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August 19, 2009

Change of menu

I've written about the ways fine-dining restaurants are changing their offerings to cope with the recession, but I hadn't thought about places farther down the food chain. Luckily I have our Shallow Thought Wednesday guru and guest poster John Lindner to do that for me. Here's John. EL

We dropped into an old haunt we hadn’t darkened in a couple months and discovered it had altered its menu.

The first thing I noticed was that the new menu looked less crowded, brighter. After that, OK, there seemed to be a couple new entrees, but by and large the new line-up seemed a rearranged rendition of the old one. And then I saw it:


Immediately, I was curious. This is not a tapas kind of place.* I did a double take. Tapas? Really?

I checked out the tapas selections. Hmmmm. They looked a lot like the old appetizer selections.

Sure enough, the appetizer list was shorter. But together, the tapas and appetizer lists were about as long as the old appetizer list.

I couldn’t believe it. But then, tapas, small plates, appetizers, right? Why’d I feel cheated?

Maybe I felt cheated because the place also changed its fry style from crisp and delicate to desultorily spiced nubbies served room-temp cool. My generous spirit compels me to suggest that the cool part may have been an unintended variation on a theme. They also dished up a lot fewer fries than in the recent past.

The whole menu change reeked of economic rather than culinary motivations. It was like meeting an old acquaintance down on his luck, a bit worn at the elbows but sporting a cheap new tie.
I was in a dark and unexperimental mood so I didn’t explore the “tapas” menu. Next time.
Bonus gripe. Another one for the stat books: Our waiter didn’t write a word of our three orders down. Two entrees showed up without items we ordered and with two or three items we didn’t. “I guess I didn’t hear you” was his excuse. Next time I’m bringing paper and pen.
* It’s a tavern that rises to its regulars’ expectations, which aren’t stratospheric in these parts. It’s frustrating because it wouldn’t take much to make it a stellar casual dining spot. But the food’s almost always across-the-board flat.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:25 AM | | Comments (18)


Slightly off topic, but J.L.'s post reminded me: Amie and I recently went to Ryleigh's Oyster for their happy hour. We ordered three of their $1 oysters, a couple drinks and some calamari.

After about 25 minutes, we still didn't have any calamari. When I asked the server when the calamari was coming, he looked surprised, and said he didn't remember us ordering calamari. It was the first time in recent memory that we didn't leave a tip.

Sounds like Beck's. I was disappointed on my last trip there. It is too bad because the potential is there. If shows up twice it not my fault.

So why don't you name this place?
Sam Sessa did you really order 3 oysters? I've never heard of that. 6 yes, 12 definitely, but three? It's kind of like going to the BBQ place and ordering one rib...

I didn't want to spoil my supper.

We ended up having a great restaurant week dinner at Taverna Corvino (instead of La Tasca). All the bad reviews you guys gave La Tasca scared us off. I'll write E.L. a review of Taverna if she wants it.

On a side note, what's the difference between dinner and supper? My mom mom calls it supper. I call it dinner. Is it just a generational thing?

Supper is what I called the evening mean when the main meal of the day was at noon.

Dinner was the main meal in the evening or the main meal at noon (generally on Sundays).

My father was fussy about not getting these confused.

I think cold, over-seasoned fries are becoming some what of a trend. Too many places are serving these and passing them off as upscale.

I have to write down everything or I will forget. I always have a note in my pocket for things I need to purchase, complete, etc. Having said that, I don't understand how servers manage without writing things down - especially with me - I rarely order a dish "as is" from the menu - I usually want something on the side, without butter, etc.
My family uses the words supper and dinner interchangebly.

My stomach clock just went off. It's suppertime. And Charlie Brown has forgotten to feed me. Her I lie, a withering, hollow shell of a dog, and there sits my supper dish, empty.

RoCK, and the Harryman House is one of them (the cold over seasoned fries thing).

They are off "the list" permanantly. I've given them more chances to live up to what I think they could/should be than any other restaurant and the only thing they never fail at is dissapointing me.

Snoopy, you need to do what my cat does and climb up on something and start kicking things (preferably breakable things) off. That'll get ole Phil Collins (oops Charlie Brown's) attention!

Cold, over-seasoned fries? That is a complete crime against humanity!

Joyce, it has been years since I have been to Harryman House. But we would go there for special occassion dinners. From what I remember, they used to be pretty good. Did they go through a change in ownership?

Good post, John. It reminds me of the neighborhood place we frequent every Tuesday night for burgers and beers, although it also serves much more than those, including pretty good prime rib, some other tasty items, and has an interesting and very reasonably priced wine list and wines by the glass. You just have to know what to order because it can be hit-or-miss.

Last week management decided to switch the french fries from the perfectly cooked, crispy, addictive fries which have been served for years on Tuesday nights to wan, flabby, tasteless, poor excuses for french fries instead. The reason? There doesn't seem to be one except economics, since Tuesday night Burger Night is so popular. The low-quality fries must be much cheaper, and the original fries are still available every other night of the week.

Those fabulous fries were a finger-licking pleasure, along with my extra-rare burger. When we are in his section, my favorite waiter always has the kitchen heap my plate. Fortunately the waiter noted my chagrin over the new policy and whispered that the fabu fries are available on Burger Night if a customer's just another reason why he is my favorite waiter.

Billzappa, good question. I don't name the place because all I did was whine about it and did not render a complete review. Nor was the point (as I envisioned it) to review the place, but rather to take a long route to get to a question about tapas as old appetizers, with a sniffle over the cold fries trend, and a kicker on waiters who stupidly eschew the ink.

We returned for our annual visit last week and ate our way through town. One of our stops was for lunch at what is now The Grill at Harryman House. The Harryman House part of the sign is so small that we drove past the entrance.

My DW had the always-reliable shrimp salad that she's ordered there before. I took a flyer on a soft crab sandwich. After all, we were in [well, near] Baltimore. How many good soft crabs will we get in south Florida? The crab had been tempura-battered which hid both the taste and size of the crab. Strike one. Then, it was slathered with a remoulade of some sort, way too spicy for a delicate soft-shell. Strike two. And, yes, the fries were cold and tasteless. Strike three.

In India, in budget restaurants for tourists, the waiter brings a pen and paper to the table and hands it to the customers to write down whatever they want to order. No mix-ups.

Laura Lee, remind me to practice my penmanship before I go to India!

Cold, over seasoned french fries are disgusting. They taste like salted cardboard. If you get fresh, hot fries from Mickey D's they can be delicious.

Tempura battered soft crabs should be illegal in Maryland. What a terrible waste of a soft crab! Salt and pepper, dusted with flour and sautéed till crisp, served on rye bread with a little Hellman's mayo, a slice of fresh summer tomato and a little crisp lettuce. Now that's a soft crab!

I don't know if ownership changed or what happened, Trixie, but the food and service have gone way down hill but the prices remain up there. I secretly suspect that they have a pic of Elizabeth and when she was there they were on best behavior. (ok, not so secret, I did tell Lissa I suspect this).

bra1nchild, I am sorry for the bad experience but glad that you are able to support my observation.

LL, when we go to Edo Sushi and get "non" sushi items, I always write the item number the name and how many on the back of the sushi slip. I noticed the server do this on several occassions so now, I just save them the trouble. BTW, my order has never been wrong there. And, they have uni which I am just beginning to be intrigued by.

Jack Z, dust soft crabs with cornmeal rather than flour. It's a little crunchier, and the corn flavor of the meal enhances the crab's sweetness. It's delicious!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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