Monday, September 26, 2011

The Mallorca Incident

Where to begin, oh where to begin. My dear loyal readers, the few of you that are there (Hi Mom!), I have some interesting news to report. I have an enormous respect for food, as well as the people that cook it. I believe my waistline can attest to this. An enormous amount of preparation and skill go into preparing a good meal. That is why I know the following will shock you to the core: I have a negative review of a restaurant. So now, with my poison pen dripping with bile, allow me to tell you the story of the ill-fated voyage to Mallorca.

Having decided to go somewhere more upscale for my girlfriend's birthday, she decided upon Mallorca, a Continental Spanish restaurant in the South Side of Pittsburgh. From the moment you walk in the door, it is apparent that the restaurant is popular, and that they have no problem at all capitalizing on this by trying to jam as many tables as possible into each room. The net result of this, shall we gently refer to it as "close-knit," arrangement of tables is an ambient noise just slightly louder than a commercial airliner taking off, as a sudden feeling of companionship with your fellow humans as you find yourself practically sitting on a stranger's lap. (Side note: This is particularly intriguing in a situation where something is served en fuego. My companion had to check himself to ensure that he wasn't singed after the next table was served.)

But I digress slightly. Our little dining party that evening consisted of myself, my girlfriend: Alzea, her friend, Anastasia, and Anastatia's boyfriend: D' arth Vadaar. (Yes, those are not their real names, and yes, I let them choose their pseudonyms.) Now, at this point in time, we were the youngest party in the restaurant by what appeared to be a good fifteen years. Part of me feels that this had a lot to do with what transpired that evening.

After ordering a pitcher of sangria and an appetizer of calamari, which I must say is among the best I have had (So there, I can be fair when I want to!), we ordered the main course, my three dining companions all ordered the paella, while I ordered the lobster ravioli. The ravioli were good, not much to write home about, but acceptable. The flavors were all a bit muddled, and I found the presentation rather lacking. The debacle of the evening began when Alzea asked me to sample the paella, as something did not seem quite right. The mussels were good, as was the rice, but the issue came down to two types of seafood; the clams, and the lobster.

To begin with, I have had fresh clams before, practically as soon as they were dug up. As a result of their habitat, some grit (a fancy culinary term for sand) is to be expected. These clams, however, has a veritable playground of sand in each shell, leaving the meat so gritty it was practically inedible.

The lobster, however was worse. A good lobster tail is light, soft, and utterly delicious, with a crisp sea flavor. Lobster is one of those amazing foods that just make you feel good (unless you are allergic to shellfish, and then you can feel rather, well, dead. But you all know what I am talking about. It is a luxury food.) This lobster, however, would have been better served as an inedible garnish. Having been rather disappointed in these dishes, the manager then entered the scene.

In most good restaurants, it is considered good practice for the manager to make the rounds of the tables, inquiring after the meal. In this situation, the manager serves as the representative of the chef, and to a greater extent, of the restaurant itself. This night was the first time in my life where I actually spoke up rather than merely nodding in assent. The rather smarmy manager listened as I politely pointed out what was wrong, and then condescendingly asked, "Forgive me, but have you ever had paella before, and what did you expect?" I truly do not believe he would have taken such a superior tone if we had been older.

Now, I am not saying that I know everything about food, but I have a passion for knowing about it, and my three companions that night were all international travellers, so we have all had paella before. I still remained respectful, despite his tone, and politely declined his offer to have something else prepared, as that seafood had quite spoiled our appetites.

He was, however, a rather confrontational fellow, and that I believe that this where what I will henceforth refer to as the Incident began. Instead of merely noting our request and moving on, the manager became so energetic in his manner that he began to create a scene, and was impressing so much upon my girlfriend that he began to upset the entire table, and especially her. I finally put a stop to the matter, by firmly stating, " She. Said. She would not. Like. Anything Else." in a rather aggrieved tone, as dealing with him was becoming truly maddening.

Upon hearing my now confrontational tone, he began to back away. I was then confronted about a minute or two later by the owner of the restaurant, who insisted that the lobster could not be dry because "that is how we have done it for 20 years." (I still maintain to that statement, just because something is done the same way over and over again, it doesn't necessarily make it the right way, but I digress.)

At this point, I surmised that Mallorca is not used to being criticized, judging from the scene they
were making over one flawed dish. They could have merely taken it away at any time, and the problem would have been solved. Instead, the restaurant escalated into a scene.

By this time, I had lost most of my charitable feelings towards the restaurant, and I maintained to the owner that the dish was overdone. Granted, my temper got the better of me at that moment, and I referred to the lobster as being "massacred," but I at least censored myself from telling him the finished product had the texture of a hard rubber ball.

Before this goes on further, I think I need to explain what the sticking point for me is. We were asked how the food was, and we responded with how we felt it was, only to be told that we were wrong, not once, but three times, by two managers and the owner. To ask someone a question, and then respond that they are incorrect, especially in matters of opinion, is just simply being rude. We did not complain to get anything, as we made it clear several times that all we wanted was the situation to be over, and instead of that, we were then made the subject of a giant scene caused by the restaurant trying to prove us wrong. (In a room with wall-to-wall tables, to be visited by almost every member of the staff qualifies as an impressive scene.) When I go out to dine, I don't like to be made a fool of, and I especially don't like it when the restaurant tries to shame me because they do not like an honest opinion of their dish. That is nothing but an abuse of power.

To be fair, they did offer us desert and after dinner drinks, which we did accept, as an apology. And the creme brulee is quite excellent, as were the drinks from the bar. This gesture, however, was suddenly hit be a sour note, as when we were presented with desert, one of my companions overheard the original manager making the remark "It doesn't matter what they want, they won't like it anyway."

My final assessment of the place. I look at things practically. I can go elsewhere, and be insulted for much less money. Our dinner party was on our very best behavior (indeed, better than several of the older parties at surrounding tables,) and we were treated poorly because we are young. Just because we are young does not immediately mean that we do not have likes or dislikes, or opinions on what we eat and drink. It just rude to be asked an opinion, and be told you are wrong for it. It then only makes things worse when a restaurant tries to bully you into it's viewpoint, no matter how right or wrong they are. If I am going to be bullied and insulted, I intend to at least enjoy myself in the process, and there is no way that can happen here. In short, my final thought: Go to Mallorca, if you really want, the drinks and desert are quite good, but I can virtually guarantee you will not find me there ever again.

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