The $20 Free Lunch

Flaming Review Follows
Warning: Flaming Review Follows

Picture courtesy of FreeDigitalPhoto.Net/praisaeng

Sometimes, life just is one big, flaming bag of poop. This is probably not a traditional start for a food review, but it is an appropriate one.

* * *

In search of experience as a food critic, I have finally run up against the burning question which every Culinary Columbo must face: “Is it right to totally tank a restaurant’s reputation because of a bad day?” I’ll let you be the judge.

Following a whirlwind vacation in Chicagoland, I decided I need to do my bit for local tourism. So, Friday ,I took take my very special guy downtown for lunch. It was only after getting on Monroe Street that I discovered construction has turned the downtown area into an M.C. Escher nightmare. Streets went nowhere or suddenly became one-way in the opposite direction. (I am fairly certain I drove up the side of a building at one point.) Eventually I nudged my flame-red Toyota Echo into the perfect parking spot on Monroe Center, chortling at my good fortune.*   

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Fairy Image
*Cue the irony fairy.
Easy Cheese
**In this case: pretzels and projectile cheese. (Call it what you will, the force with which the aerosol propels cheese from a can is nothing short of rocket booster-esque. In a hold-up, I’d take a can of Easy Cheese™ over mace any day.)

I filled my pocket with quarters for the meter and then got distracted by the effort of coordinating my date—who will eat nothing at a restaurant that isn’t covered in syrup served with a side of bacon—and his haversack of emergency snack food**, and as a result, I entered the nearest restaurant without performing that one task that, if forgotten, can turn your sunshiny day upside down in the blink of an eye.

This is the part of the food review where I am supposed to wax poetic on the innovative use of space, the side of the room which housed a wall of no doubt, high-end wines in their impressive angular, shoebox-sized cubbies and the other side which was part deli, part corner store rummage sale. I ought to be waxing about the novel, handwritten artsy signs which made trying to read with bifocals the pretty, but distant, menu an exercise in near-sighted humiliation: “Do you have this printed anywhere in Pica 16 I can hold two inches from my nose?” Instead I will raise a pointed question: “If one, hypothetically, bites down on something and a tooth goes ‘crunch’ on un-chewable matter, is one obligated to inform the restaurant their food is booby-trapped?”

Now, in my opinion, that answer is a resounding, ‘Yes’. I was happily masticating my very delicious salad when I heard a horrifying sound reverberate through my skull—a sound which I can only image is what glass sounds like when it goes through a trash compactor. Now, I like hyperbole as much as the next girl, but let me tell you I am not kidding when I say I was entirely surprised that, when I spat that mouthful into my napkin, that there wasn’t a sparkling diamond and/or a trail of bloody spittle following.

Hazardous Salad
Hazardous: eat with caution.

I dithered, as I checked my mouth for open wounds and picked whatever rock-like thing it was I’d gnashed with overly fragile molars. Should I tell the management the salad bites back? Should I just finish up and leave? Then I came up with what looked like a large-sized grain of something hard. Possibly a piece of my tooth, possibly whatever it was I’d bit down on. I decided this was worth informing someone. 

This is the point of the story that gets kind of disgusting—but only to people who actually expect the restaurant to care whether they are serving sanitary, safe food. I went to the counter where I was met by a suspicious and hostile clerk who interrupted my explanation to go get a manager.

A young lady came over and asked what happened. I explained that I bit down on something in the salad and I showed her the piece of whatever it was—no doubt gifting her with my molar dna to replicate later, in private, for her alien overlords. She asked, “So, was it something plastic?” I whispered, as if I was afraid the health inspector had bugged the joint, “It sounded like glass.”

I heard the following when she walked back to the food counter to determine what it was I’d been served (paraphrased since I was ten feet away):

“What was it she ate?”

“A mixed salad with a lot of different ingredients.”

(Inaudible muttering which I took to be the decision that I was a con-artist who no doubt had eaten 90% of my meal and then complained in order to get my lunch for free.)

“…It wouldn’t be worth the trouble to go through everything.”

This last sentence I heard very clearly. They weren’t going to bother to check the food that, while delicious, apparently was working on commission for the tooth fairy.

I objected when the manager offered me a refund. “I don’t want a refund. I enjoyed the salad, it was delightful, right up until I broke a crown.”

Another underling came over and retrieved my credit card, when I protested again that I didn’t want a refund, he said, “No, my manager insists you get one.”

The thing is…they took my salad away. They took the bite I spit out away. It wasn’t until afterward that it occurred to me they wanted the evidence. They were apparently concerned about a frivolous, or fictitious, lawsuit. Perhaps the manager apologized at the time, but what I felt most of all when I left the restaurant was a burning embarrassment. That I was treated as if I was a plague upon their establishment. “The one who dared complain.”

Parking Ticket Hell
Will there be anything else?

 Leaving the place, red-faced and feeling like I was somehow at fault for trying to prevent a rash of tooth-related catastrophies, I was confronted by the final inequity: a parking ticket slapped on my windshield. My free lunch had cost me more than my dignity. It also cost me the absentminded-parent penalty tax.

Monroe Center Restaurant
One Star: If you overlook the dental damage, the meal was really good. (Irritating wait staff not pictured.)

So, I have decided that, as a food critic, I will refrain from judging a place based on an isolated incident. It might have been an overlooked stone in my lettuce. It might be that my dental hygiene has slipped and I need my enamel checked. I won’t name the restaurant. I will say, however, that treating a customer as if they were to blame for faults with your food pretty much guarantees you are not getting a four-star review. The nicest thing I can do is to omit naming the place and simply advise you to chew with caution at deli’s located on Monroe Center between numbers 56 and 58…oh, and don’t forget to feed the meter.

Now, you tell me, what would you have done?  Please comment below.  Thank you.

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4 thoughts on “The $20 Free Lunch

  1. How timely is this? My hubby broke a 63-year old molar on a corn chip at lunch today.

    I have also broken a tooth (my molars are in their 50’s) eating a benign something or other. Because I couldn’t feel the gap in my teeth immediately after the incident, I had the most difficult time recognizing the shard for what it was.

    The offer to refund the cost of your lunch was the right thing to do. The part they left out was concern for your well being as well as the well-being of other patrons. Whether or not they follow through on checking the food is not the point. You, the patron, should have left with the feeling that your needs were their main concern.

    Sounds like you had a day from hell. Sh*t happens. Teeth happen. My advice? Defer the review.

    Like

  2. Hmm, I thought my totally lack of presence on the blogosphere was sufficient to prevent any review from reaching the establishment. I have already published…does it make me mean spirited that I don’t want to take it down?

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    1. I just don’t know whether I am a whiner for mentioning it to them. They certainly seemed to think so. Half the reason I go out to eat (besides poor planning on my part) is to treat myself. Hence, the greater disappointment.

      Like

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