Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tasteless

What’s more tasteless than Andrew Dice Clay judging a female mud wrestling contest at a fundraiser for the National Organization for Women? Well, apparently the tastes buds among Capital Region diners.

Were there ever evidence of the waning food palette among Capital Region diners, it would be found among the pool of 7,300 people who participated in the Times Union’s “Best of 2008” survey. True, this poll is anything but scientific. And some of the assumptions made in other parts of the survey are flat-out ludicrous. But the Best of 2008 winners do suggest area residents are getting less discriminating about their favorite places to chow down. Actually, they’re getting a lot less discriminating.

For proof, look no further than your local Olive Garden. This heinous chain restaurant and its pasta calamities were ranked as the best “Italian Restaurant” in the Capital Region. Best at what? Serving over-cooked pasta in bland, flavorless sauces that haven’t seen the hand of a real culinary artisan, much less one that was trained in the cuisine offered along the Mediterranean boot? True, bad Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen in upstate New York. However, it’s tough to consider the Olive Garden the best at anything, much last Italian cooking, when they offer to pair your dish with the finest Sutter Home Zinfandel.

The Times Union editors obviously recognized the domination of chain stores in their survey and even coined a separate category for “coffee joint,” excluding the chain stores. Otherwise, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Stewart’s Shops would have taken the cake respectively; less discriminating indeed. Some coffee aficionados liken the bile-churning sludge at Stewart’s to the muddy atomic runoff from the reactor at Kesselring.

Finding a good sandwich in the Capital Region is a bit trickier. Like Italian restaurants, there are plenty of bad delis in the area, a fact that is highlighted by the never-ending proliferation of Subway shops opening up on every corner and in every gas station. But to consider this fast-food garbage even in the same category as a deli like Roma’s in the Spa City is sacrilegious. In fact, one could probably get a better sandwich out of rest-area dumpster than at Jared’s place. Yet for some reason, people seem to think they’ll get the luscious baked bread, the towering stack of meat and the chopped fresh veggies that see advertised on television every five minutes.

And the list goes on. Best burger was given to Red Robin. The top-two best restaurants to open this year were both new chains shoveling slop amid the sprawl of Wolf Road in Colonie. Best steakhouse to Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse, a smaller chain, which narrowly beat out the Outhouse…err…Outback Steakhouse. Chain eateries even made an appearance in the best pizza running, where some poor, misguided souls actually voted for Pizza Hut as the Capital Region’s best pie.

Thinking conspiracy theory here, it is possible voting was skewed by a bunch of corporate shills trying to further the advance of this genre of eating experience. After all, the sheer design of corporate eateries can’t compete with the flavor cooked up by someone who honestly knows how to prepare good food without using a microwave or sauces out of a can. The Times Union suggests a different theory: area residents are getting a bit more frugal with their eating habits and going to places where they can get the cheapest meals.

Yet it’s more likely Capital Region diners are finally starting to forget the taste of a good meal. They no longer recall how good meal can leave the diner with a truly satiated appetite and an uplifted feeling, rather than the bloated, curl-in-a-ball-and-die feeling many of chain eateries promote. It’s a sad commentary on American eating habits that is going to get even sadder when the dynamics of food distribution means these chain restaurants can no longer offer cheap meals. Hopefully by then, there will still be a few mom-and-pop joints keeping alive the savory culinary traditions of the old country.

16 Comments:

Anonymous agphoto said...

Morons. I read these things addictively to try and get some new ideas and never fail to be dissapointed.

I am saddenened to note that these primates' votes count just as much as mine come November. But that does explain a lot.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know that Country Corner Cafe (or whatever it's called), with 2 locations, one downtown on Church and one on High Rock, ain't bad. They got fresh squeezed OJ and leave the skin on the spuds in the home fries. Of course it may not cost enough to appeal to youse limp-wristed, pinky-waving Spa City social butterflies.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have to pick a chain I say Carrabba's is much better than Olive Garden. Delmonico's sucks! For my money the best Italian Restaurant is right in Saratoga. Pennell's blows all these places away. They also have the best stek in town!

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Red Robin really does have awesome burgers -- chain or no chain, they're the best I've had in the area. But I think the real issue here, in general, is that people are just less adventurous. They're less willing to try a locally owned independent when they know that a chain will be good, or at least as good as they're used to. I mean, honestly, I admit, the best Italian I've had really is Olive Garden. But I also admit that I haven't really tried any of the local Italian places. Perhaps a lot of these people are the types to just stick with what they know they like -- they know they like Pizza Hut, so that's what they always get.

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I havent had good italian food since i moved out of brooklyn and i havent had good chinese or thai since i moved away from san fran-sicko. thats just how it is unfortunately.

Gotchya's has decent food but it is hard to find high quality food around here without paying an arm and a leg for it.

Your, "bloated, curl up in a ball and die feeling" is hysterical because it is so true. It wasnt always this way.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost as bad as the idiot Metroland-readers who named Price Chopper "Best Florist" this year!

