Embracing new experiences

I’ve often been described as a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to new experiences in food.  I’ve been known to eat the same thing for lunch for many days in a row without getting tired of it.  When my wife and I go out to eat, pretty much she can predict where I’ll want to go, and what I’ll order when we get there.  Red Lobster; I used to always get chicken.  I’d say for the last 12 years or so, I get the ‘create your own feast’ option with the same entrees.  Sometimes I’ll get three, sometimes two, depending on how much I want to take home.  Olive Garden, I like the ‘Tour of Italy’ option, where you can get three samples of items, and if it’s too much (I love their Toscana soup and breadsticks) I can always take the leftovers home.  It tickles me sometimes as it reminds me of the scene in ‘Defending Your Life‘ where Rip Torn’s character mentions that the people at the restaurants love to send stuff home.  And there’s always vast quantities of food going home with them.

One thing that I definitely don’t do often is want to go to new restaurants.  That sort of thing can be my Kryptonite, especially when it comes to not knowing if I’m going to find something I’m going to enjoy or even eat there.  Having a little ‘heads up’ about what’s on the menu can go a long way towards making or breaking an evening.  While our guests were here, we decided that we wanted to go out to a more ‘fancy’ restaurant than the pizza joint we’d been to the night before.  Friday evening they were going to cook for us all, so it was going to be our last chance to dine out together. (they left Saturday morning)  Our ‘go-to’ place wasn’t yet open for their full summer schedule; when I called to get a reservation, I got the answering machine, which told me they weren’t open.  So we needed somewhere else to go.  There were two quasi high-end options, but neither of those places ever appealed to me, as I always got the impression the staff was looking down their noses at me, and I never really felt comfortable going there.  I always had the notion someone was going to approach me suggesting I needed to be wearing a tie, or I was using a salad fork instead of a dinner one.   When I inquired as to how our guests felt, they seemed to be reluctant to go to either of them as well.  So again, we needed a new option.

The last time the guests were here, I’d suggested a place in a nearby town that I’d heard good things about, had really good reviews on TripAdvisor, and wasn’t altogether too pricey.  Too, it was a Thursday and overcast, so it was quite possible it wouldn’t be too crowded.  Just in case, we called and got a reservation for 6:15 (which admittedly is way earlier than my wife and I eat) but sometimes you need to roll the dice and in this case, it worked out well, as the person that answered the phone thought reservations was a great idea.  After a few minutes, we piled into the car and headed for our nearby Finger Lake.

We took the ‘scenic route’ past one of the wineries that’s close by, as well as looking at a house that my wife and I considered buying back when we were in the market for a place to live in 2000.  The place had been very run down when we were looking at it back then, but someone had purchased it soon after and turned it into a bed and breakfast.  Did a really good job with it too, my wife and I would never have been able to do something of that nature, to be honest, most of our collective money would have been sunk into the mortgage.  So it was good to see that it was thriving.  It’s an old building and the grounds looked really good as well.

Arriving at the restaurant, we confirmed what the TripAdvisor entry had mentioned, the place has a really small parking lot.  Maybe 8 parking spaces total and the vast majority of them were occupied.  As it turned out, the person that entered the lot ahead of me took the last available space, so I exited and found a suitable parking spot nearby, all we had to do was cross the street.  The outside of the restaurant was well-appointed, it certainly seemed like the owners wanted to make it look welcoming and quaint.  As we were climbing the steps to go in, it started to sprinkle a little bit.  No worries, it didn’t seem like it was going to pour, and if it did, I had a golf umbrella in the car, and we could use it upon leaving.

The interior of the restaurant was rather small, just one room, with a bar off to the left and the initials of the restaurant (TSG) in lights along one wall.  The dining area had perhaps ten tables of varying sizes,  of which maybe half were occupied.  I didn’t hear any music being played, but there was a flat screen tv behind the bar, and the bar itself seemed to be well stocked with various spirits, some names that I easily recognized.  Too, there were some paraphernalia along the walls and on shelves that detailed and celebrated the place and location we were in, so it seemed like someone wanted to be sure anyone inside knew where they were.  It wasn’t generic, it was specific, but it wasn’t kitschy either.   Many of the other restaurants nearby have similar design specifications, so it’s not unusual.

