If nothing else, I’m a little bit of a hedonist. I am happy to review restaurants as long as people are open to having me. That’s why I jumped at the chance to review a local Greek restaurant for a magazine based in my area. Simply put, we needed the content as a starter layer for a new issue and I was given a little leeway on choice.
I wanted to get some great photos of the food, since the magazine is known for its visual bend. Pictures sell food, and while I love my “hole in the wall” venues, I know they won’t pass muster. Naturally, I chose an upscale restaurant–a Greek restaurant in a wealthy town next to mine.
At first glance, it was a great choice. It had a spacious interior, elegant artwork, a mahogany bar, and excellent architecture. It was clear that the restauranteurs understood the importance of ambiance. The menu featured modernized twists on traditional Greek cuisine and mixologist-designed cocktails.
All things considered, it’s hard to imagine how a solid foodie would make the decision to walk out of a restaurant. Though the food didn’t really have authentic recipes and often had a slightly warped flavor profile, it wasn’t the food that made me walk.
It wasn’t the drinks, either. The bar was great and while I wasn’t a fan of their botanical cocktails, I could appreciate its herbal taste. A good botanical mix isn’t easy to make, and the presentation was phenomenal. Oh, and the service? It was good too.
So, what gives, you ask? It was the patrons.
In all my years as a restaurant critic, I’ve never been in a more hostile venue. With my punk rock look, I realize I don’t look like a typical upscale person. My husband, with his knuckle tattoos, doesn’t reek of trust fund, either. But that doesn’t usually factor into a food experience; people usually just keep to themselves.
Not here. Nope.
First off, people stared. Badly. Like, I saw people pointing and whispering at our table, noting my non-country club appearance. Then, the table next to us started talking. More specifically, it was a younger guy talking about his recent trip to Europe.
“Romanians are so unskilled and criminal,” he said. “No one likes them. They’re the Mexicans of Europe.”
For the record, I’m Romanian. He went on to talk about my husband’s nationality, in equally distasteful ways. I had to get out of the restaurant before I lost my tempter, my meal ruined by a bigot.
I honestly didn’t know what to do. The restaurant didn’t sit him next to us to insult us. It wasn’t their fault. And yet, I couldn’t figure out how to handle the review. Sometimes, a restaurant can make an effort to please you, but patrons are what ruins them. Let this be a cautionary tale.