Everyone has one or more ugly dining experiences, one that the owner, chef and/or waiting staff believe they’re the best in the world and ignored the fact that you as a paying customer are entitled to express a suggestion or an opinion. This one was a bit scary since I was all alone in the dining room, trying very hard to defend against a husband and wife team.
Although the daily menu upfront told me they specialized in Italian cuisine, this cafeteria style kitchen restaurant, hidden in a tiny strip mall located in a residential area in S.E. Vancouver has a somewhat Japanese name. Hungry and curious, Some exp I decided to give it a try.
It was 1:15pm on a Friday when I walked in, a couple occupying a table was the only customer there. Pinned on the wall was a copy of a famous downtown Italian restaurant’s menu reminding diners the chef once worked there as a chef. “Boy, was I happy I bumped into this little neighbourhood eatery here. This may be a worthy culinary discovery!’ I told myself as I sat down!
The waitress, whom I guessed was the wife, came out with a simple menu inserted inside a plastic folder and a cup of cold water. But the day’s specials were written on a white board set at the corner at the back. I went and glanced over it and opted for the Beef Shank in wine jus with vegetables and potatoes for $13.00. She took the order and disappeared into the back, minutes later, came out with a little girl and started to do what looked like bead works at one of the tables. I was quite contented reading a book I carried with me. In a kitchen eatery with the simplest décor and a one-man kitchen, I knew not to expect too much of a service!
I was the only one in the restaurant when the nicely plated and decently-portioned beef shank arrived. She then disappeared to the back. The vegetables were tasty; the jus had good consistency but was too thick and salty for my liking, especially when there’s no bread, no pasta or rice to go with.
I returned to my food, while spinning my thoughts to see if I should ask for a side order of rice, bread or pasta to help soak up the jus. But I decided to have a cup of coffee instead. So I asked for one. By the time the coffee arrived, I had enough of the entrée already. While sipping coffee I started contemplating the idea of ordering dessert. So I asked if they had dessert. “Tiramisu.” “Home-made?” I went for it.
The coffee was half-gone when the waitress delivered the very moist and authentic tiramisu but disappeared again. By the time I consumed a couple bites, the coffee needed refilling. Since the waitress was not around, I had to go to the back and asked the chef to do the topping-up. He came, asked how everything was. That’s when the incident started.
After 15 seconds of chit-chatting about his culinary background and that they’re indeed a husband and wife team, I complimented on the plating and portion. Then I asked if I could make a suggestion.
‘Of course’, he said, but his body language was telling me to choose my words very carefully.
‘The beef shank is quite enjoyable, but the jus would go better with rice or pasta. I’m willing to have less meat but some rice instead.”
“You should have asked for rice!”
“Oh, I would have, but was not aware this is an option.”
“Well, if you read the other menu item on that board over there, like the Lemon Grass Pork Chop, it’s served with rice, you should have guessed!”
“Oh, sorry but I did not pay attention to the other menu items. The waitress didn’t say anything about that!”
"How would she know? It is up to you to ask!” He raised his voice.
“I had no idea what the dish is like and that it doesn’t come with rice, how could I ask before I see what’s on the plate?“
“Wow, all my other customers know, they never complaint!”
“I’m sorry but this is the first time for me. It would be nice if your wife mentioned that when I ordered. In other restaurants, they usually tell you.”
“Tell me where you can find a dish like this for $13? You come here for the food, not service!” His tone changed to high gear, his facial expression intensified.
“I’m not complaining about anything, I was just saying it would be nice if the beef shank is served with rice!”
“Too bad, this is how the kitchens I worked at are like. You know what, you haven’t seen anything yet! Don’t tell me what to do. You just like to complain, don’t you? You guys make me sick!”
From the point on, the situation got really ugly. He kept raising his voice while telling me I was being unreasonable and rude. “I’ve seen your kind; you’re one of those who likes to go around restaurant complaining to get free meal!!” Who knows what kind of experiences this chef had or imagined, or he simply has to say things to justify his argument. “This is a hole-in-the-wall eatery, with those prices, customers had to take whatever’s thrown to them!”
He was throwing his arms around and all of a sudden raised a hand to stop me from saying anything, and yelled, “This is my restaurant, I run it they way I like!”
Having heard the commotion, the wife came in and stood by his side. The very angry chef told her, “She complained about everything, even your service!!” Obviously upset at the situation and me for making a comment, she told me I had no right to complain. But the out-of-control chef rubbed in further by convincing her I was the one who started it and kept on saying ‘How dare she tells me what do to!” The wife instantly shot a disgusting stare at me and joined the force to prove they're right and I'm trying to scamp a free meal by complaining!
With them standing 4 feet away and me sitting down at the table in an empty room, all I could do was to shake my head and put on a smile. I paid the bill and left.
I have no idea how well this place is doing but with few customers during a Friday lunch, I could only imagine their frustration. Running a restaurant as a family business is tough, being in such a location is even tougher. I do wish them the best of luck!