Upon seating ourselves, we noted that the table did have a ‘Reserved’ sign on it, so we apparently picked the right one.  A waitress came over to us, introduced herself and took our drink orders.  She wasn’t -our- waitress, she just happened to be in the area and apparently wanted to keep us from waiting too long.  Since I’m a teetotaler for the most part (it’s been a long time since I’ve had alcohol) I opt for soda (or pop) when I’m out, my wife had a mojito, and our friends had a beer and local wine respectively.   Our waitress for the evening arrived with the drinks and made it a point to mention to my wife that her mojito just happened to have the only mint that was available in the restaurant herb garden, and it was ‘chocolate mint‘, asking if that was acceptable.  My wife seemed pleased with the drink and said so.  Though when the waitress was out of earshot, she asked me to look up whether it was actually something or just a fantasy of the bar staff.  I did a quick web search and confirmed it was indeed real.

Looking over the menu, I was a little disappointed with the lack of options for me.   When I was reading the reviews online earlier, one made mention of corn chowder that the patron had eaten, raving how good it was.  I love corn chowder, and it’s so hard to get anywhere, at least prepared well.  Most have other items in it, like red peppers, sweet potatoes or chicken, and don’t allow the sweetness of the corn to come through.  I’ve tried many times to make it and still haven’t come up with the ‘right’ recipe, the one that reminds me of the two places I’ve had it that really got it correct.  Even so, I keep trying new versions and hopefully someday I hit on the right combination.  While I was trying to decide between the Tavern Burger and the grilled chicken entrée, the waitress returned and informed us of the house specials. One was a swordfish entree, and the other was a ground sirloin burger with mushrooms and swiss cheese, on a brioche bun dressed with tomato, green lettuce and red onion, with a side of house cut fries.  Well.  That settled it for me.  Saved by the Thursday house special.  I opted for that, ordered medium, as medium rare would have been not cooked enough for me.  Considering that it was ground sirloin, about 90% lean, cook it much more and all the juiciness would be gone.  My wife ordered the Cobb salad with a crock of New England clam chowder as a starter, our friends got the swordfish special and the overpriced NY strip steak respectively.  (honestly, $39 for a steak is excessive, I don’t care how it’s cooked or garnished)

The time between ordering and arrival of the entrees wasn’t terribly bad. Fortunately, there was sufficient conversation to be had amongst the four of us, so time flew by pretty quickly.  Too, I was shamelessly eavesdropping towards the table to my right, where two gentlemen were seated and having dinner.  Without going into detail, I was left wondering if they were out on a blind date since neither of them seemed to be from this area.   One was probably a good 20 years older than the other, and from the conversation they were having, it certainly seemed to me that they were in the process of getting to know one another, though it might very well have been a business dinner.   About 10 minutes before the entrees arrived, the waitress brought out two small boards with three depressions in them, and each depression had a little squirt of what appeared to be butter.  She brought along a rectangular dish with four small ciabatta rolls (I used to work in a bakery).  She explained that two of the butter squirts were flavored, and the other was just plain whipped.  Neither I nor our guests could really discern the flavors that the waitress had described, and that seemed to me a little pretentious…but whatever.  At least the rolls were fresh.  And to me, butter is butter.

Entrees were consumed, there was no dessert menu and all too soon the meal was at its conclusion.  My burger was really good, cooked just the way I wanted it and the hand cut fries were double fried, which made them nice and crispy on the exterior and soft on the inside.  Really good!  My wife was pleased with her salad, our friends liked their entrees as well.  All in all we spent about 90 minutes there and we had a good time.  As it turned out, trying something new actually panned out.  There was some conversation between my wife and the wife of our friends about how I’m not so inclined to try new things, and my wife commented that when it happens, she tries to encourage it.

Well, there are other new places nearby that we can try.  Maybe I’m getting better at this adulting thing.  Only took 53 years.


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