Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hateful Buffets and the D.C. Dining Scene

I specialize in peculiar and frustrating restaurant experiences. There was the “shrimp embryo” incident of ’99. That time Eggroll found a staple in his food (we pointed this out to a manager, who simply shrugged and walked away). The waitress that added our neighbor’s bill to ours, then was surprised when we objected at being overcharged by $40.

Until Sunday, I believed the Worst Establishment in D.C. was Café Saint-Ex. There appears to be a snootiness arms race going on between the staff and the patrons. Each and every night, it’s a war to see who can be the biggest jerk. The last time I went there (and the last time I will ever go there), Sean and I got trampled everywhere we went. In tiny little corners, upstairs, downstairs, near the bar, away from the bar, it didn’t matter. We must have tried ten different locations. Every little hiding space we found was disrupted five seconds later either by a waiter jostling us or a patron stomping our feet. We call it “Saint-Ex: Where You’re Always in the Way.”

But we have a new contender for Worst Establishment in D.C. And I’m sad to say it’s one of those divey places that I usually adore.

Over the weekend, Bob and I decided to go for brunch in Capitol Hill. I’d been to Mr. Henry’s for burgers and beer before, so brunch seemed like a fine idea. Strike one against Mr. Henry’s is that they don’t have a brunch menu, just the buffet.

Most people who know me know I don’t really care for buffets. There are two reasons for this. The major reason is that I’m a small person who can only ingest so much food before I get a stomachache (a “Shannon Portion” is about half the size of a normal portion). So I never eat enough to justify the expense of a buffet. The other is that I go to restaurants to have food brought to me. If I wanted to get up and serve myself I'd stay home and cook.

Strike two was when we ordered coffee. We were served our (very weak) coffee in Styrofoam cups with plastic stirrers. As Bob noted, it was like getting coffee from a gas station. Is it too much to ask to receive actual mugs at a sit-down restaurant?

Then we went up to the buffet, and wow, what a ripoff. For $13 a head, the restaurant specifically chose to serve $4.36 of the absolute cheapest and most mediocre food it could find - the least expensive kinds of fruit (canteloupe and grapes), plenty of starches, chewy cuts of meat, just cheap cheap cheap all the way down the line. Also, there was only one set of tongs shared among several buffet items, which doesn't strike me as up to code.

The third strike, though, wasn’t the food. At this point my expectations had sunk so low that cheapness and mediocrity were far better than I had dared to dream. The third strike was negotiating a flight of narrow stairs to get back from the buffet. The servers were hanging around gabbing in the doorway, which struck me as a bit dangerous (not to mention rude, as they wouldn't budge and we had to clamber around them).

I'm not a picky lady. There are plenty of great places to eat around here, upscale to downscale and all points in between. I'm polite to servers, I tip well and always say please and thank you. I just want to have a nice time and get my money's worth. But, wow, it'll be Armageddon before I set foot in Mr. Henry’s again.

Anybody got any fun restaurant horror stories? If so, please share them in the comments section.


Hey Pretty said...

As another little thing with a small appetite, I second your ire towards buffet. Plus, who wants to nosh on food that's been sitting around and picked over by other people for hours?

suicide_blond said... kinda like.. everything that is WRONG in dining... excessive mediocrity..ugh...its just chubby folks pushing each other out of the way for the last sausage...
and once in NYC..a waiter PUSHED me out of his way..sooo as bad as DC can be..until one knocks me down... its not soooo bad...

Shannon said...

Plus, with buffets, the idea is to serve as much food as they possibly can, as cheaply as they can. I have little interest in mediocrity.