I have no one to blame but myself. I knew exactly what I was doing. There was no coercion from my lovely wife, no burning desire for a particular dish, and I had plenty of gas in the tank, so the world was our oyster. Yet I chose a restaurant that I knew was going to disappoint me, and boy oh boy, it didn’t disappoint! Ridgewood is a town filled with restaurants, and stunningly, beyond all logic and statistical probability, not one of them is any good. But I also chose one of the restaurants that I knew fairly well; I didn’t even choose one of the new or redone joints (Gordon Ramsey was in town recently, to shoot an episode of his horrible “let’s fix the crappy restaurant” show) that I assume are lousy, although I don’t have any hard evidence. To be fair, Radicchio isn’t lousy, it’s just so overpriced for the quality that we stopped going there several years ago. But we were stuck between a crappy margarita (my wife got the serviceable martini) at a redone, and still awful, bar and a reliable restaurant in a nearby town that was inexplicably closed for a private party. So we gave this place one more shot.
Shockingly, the first course wasn’t bad at all. A simple spinach salad with thinly sliced fennel and a large amount of Parmigiano (or so the menu said). It was dressed with a lemon vinaigrette that worked nicely with the licorice of the fennel and the intensity of the cheese. And it wasn’t an awful value (but it was more expensive than advertised on the website). My wife had a “special” that sounded nice: tuna and yellowtail sashimi with a cucumber and tomato salsa, dressed with a wasabi sauce. And nice it was, although the salsa was a bit unbalanced and had far too much cucumber. Notice that I put the word special in quotation marks? That will be explained anon.
The main courses were nice, but nothing I would get too excited about. And they too were “specials.” Actually, my wife had one of the appetizers that sounded good, but she loves soft-shell crabs, so I expected this order. A single fairly large crab that was a few days past being a true soft-shell. But this is July; I can’t get worked up over that. I had a simple pork Milanese (slightly overdone), dressed nicely with a bit of greens and some chopped tomato. Both were nice. Not great, not even very good, but simple preparations done well enough not to get us upset.
So why am I still fuming four days later? Because those “specials” were special in only one way: their ability to improve the bottom line of the restaurant and the waiters who touted them. I expect specials to be priced in line with the rest of the menu. Perhaps on the high side, but certainly not well in excess of the price one would expect. That pork dish I had was a single pork chop that had been pounded flat, dredged in an egg wash and bread crumbs and then pan fried. The garnish was a few ounces of greens and chopped tomato. Nothing out of the ordinary, and the cost of the ingredients was minimal. The pork chop was no more than 8 ounces, and at a very generous $4/lb., it cost the restaurant two bucks. The chopped tomato and greens? Another $1, and once again I am being very generous. So for a food cost of three bucks, they had the effrontery to charge $32. The other specials were not quite as insultingly priced — still ridiculous, just not obscene. However, the side of angel hair pasta that my wife ordered was $12.50, and that has a food cost of perhaps 25 cents.
I am irritated by restaurants that insist upon delivering the specials via the not-quite-reliable memories of their waiters, but that is an affectation that is common. I am more irritated by restaurants that carefully neglect to provide the prices of those specials, because it reeks of sneakiness and outright deceit. And I am most annoyed by restaurants that also price their specials outside of the expected range, because that is sneakiness and deceit. When all three occur, I will take my money elsewhere.