In the course of a 30-year career as a restaurant critic, I’ve had more than my share of unpleasant experiences, perhaps none more than in an Indian vegetarian place in Missoula, Mont., that landed me in the ER, or an encounter with a live worm that crawled out from a cabbage leaf in my wife’s soup while we were lunching at a Korean restaurant on the Strip.
My wife warned me not to eat the rice in that Indian restaurant, but I told her it would be fine. “It’s old,” she insisted. By 11 p.m., I was sure that a gremlin was trying to remove my gallbladder with a trowel. I spent the night strapped to a gurney.
She wasn’t happy about the worm, or the cashier’s pusillanimous offer to remove her dish from the bill, either. When she suggested the entire lunch should be free of charge, the cashier demurred. “Your husband’s food was fine,” she was told.
I’ve been 86’d from restaurants for a number of reasons. At Sushi Fever, a Japanese restaurant operated by Koreans on the westside, the manager asked me to leave after I asked a waitress how to say Screaming Orgasm—the name of a hand roll—in her native tongue. If it’s good enough for English, I reasoned, then what the hell? The manager did not share my logic.
I even got thrown out of an Original Pancake House on Sunset Road (which isn’t there anymore) for bringing in my own maple syrup. I’m from New England, and I like pure maple syrup, which the management of our local franchises refuses to offer. “Outside food is not allowed,” the manager told me, asking me to leave.
One night, while in a Benihana of Tokyo, I was mistaken for someone else. “You owe me money,” came a booming voice from a man I’d never seen before. It turned out he thought I was a person called Billy Vlahos. Even after I showed him my ID, he was convinced it was a fake. “If I don’t get my money by Monday,” he screamed, “I’ll burn your house.”
I have a devil of a time getting a runny omelet, Thai food that isn’t so sweet it makes my teeth hurt and authentic Chinese dishes in areas in which the Chinese do not live. “Make it for me like you make it for your family,” I entreat them. They invariably nod, smile, and ignore me.
Speaking of being ignored, as much as a food critic like me complains about certain trends, no one seems to listen. So, as a measure of revenge, here is a compilation of dishes that constitute my Menu From Hell:
Starter: a scallop. I have nothing against the mollusk, but it’s already the perfect size, and every lazy chef serves one as an amuse. I’m sick of them, unless
they come deep-fried with tartar sauce, in a paper box.
Salad: chopped salad. Doesn’t anyone out there know that a chopped salad is made with little or no iceberg lettuce?
Main dish: Atlantic salmon. Why is this tasteless fish, which is farmed and filled with toxins, the salmon on our menus 99 percent of the time?
Dessert: tiramisu. If I even read the word “tiramisu,” I lose my appetite. This boring dessert isn’t worth the calories, but it gets more exposure than Paris Hilton.
Maybe next year I’ll tell you the story about the time I got in a fistfight over a falafel.