Should Restaurants Get Second Chances?

Have you ever had a good and bad dining experience at the same place?  It catches you off guard, like a 70-degree day in the middle of January.  You can’t help but wonder what went wrong and if it was the dish you ordered or if the chef was just having an off-day?

This was the recent experience I had at the new Eden Restaurant in Hillcrest.  I want to preface this by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Eden for it’s food and ambiance (they’ve catered a few events for my company in the past and I loved the food).  I went out for brunch and I didn’t like the particular breakfast item I ordered, which is not to say their other items aren’t great because they all sounded ah-may-zing, but I was looking for something healthiful that day (yes, I totally made up that word).  Now I’m rambling but it’s only because I really do care and love this company as a whole, and I don’t want my review to negatively reflect them in any way.  But, I disgress… let’s get to the food!

I recently went out for San Diego Restaurant Week, an entire week where restaurants in San Diego create a prix fix 3-course menu.  It’s a great way to get out and try new restaurants in San Diego at an affordable price.  In fact, I went to two dinners that week.  My second dinner was at Eden in Hillcrest and consisted of a three course menu with several options for each course.  I happened to choose the following:

Appetizer Course

Gumbo di Vinci

Bayou fare simmered with soul and served with a Dungeness Crab Hushpuppy.

Main Course

Porcini Pillows

House Ricotta Pasta Pillows, Porcini Browned Butter, Wild Rocket and Sun Dried Tomato.

Dessert Course

Banana Cream Pie

Chef Scotty’s Favorite since Kindergarten…comforting, sweet and delicious.

Sadly, I didn’t get a photograph of the first dish.  I was so hungry that I just dove into the food when I arrived and didn’t even think twice until after I had scarfed down the gumbo.  I enjoyed the gumbo even though I am not a huge fan of spicy foods.  I felt like this dish had a nice balance of heat and wasn’t over-powerful to the point that I wouldn’t be able to finish it.

The porcini pillows were amazing.  That is a dish that I could eat over and over again.  I never used to be a fan of mushrooms but in the last few years they have really grown on me, and this dish definitely reminds me of what I was missing out on all of those years!  The wild rocket salad tasted like it had a hint of truffle oil, which sealed the deal for me.  I also just discovered truffle oil last year and every time I see it on a menu I feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

Last, I chose banana cream pie for dessert.  It seemed like a strange thing to find on the menu of a gourmet restaurant in San Diego.  For me, banana cream pie is reminiscent of Indiana and pot-lucks on a hot summer day.  However, Eden’s executive chef, Scotty Wagner, is from Wisconsin so I could definitely see the connection.

Bananas are one of my favorite foods in the whole world.  I know that seems like an exaggeration, but it’s true.  I LOVE anything with bananas.  Banana pudding, bananas in ice-cream, banana ice-cream, banana’s foster, banana bread—you name it.  So when I ordered the banana cream pie, you have to know that going into it, I had HUGE expectations.  Was the pie good?  Yes.  Was it the best pie I ever had?  Not by far.  I have a recipe for the BEST banana pudding you will have ever unleashed your tastebuds on, and there is no question that my banana pudding could have easily trumped this pie.  It is a Paula Dean recipe, after all.

I did, however, get to try my friend’s dessert, which was their Pana Cota with Kefir Lime Dust, Fresh Pineapple & Kiwi-Lime Coulis. Three words: to die for.  Looking back, I would have totally gone for that instead.

So, getting back to my original story about the good/bad restaurant experience, after Restaurant Week I returned to Eden to check out their brunch.  I heard many good things, especially about their $10 bottomless mimosas which sounded too good to be true!  My friend and I decided to check it out one morning after yoga.  Unfortunately, I was not feeling the mimosas at the time since it was the morning after an evening of wine drinking.  Also, the yoga before and some recent lifestyle changes towards a more health-conscious diet made me skip over all the really great sounding dishes, for something simple and healthy.

I tried their Omelet Caprese since it was the most healthy looking thing on the menu.

It was meh.  Yes, official food blogger terminology—respect.  Compared to my last breakfast at FARM, there was no comparison (pictures don’t lie).  I wasn’t feeling the “three eggs with buffalo mozzarella, basil & sun-dried tomatoes.”  The eggs were rubbery and flavorless—overall a huge disappointment.  Had I ordered the menu items that truly captured by attention, like the crabcake benedict or their angel toast, a spin on the classic french toast using angel food cake soaked in frangelico (DROOL), it may have been a different story altogether.  Note to self: splurge when going to brunch.

