Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I just got back from Sebastian's in Burbank, the latest restaurant to be crucified by Gordon Ramsey, get buried, and come out all shiny and new on Kitchen Nightmares. When I walked into the dining room I was absolutely giddy, "There he is! The guy who yells! he just greeted me! The guy who yells just greeted me!" I had to run into the bathroom and call my friend, Lynn, who I was planning to meet because I was so excited about the Moody Chef. She asked incredulously, "Are you calling from the BATHROOM? I'm standing out here waiting for you!" Neither Lou nor the cute waitress were there.
One of the 2 bathroom stalls was out of order, and whatever was going on caused a dip in the floor that they had attempted to cover up with a rug. I tripped on it twice. I can't imagine what will happen when some old lady breaks her hip.
Of course I walked in just looking for problems. The tablecloth had black charred dust on it, there was a very, very dead rose in one of the vases, and my bread plate was chipped (we never received any bread to put on the bread plates). The menu was also covered with a light dusting of powder, and I could only assume it was from the pizza ovens. At one point the entire place filled with a plume of smoke, and all of the doors had to be opened.
My friend, Lynn, is also a super-picky food critic. I said, "You know, with all of these Ramsay restaurants it seems to be attention to detail. How hard would it be to throw away that shriveled black rose? They don't see it?" Lynn pointed out, "There is a Trader Joe's selling flowers ACROSS THE STREET." I also noticed a hole where the wall had been opened up near the floor and some electrical pipe was exposed. A work in progress. They can't hide that? Ramsey would be SO MAD his forehead would wrinkle up like a sharpei!!!
The menu, which was once a confusion of -
"Pick a flavor"
"Pick a meat"
"Pick whether it should be a sandwich, salad, or main dish"
had been pared down. Now there were a few appetizers, and about 6 salads. The pizzas and sandwiches still had the weird flavor combo thing. At some point Moody Chef (Was his name Sebastian? I don't know) overheard me say, "I want steak AND hot wings". He pointed out that I could have a sandwich with the "flavor combination" of buffalo wings and steak. What? Ugh. Buffalo steak? Can't people just TELL what flavors don't go together? Every single sandwich - Parmigiana, etc, would have been fine with chicken, but with steak or portabella? No thank you. Bad combinations.
My friend pointed out that every flavor combination on the sandwiches and pizzas contained just one ingredient too many. It almost sounded good, and then - gorgonzola? No! Everything had one extraneous flavor that ruined it. It seemed like there was still some serious denial happening with Moody Chef.
We ordered buffalo wings, which were mushy and unevenly coated. My friend assumed they were frozen. Probably. I'm so used to Sysco foods coming out of kitchens everywhere, and all of the fish and meats from freezers, it's sometimes hard to tell. I'm almost becoming desensitized to the subtleties of texture other than "Bad". My palate, however, is still super-sensitive and the chicken was obviously fried in the same oil as the fish.
We split a bacon-cheddar-mozzarella-red onion pizza that Lynn invented from the make-your-own-pizza section. Moody chef was tossing the pizzas himself. The dough was fantastic. Cheddar and bacon were ingenious on a pizza. But the underside of the dough had a black, charred oiliness towards the center that left a pool of oil the color of absinthe on the plate. Not very appetizing.
We had asked to have the steak halved in the kitchen for us. It arrived in one piece with some nice new potatoes and an odd nouvelle cuisine sculpture of vegetables. Lynn mumbled something about them not splitting it for us as we'd asked and Moody Chef ran right over. Which meant he was listening to every word we said. The steak, which we assumed was a Ramsay dish, was half-excellent and half-awful. The tender part of the steak was nicely seasoned and one of the best steaks I've had lately. The rest was fat and gristle.
At one point Moody Chef came over to chat, and asked if we'd seen the show. I started in on it, and my friend later said she would never have admitted it to him. But I wanted to see what he would say. He said, "You know that show is not real, don't you?" Oh Boy!!!! This was getting good! He continued, "We don't even own a microwave. They brought in the microwave for the crew to warm up their meals, and then pretended it was mine."
I said, "It did seem like your moods changed very quickly, so there must have been some serious editing." He said, "All the yelling you see, that was late at night, when the restaurant was closed. You'll notice, when I walk off it's night and I'm wearing a black jacket, then magically I'm wearing a white jacket and it's daytime."
I said, "Well, every show has a story arc where he has to break the manager or cook or whoever for them to finally accept the changes. Did he really yell in your face?" The diner at the next table, with a heavy accent, said, "Your nice steak is getting cold." Fuck the steak. I didn't care about the steak. This was the good stuff here. Then Moody Cook said, "Yeah, I'll come back. We'll talk after you eat." Damn! Damn! Damn! Lost him.
I told my friend, who is officially blogging the story, "I wish you didn't have dibs on this one. It's getting good." She was tepid, "It's OK." I asked, "Can't you smell the blood? I feel like a shark sensing blood in the water!!!"
At the end of the meal, when the restaurant was full and he was clearly busy, he asked how the meal was. I said, "It's a shame I can see you're too busy to chat now." My friend gave him her card and said she'd like to talk. He said something about the menu. I said, "No. We're not interested in a review. We're interested in your experience with the show." (Really, I have a lot of questions. How did they get picked, how long was the crew there? How much was Ramsay there and how much was it just the crew? How often did Ransay yell at him? What else did he think was staged?). He said, "I might not be able to say much because of my contract."
I asked, "Ramsay made you sign a contract?"
"Sort of, see, I'm gonna have my own show."
"Like Rocco DiSpirito?"
"No, well, like..."
"Like a cooking show at the cooking network?"
"Well, I can't say...the contract."
As we left I called out, "Good luck with the umm thing!"
I didn't mention that they don't pick people for reality shows because they really have their shit together.