Sunday, July 22, 2012

Where's Grover?

Fat Blue, a Sesame Street "anything" muppet, repeatedly returns to the diner where Grover works, in spite of dismal service and low-quality food.

Oh Fat Blue, you and I feel just the same way:  "why do I keep coming to this place?"  My family keeps kosher, so we are even worse off in Boston than Fat Blue is on Sesame Street.

Sure, Milk Street Cafe is acceptable for food and service, but it costs a fortune, has no parking, and is only open on weekdays and never for dinner.  Rubin's Kosher Deli is also acceptable for food and service, but is kind of dingy.  All the same, it ends up being our usual choice, particularly because they are great about accommodating allergies.

If you would like to try Rami's in Brookline, you can get a side of Israeli attitude with the [admittedly tasty] food:
Me:  "Would you consider expanding your hours?"
Rami:  "What, I should come to work so you can go out to dinner?"
[well, you are a]

Or the time I bought the Rami's groupon and got to the register, gave it to the guy:
"Vat eez dees?"
" have sold over a thousand of these, in two batches; I can't be the first person to use one."

And the time I asked the guy to please change his gloves after handling raw meat, before putting my falafel sandwich together, and he said, "these gloves aren't free, you know".  Oh, and for almost two decades, Rami's refused to take credit cards, though I have heard that they now do.

In the mood for pizza?  Cafe Eilat is available, if you like your dining experience to be modeled on the ambience of a cheap gas station.  We asked for water one time, and were given a stack of plastic cups and a key to the bathroom attached to a well-used dowel rod.

But by far the worst dining experience can be had at Ta'am China.  After one too many disgustingly (*) crowded meals at their Brookline location, we've tried instead to go to their Newton branch.  In this episode, Gedalya had a birthday party at the "Plaster Fun Time" on Needham Street, just a few blocks away.  Since Gedalya can't eat at Ta'am China due to his food allergies, we thought it would be a nice opportunity to stop in for a quiet lunch for the other boys and me.

Indeed, we were the only patrons in the entire two-floor restaurant.  However, the hostess left us standing at the front for several minutes, and then started to show us (party of three) to the smallest table, right by the cash register.  I started to walk to a better table, and she said, "NO!  This one."  I asked her nicely, "May we please sit at a slightly larger table?" and she sighed and allowed it.  Just to make sure I wouldn't get uppity, she quickly snatched the fourth napkin and glass from the "larger" table.  I asked, "May we please keep that in case we need it?"  "No, you are only three."  Ok then.

We ordered relatively quickly:  small soup for each of us, order of vegetable dumplings, order of tofu, order of vegetable lo mein, order of sesame chicken.  The food came on time, and was tasty.  Now, I knew I would need the fourth cup to share some soup with Ezra, but "No, you are only three!" so I had to take one from a neighboring table.  The same thing happened with napkins.  The waitress even tried to take away our appetizer plates before we ordered, and I said, "but we are going to order dumplings" so she capitulated.  Needless to say, they did that icky thing of, when taking appetizer plates after eating, tilting the plate so that the used cutlery plops down onto the dinner plate or table-cloth.  Don't even think about getting another fork or knife!

I'm not sure why they set all the tables ahead of time if they're going to be taking back settings.  Not to mention the dubious hygiene - I clearly saw her take tableware from our table where we were eating, and put it in the pile to redistribute to new customers later.  Our final bill was almost $60, by the way, which was evidently not enough to cover a second fork's dish-washing.  For $20 per person, can't I do better?

Sometimes I get the opportunity to go to a nonkosher restaurant - like having kosher ice cream at Friendly's, or accompanying friends or colleagues to a normal place.  I am always overjoyed at the simplest things, like waitstaff that seems to care about the customers, or a bill that isn't the size of a mortgage.  I don't understand how Boston can't support a decent kosher place to eat.  We support a dozen Jewish day schools, after all!  But I suppose that can be a twisted point of pride; when I lived near Los Angeles, there were probably close to a hundred kosher restaurants in the greater area, but only a handful of Jewish schools.

(*) Not only do they rush you, and have the diners waiting for a table line up right behind your chairs, but they also use part of the front dining area for raw meat preparation on occasion.  We joke in our family, when someone takes a dish to the dishwasher that someone else is still using:  did you learn that in Ta'am China?

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