Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Middling Bisque and Rockfish c/o Claw's

I should preface this whole thing, perhaps, by first laying out some of my basic thoughts about what a dining experience should be. I believe that when I go out to eat I usually have expectations, but that those expectations must function on a sliding scale determined by price point, past experience, excitement over menu options, word of mouth, more formal reviews and a basic awareness of my own preferences and attitudes. So when I go to Applebees and order a burger (I'm not actually sure I've ever been to Applebee's and eaten anything but that's not the point) I would expect that I would enjoy it, but that it wouldn't be particularly special or lovingly prepared. It would be chain-restaurant designed food prepared by a mainly indifferent kitchen staff and delivered by competent if not overly friendly front of house servers. Whereas if I went to an establishment where the entrees' average price was closer to $30 than $14, well I'd expect that every bite of that meal would be above average if not stupendously delicious and brain wowing. I'd expect servers to be knowledgeable and friendly (though at that price range, maybe I'd actually expect them to be slightly haughty) and to care about the food they were serving. I'd hope that the back of house staff were as passionate about the ingredients in their food as I try to be. In the end a surprisingly tasty $10 burger and genuine server at Applebees could get a better overall response from me than a $75 tasting menu where the server was rude/condescending and the food didn't live up to the hype or price tag. Usually I come into a meal with a good overall understanding of what to expect. And sometimes those expectations are surpassed so entirely that a favorite restaurant is born, or a often lusted after restaurant proves to be a let down. My point being, I generally have the ability to have reasonable expectations as far as what I'm going to get from a meal and it's very rare that they're so out of whack with reality that I get a little annoyed or feel the need to write at length about the faults or flaws in a dining experience.

This brings us to Claw's Seafood Restaurant. Unless I'm just making things up, this is at least partially owned and operated by the same folks as Fin's. When I decided to return to Rehoboth for my last dinner in Delaware I decided I'd either return to Fin's or try Claw's. I planned on determining the restaurant by taking a look at both of their fish boards (I had a hankering for rockfish) upon my arrival in town. As I passed Fin's, I saw no mention of rockfish on their chalkboard outside, so I made my way closer to the beach and Claw's, where rockfish was, in fact, an option. Because I was accustomed to Fin's no reservation policy and the fact it was an early Saturday evening, I knew that I'd probably have to wait some amount of time before being seated; this expectation was met. I sat on a bench just behind the hostess stand (reading Storm of Swords) and contentedly waited about 10 or 15 minutes in the shade before  my funny coaster buzzer doo-dad began vibrating. I was quickly escorted inside by a teenage girl and seated at a two-top. As I said, my expectations about the busy-ness of the place were met. As was the general make-up of the serving staff: looks like local kids back from college for the summer, average age not much more than 22 I wouldn't think. The remainder of my expectations were not quite as well met. I expected above average food and friendly service. I expected the rockfish to be as transcendentally simple but delicious as it had been at Fin's last summer. I didn't expect to become best friends with my server, but I did expect a little personalized attention and enthusiasm.

A young dude came over, looking a little harried. He didn't make much eye contact, and when I tried to sort of ask him about beers or whether I'd be happier with the rockfish or the lobster special (1/14 lb lobster for $16.99), he had no patience or interest in helping me along or providing me any opinion of his own. I don't expect a server to become my friend or magically know my tastes and preferences, but this guy's attitude was one of 'I literally will only take your order and don't really care much about any of this.' And that sets a kind of shitty tone for a meal, especially when you're dining alone. Dining alone is fine. It's something I do with some regularity. And as long as I have a book, notebook and paper, glass of beer or wine, and some tasty morsels to look forward to, I'm cool. I don't need to have 20 minute conversations with serving staff to somehow bolster myself through the meal that I'm eating solo. But seriously, spend an extra minute with me and engage. This is actually just true regardless of the number of folks in a party. Just a little eye contact and willingness to pause a moment and consider a question. That's really all I ask (and a promptly delivered check). And on the whole this guy didn't do it. Was he actively rude? No. Did he leave me stranded without beverage or meal for any inordinately long amount of time? No. But did he in any way improve the meal or dining experience? No.

This brings us to the red pepper and crab bisque special soup of the day. I liked the sound of it, but didn't feel like the waiter was going to give me any real guidance, so I ordered it without asking more about it. Perhaps the  success of this meal really was hinged upon this bisque, and not the rather hands-off, inattentive service. Perhaps my expectation of what a bisque should be is incorrect. I was always under the impression that bisque shouldn't have the consistency of a movie theater's pump nacho cheese. But maybe I really am just a philistine in foodie's clothing. This stuff was thick in a way that just confused me. It lacked any sort of ability to move or swirl. Was this a matter of a corn starch-mad back of house? It was the sort of thing that I could take a spoon, dip it in, turn the spoon upside down and a good portion of that spoonful would not slip easily back into the bowl, but would instead sort of hang there, coating the spoon until it ungracefully plopped back into the bowl like a rock in a bucket. Now I won't complain too much, I made the choice to order  the dish and I have a very hard time actually expressing dislike of a food to a server or chef. So I didn't say anything. I didn't push it away after two bites. I took more bites, wondering if the taste at least would grow on me even as the texture and consistency made me a little queasy. And I won't lie, I basically ate the whole bowl in this fashion, trying to figure out if I was just missing something, or if this dish as as mediocre/poorly executed as I had thought on the first bite. Here are the positives I can say for this 'bisque': it was not terribly skimpy on including  pieces of crab and a few shrimp in the bowl ... and it didn't need salt.
For the main meal I ordered rockfish, which came with the choice of sauce and two sides. I chose the "Key West Ber Blanc," which I'm not wholly convinced is a real thing. For sides I went with the mac n' cheese and steamed broccoli. Paradoxically the mac n' cheese's sauce/cheese ratio could have been thicker. It's like all the thickness went to the bisque. The broccoli was perfectly steamed - still vibrant green, not overcooked grean. The rockfish was cooked just fine and was good with just the juice of a lemon, though it wasn't quite as memorable or amazing as the rockfish I enjoyed last August at Fin's.Though I wonder if I didn't enjoy it as much because I was already a little bummed by the service and bisque.
So, on the whole, this last meal left me feeling a little disappointed. The atmosphere of Claw's was lively, families and young folk alike digging into crabs, fish and what have you. Service wasn't overly friendly, but it was quick and efficient, which I know makes sense for a busy Saturday evening. But the bisque and the brusqueness, nonetheless, tainted the overall experience. I wouldn't go back, honestly. Fin's has pretty much the same menu, but with a larger oyster selection, a slightly better configured dining and bar space, and servers who bother to look you in the eye. I don't know, maybe Fin's was also serving the bisque at their place, and I would have been just as let down. We'll never know now, that's for sure.

1 comment:

nc catherine said...

Ok here it is. Bisque is not fancy schmancy for wallpaper paste. If the stuff hung onto your spoon as if it was the last lifeboat off the Titanic, not good. And bisque plus brusque definitely can color a meal. In not a good way.

I went to a highly recommended hole in the wall place in Wilmington, perfectly happy to sit alone and watch the world go by. The waitress, harried and frazzled, gave me the "oh dear God not an old bat dining alone on the patio what a crappy tip I will get" face and a large part of me wanted to go, huh sure outta here. But I stayed, and she rallied to be more pleasant, and my she crab soup was awesome, the flounder only ok, but yeah my overall experience was tainted with her initial vibe. Had the soup been like wallpaper paste well yes I would have been royally peeved. Despite that I left a really good tip, having been in the food server bidniz for bloody ever, and maybe Miz Harried won't instantaneously judge badly the next solo old bat.