The dynamics of dining out in Westchester have changed a bit for me over the past 5 years. While dating, my wife and I enjoyed dining at various restaurants throughout the region. Granted, I’m a bit cheap so we were more likely hit a local comfortable spot then a top rated restaurant. But we certainly enjoyed a handful of meals at some of the swankier, fancier joints as well. Nowadays, it is much tougher to get to those ‘elite’ restaurants as not only do the meals cost a fortune, but the babysitter rates are crushing on the back end. But we do still indulge from time to time, both with and without the kids, and I came to a realization, almost an epiphany, since my last couple of meals out. I don’t need to be wowed or tantalized by a meal anymore, I just want a restaurant to be consistent with their dishes each and every time.
Maybe it’s me, as my wife tells me that I can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but is it so hard to just cook the same meal night in and night out? I mean, it’s not like these places haven’t been doing it for years, right? I get it… sometimes the food distributors don’t have as good a cut of meat one week, or a couple of staff members call out sick stressing out the kitchen. So I can stomach a little inconsistency from one night to the next. But to have a supremely enjoyable meal on one visit and then a ridiculously awful meal the next just seems crazy to me… especially when you are paying the same price for it!
I hate to throw restaurants under the bus, so I will leave this Italian restaurant in Westchester nameless. But this place is known for classic Italian food as well as high quality steaks. I was skeptical on the steak aspect, but had heard really favorable reviews from neighbors. So since it was under $30 for the NY strip, I decided to give it a shot. I am not exaggerating when I say it was barely even a small step down from big time steak house quality at half the price. Thick cut, super juicy and cooked to perfection… I was shocked and extremely impressed! Others had lobster that night with the same positive reaction. The kids were thrilled too as they had pasta, chicken fingers and fries… an absolute must if we plan to bring the kids. So this seemed like a home run all around, almost too good to be true as the food and service were both fantastic, the kids were happy and the bill was extremely reasonable. Oh, and they only charged $15 a bottle for corkage fee… another score!
About a week later some colleagues were looking for a reasonable place to go to dinner. I wanted to make sure my senses hadn’t failed me, so I suggested this newly found gem just to confirm my original take… and BOOM! It was even better this time with the raw oysters and clams tasting super fresh and the homemade lasagna was melt in your mouth good. Not to mention the friendly and personal service only added to the overall dining experience. So that was it, I was sold. This was our new go to place, which was a relief as I can throw a rock and hit it from my house.
But then… it happened. We went back with family on a Friday night and you could tell the place was slammed as it took a long while for our favorite waiter to come and take a drink order… usually a bad sign. I asked if the cuts of steak were going to be as good as usual, which of course he confirmed. So after waiting… and waiting… and waiting, the food finally arrived. What came out was not even close to the same quality steak as my first two visits, it was more like a thin slice of slightly over cooked london broil… not very appetizing. Everyone had sort of the same opinion about their dishes as well. The lobster was pretty tough and the lasagna looked like it was slopped on to the plate by a school cafeteria lady. Disappointment… starts…now.
The problem is that this happens all over with so many restaurants throughout Westhester. I have had wonderful dinners at the top rated steakhouses in the area, but also ones where I couldn’t believe what they put on the table for a $60 steak. Too many local sushi restaurants suffer from this same dynamic. One week the sushi is fresh and savory but the next it is chewy and fishy… and nothing is more off putting than possibly bad sushi. I know I am not alone here either as I have heard from colleagues and friends that even some of the most highly regarded restaurants in the county, which I have not been able to attend in some time unfortunately, have this same dynamic. Ultimately this inconsistency is what can lead to a restaurant’s demise, as word of mouth goes a long way in Westchester… and once you get a bad rep it is tough to come back from.
Of course I will go back to the aforementioned local Italian steakhouse to give it another shot, because as Meatloaf says …2 out of 3 ain’t bad. But I probably won’t be as excited or enthusiastic to go out of my way to get there as I may have been had that last meal been consistent with the first two. So these days, I find my most enjoyable meals come from your standard bars, grills and Italian/pizza places. Quaker Hill Tavern isn’t the finest restaurant in town, but for my money it is certainly the most consistent in terms of their food and it comes with a lively atmosphere for adults and kids. The same goes for Candlelight Inn, The WBC Restauarants, Gerardo’s, The Tap House in Tuckahoe and Anthony’s in White Plains. So I guess what I am saying is that I no longer care to be dazzled with great food and a fine dining experience. I am much happier with a restaurant meeting my expectations by consistently providing a solid meal to be enjoyed alongside family and friends… each and every visit.
12/23/15 Update: So I went back to said Italian steakhouse for a work event and it reverted back to its original quality. Steak was killer, Italian dishes all went over fantastically and even for a party of 28 the service was excellent. Glad to see that it seems like that one off night was a rare occurrence, but I’m sure there are others that may not give a place another shot after a poor dining experience. Which is why these restaurants need to be consistently on point every dinner service.