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Restaurant inspection results are published on the Albany County web site. The powers to be in Saratoga County made the decision a few years back that the public didn't need easy access to them, so stopped releasing them.

In Saratoga County word of mouth travels fast for those that need to sweep thier floors. Unfortunately when they do sweep, the damage is already done. It's like one aw--hit wipes away a zillion atta-boys. Publishing restaurant inspections helped correct the aw--hits.

Perhaps this explains the success of some restaurants over others, especially in Saratoga County.

2:07 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

By State Law all food eating establishments have to post their last inspection where patrons can easily find and read them.

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. Maybe the ad money the chains dish out influenced the "voting." That or employees were encouraged to vote... several times. Of course, soon we will get the TU and Saratogian dropped on our front lawn by the same carrier. I wonder if that means the paper will come at 5:30 am(Saratogian) or 7:30 am (Times Union)....

2:56 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Regarding previous post:

what do you mean you will have the same carrier for both papers. did one buy the other one?

7:24 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Nancy,

JRC, the parent company of the Saratogian, farmed their delivery service out to the Times Union as a cost-savings measure. As you may be away, the company is in the most dire of straits right now. Really, they're looking to pinch pennies wherever they can. And if that means they don't have to pay drivers, so be it.

Unfortunately, what they've done and continue to do with that paper is systematically dismantle its ability to be sufficient. They ditched the press operation in Saratoga Springs six years ago, which now means all the papers come out of Troy...so they're taking one on the chin now that gas prices are what they are. And once you ditch a press operation, it's simply not feasible to restart it.

So to sum things up, they're devaluing what was once a fairly valuable paper to save a fiscally insolvent company that's just one bill away from bankruptcy.

Regarding the TU buying the Saratogian, I'm not entirely sure they could do something like that due to media ownership laws(owning the Record, Saratogian and TU seems like a monopoly of sorts). But it's an interesting thought, if they were interested in buying both. As frightening as that would make the TU, it's probably the only thing that will save the Record and the Saratogian from an inevitable demise.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Best of" for the Saratogian is usually determined on who spent the most advertising dollars. It isn't exactly based on votes by the consumer.

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The masses are rarely considered to have discerning taste. This is just more proof of why. I'd rather see a "best of" compiled from restaurant critics or area chefs.

For best burgers, Jumping Jacks and Bailey's have my vote. Best Italian? Ferrari's in Schenectady. Pizza would be Deacon Blues in Watervliet.

6:32 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Today’s Times Union…
“Area grocers pick some tomatoes from stores
Retailers anxiously follow ongoing investigation into salmonella outbreak
By JENNIFER GISH, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sorts out the recent nationwide salmonella scare tied to consuming some types of raw tomatoes, local grocery stores have chosen to pull certain varieties from their shelves.”


I hope that $8 dollar an hour worker who hates his job and hates that fact that he can’t afford to pay for the meal that he is preparing for you has properly washed his shitty hands and washed those Mexican pissed-on tomatoes so you don’t get sick and die.

No thanks, I usually prepare my own food.
Going out to dinner, especially at a chain, is like playing Russian roulette.
Going out to dinner is too much work, it’s a hassle.
Fuck those $12 Manhattans.
Fuck trying to get home after having a few.

8:08 PM  
Blogger MonkeyBrain said...

I am always horrified to see "best of" results like these. The Metroland's were not much better this year.

That said, if anyone is looking for satisfying home-style Italian food, Bongiorno's on Dove Street in Albany makes me feel like it's Sunday at my grandmother's house. The owner often comes out to see how you are enjoying your meal (MUCH better than unlimited breadsticks).

As for a deli, I have to rave about Andy and Sons on Delaware Ave (near the Spectrum). It took me a while to "discover" it, but the first time I walked in the door and saw their homemade sopressata, I thought I was in heaven. Their Sicilian sandwich is perfect.

I don't know why people flock to the Wolf Road chains. Dining out should be a savored gustatory experience!

8:44 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

6:32,

That's a damn good idea. A panel of industry regulars and critics would at least offer an educated opinion. The problem with these "best of" scams is that they're often ad and circulation-driven gimmicks. The Saratogian, for instance, prints their ballots in the paper. So if you want the best of anything, just buy 300 papers and cast your vote.

8:44,

The delis I was shocked not to see are La Jolla in Schenectady by the Union College campus and Roma's in the Spa City. Two great Italian-style delis that have just about everything under the sun in the way of eatables. And it costs less than the dog shit Subway tries to pawn off as food. Can you say a step above McDonalds?

Shot,

I'm not a big fan of eating out either, unless I know the chef I'm going to visit. This is especially when it comes to lunch. It's so much easier to make something that's both healthy and appetizing than to get it from one of these grease purveyors. Faster and cheaper, too.

10:45 AM  

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