Thursday, July 15, 2010

Terrapin in Rhinebeck

Prepareth for a rare rant:

I was interested to see that the chef of Terrapin in Rhinebeck is catering Chelsea Clinton's wedding.

We'd heard the rave reviews, I checked out the menu, and so we ate there last October, driving over the Hudson from the Hurley Stone House, when my mom, Vincent and I were traveling to see fall foliage upstate. It was one of the sorriest dinners out we've eaten (and we ate pretty well in Woodstock at the Red Onion - best - and Bear Cafe - second best: way too much food on plate).

It was the kind of evening of food and wine that made me very cross. I have to assume that the chef himself was nowhere near the kitchen. Or the town.

I often eat salad at a restaurant. I love salad. I also think that if a kitchen is incapable of creating an impeccable salad, nothing good can follow. In fact, if a bad salad arrives at the table, you may as well pack up and leave. In the salad is reflected every aspect of the kitchen's integrity. Or lack of...

The leaves of the salad were wet with water, so the dressing was a diluted mess in the bottom of the bowl. Some of the leaves had those awful, dark, slippery edges which mean (very) Old, and the person selecting the leaves and tossing them could not be bothered to say, Halt! This cannot go out! There were croutons (it was a Caesar, divine when good - think Prune - , disastrous when bad). They were damp and bendy.

My mother had a little selection of 'tapas.' Small meatballs whose sauce had withered under a heatlamp. Crispy artichoke hearts that were soggy and drowned in aioli. And a very good duck quesadilla wedge. That wedge was the best part of the evening. Vince had depressing risotto and I a wild boar bolognese, itself good, but served with overcooked pasta. Who does that?

This in one of the most highly rated, localissimo restaurants in the region.

The wine. The wine arrived after the food had been served.

The clueless service and the benign complacence of the diners in the vaulted room - itself assaulted by Interior Design at its worst, think airport lounge meets cathedral - smacked of the kind of provincialism that I associate more with monied non-cosmopolitanites in South Africa, but perhaps it's reassuring to know that the sticks can be anywhere, and that a wealthy clientele does not imply discernment or ensure excellence.

Based on our experience, I would not let them cater my wedding.

Amen.
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