I guess the moral of the story is don’t judge a book by it’s cover, or in my case don’t judge a restaurant by one bad experience.  Luckily I had the good experience first, which is why I came back.  But I guess what I realize is that a particular dish should not be representative of all that a restaurant has to offer.  That dish may not be the restaurant’s strong point.  Maybe the dish is too simple, or maybe healthy-fare isn’t that establishment’s specialty.  Whatever the case is, I think it’s important to give restaurants another shot before writing them off completely.  You may be surprised what you find.

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5 Responses to “Should Restaurants Get Second Chances?”

  1. Michelle Charbonneau Says:

    Thanks so much for your always entertaining reviews! Next time I’m in the San Diego area, I will have to try brunch at this restaurant. I can always use a good Mimosa.

    I agree, it is good to give restaurants a second chance. For example, I’ve only been to FARM once for dinner and I was not impressed. They catered an event I went to last week — again, not impressed. But I will add them to my list of places to checkout in Bloomington, Indiana for breakfast based on your comments. Guess I’m willing to give FARM a 3rd chance!!!

    • Jess @ Eat, Drink & Be Merry! Says:

      Mom, did you hit your head on a rock or just forget how to spell your name? I can’t believe you went again and didn’t like their food! Wow, that makes me wonder if FARM is just not a match for your tastes. You might try going for brunch. I really enjoyed their biscuits–just make sure they bring out a fresh batch.

  2. Nicole C. Hicks Says:

    I understand what you are saying about being disappointed by a restaurants inconsistencies, especially if it is a restaurant you have loved in the past. I eat at Shanti, the Indian Cuisine, that actually you introduced me to way back in high school, about once a year to partake of our beloved Butter Chicken. However, this last time, I decided to try the butter shrimp instead.

    I have acquired a taste for shrimp now that I am an adult and have been trying it in almost anyway I can. I figured the creamy cashew sauce would be a killer combo with my new favorite bugs from the sea, but when I got the dish it was room temperature and the shrimp were still cold inside. I mean was this dish really supposed to be served hot with any other meat but with shrimp served room temperature? I figured that whoever was cooking simply heated the sauce and then threw frozen shrimp in and sent it straight to the table. I guess I was expecting pre-grilled shrimp in a piping hot sauce, but instead I got cold and slimy grossness. It was so disgusting I had to have it sent back and the meat changed to chicken.

    I felt really bad about the big fuss not only because I love the little man that runs the place but because I brought a friend. I had talked about how great the place was for a month and they let me down. I am not saying I will never go back there but I haven’t been for over a year.

    In response to your blog, I also think that when people that are changing lifestyles start to eat that way out on the town they will find that disappointment is right around the corner. Taste has been studied from the first moment of human consciousness, so the food we find presented in great restaurants are cultural traditions passed down for millenniums.

    Nutrition has only been intensely studied for the past couple of centuries and is just now started link itself into the culture of taste. Your experience with disliking your eggs goes hand in hand with how you were raised. Here in Southern Indiana we eat our eggs with ham, bacon, and cheese (and perhaps with whole wheat toast and OJ to be healthy!) and having your dry rubber omelet with light mozz cheese and sundried toms is not what you expect out of your eggs.

    There are some healthy diets out there that happen to already go hand in hand with taste due to regional accessibility to foods that are naturally healthy, like the Mediterranean diet. As the Nutritive lifestyles of Americans improve, whether from increase in awareness or government policy we will see a lot of new creations in the melting pot. Also, as we feed more of these healthy dishes to our children they actually develop neural pathways in taste to like the flavors of healthiful dishes (Had to use your new word !)

    I think the evolution of culture and society have a long way to go before we start seeing restaurants making Nutrition a priority for every dish they serve, but when and if that happens they will find a way to make it taste good.

    • Jess @ Eat, Drink & Be Merry! Says:

      Well, it sounds like in your case the issue was a preparation issue and not the actual dish. It may have just been an off-day in the kitchen. That’s unfortunate you had that experience because I really like that place, too. Restaurants aren’t always perfect. Even at your favorite places you might have a bad experience. I think when you continue to have bad experiences, that’s a definite red flag. For instance that Peruvian restaurant in Bloomington—I used to go all the time with my dad, but they weren’t getting enough business so eventually the quality of the food went down altogether and we stopped going. It closed shortly after.

      Anyway, that’s an interesting observation about the regional foods thing and culture playing into tastes. I definitely have an interesting palette then, having been raised on Southern Indiana fare and Peruvian food!

  3. bakebooks Says:

    Good point. I don’t go out to eat often (basically I have no money and am scorching every penny 😉 )…and I’m too lazy to go – yeah, that’s a big part of it. BUT, you can’t base it off one meal I guess. I love the omelet color!!

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