the kitchen to handle my food. I was not too pleased about that.  I know there are things that go on behind the kitchen doors that no patron should ever see.   Intellectually I know this, but I'd prefer not to have it displayed so graphically as I'm waiting for my food. Just as I don't want to know what goes on behind anybody's bedroom door, I also don't want to know what goes on behind the kitchen door. There are just certain things that are better left "idealistic."

A guy who seemed to be in charge wore a very nice pair of slacks, a dress shirt, a tie, and what looked like a blue dishrag hanging from his belt. I thought at first that he just forgot to take it off his belt when he emerged from the kitchen, but since he was like that the entire time we were there, I guess he must think it looks cool or something.

I will admit that once the food finally arrived, it was delicious. I had pistachio-crusted salmon served over mango coconut rice and steamed spinach. Walt had sea scallops on rice triangles with reduced balsamic vinegar. In presentation and taste I could find no fault.

When we finished our dinner, we sat and waited and waited and waited. Finally the waitress came to ask if we wanted dessert.

But eventually they got efficient.  The waitress put the bill on the table and I swear within 30 seconds she was back to ask if we needed change or anything. Walt said he hadn’t looked at it yet. She went away and 2 minutes later was back again to pick it up.  Obviously getting money was much more important to the staff than providing service.

By the time we left, I looked at my watch and it had been 2 hours. I also counted the occupied tables in the place: 6. Now while 2 hours is not unreasonable for a relaxed dinner, the pace of Soga’s was totally unreasonable given the few other patrons in the place. The food was excellent, the waitress, when she came to our table, quite pleasant. But the total dining experience, since this was the second time we’ve dealt with the apparent inefficiency, has convinced me that the quality we once knew at Soga’s of old is no more. We will no longer be visiting this restaurant, which is a shame because it used to be my favorite place to take folks for a special dining experience.

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(Photo from the Soga's web site)

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