“Waiter! There’s a finger in my soup!”
Mostly, the Fork in the Road staff has a good time in restaurants — and we eat in lots of them. But sometimes our experience is so awful, that we never forget. So we got together and came up with our 10 Worst Restaurant Moments.
10. It was a brand new Lower East Side restaurant, and we arrived at 7:30. The menu for the night hadn’t been printed yet, so four of us shared one handwritten copy. Our pretty, dead-eyed waitress treated us like we were her high school teachers and she, like, hadn’t turned in the homework. With great effort, we finally communicated our order. We never saw her again. Only two glasses of water arrived. We rationed. The place filled up; other tables ordered. An hour passed, but not a scrap of food emerged. People at other tables also grew restless; we feared cannibalism. Two hours later, we received part of our order: a floppy-skinned chicken, with over-salting so severe it could cause chemical burns. We asked after our missing herring. There were still 13 orders in front of it.
9. Sometimes you don’t know something was your worst restaurant moment until afterward. I was stoked to raid a post-football buffet one Saturday afternoon in Austin, Texas, at a motel on the Interstate called Villa Maria. In addition to the usual carved roast beef, pimento cheese sandwiches, and mayo-bearing salads that are the staples of Texas buffets, I was attracted to a tray of deviled eggs, liberally carpeted with paprika. I ate five or six, congratulating myself on having discovered the best thing on the buffet. Late that evening I woke up with vomiting, chills, cramps, and worse — and haven’t touched a deviled egg since.
8. As part of a job interview for a culinary website that shall not be named, I was required to go on a tasting dinner at a new Park Avenue spot. This website’s stock in trade is interviews with chefs accompanied by numerous photos of their food — which, I might add, is never paid for. Anyway, the editor and I showed up at this beautiful restaurant, camera, lighting equipment, and computer in tow. It was a five-course dinner. The first was a gigantic charcuterie plate. The editor wasn’t happy with how it looked on the table, so she took the entire platter and put it on the floor. The she unzipped her boots, climbed up on a chair, and started snapping away. I was mortified. It was during the height of dinner service, and the incredibly gracious waiter looked like he wanted to kill us. The next four courses proceeded in similar fashion, with this woman jumping on and off chairs, and shining the bright light on food and diners alike. The food, by the way, was excellent, though I’ve never had less appetite. This woman also bragged that she’d once taken some of Daniel Boulud’s food into a restaurant bathroom to photograph it, so I guess it could have been worse. I didn’t get the job.
7. A friend was eating at a Greenpoint Thai restaurant. She was just finishing up a lovely papaya salad, when she discovered a horsefly lying amid the peanuts, dead as a three-day-old corpse. Upon further excavation, she discovered it wasn’t a whole insect: It was a half insect. She never returned to that restaurant, and advises others not to go there, either. She frequently tells the story, and for the rest of her life she’ll shiver whenever she thinks of it, wondering what happened to the other half of the fly.
6. Restaurants are like families — sometimes they’re happy and well behaved, other times they’re ornery and contentious. Some friends and I hiked into deepest Ridgewood one evening in search of a fabled Romanian bar that also served food. One tiny corner spot had a chalkboard menu out front, so we went inside and sat down. Soon we were served by a middle-aged lady with her hair tied neatly in a bun, whose husband was clearly the barkeep. After she took our order for various appetizers and a grilled meat assortment, he followed her into the kitchen, and a screaming fight ensued for what seemed like 10 minutes. She appeared seconds later in a coat and hat and stomped out. After about 30 minutes, we realized she wasn’t coming back, and we left as well.
5. When I lived in Carroll Gardens I’d occasionally order from a local Middle Eastern restaurant, mainly for their incredible pita bread. The night before I moved out of the neighborhood, I decided to order from them one last time. My pile of pitas and stuffed grape leaves came with a free salad, which I decided to eat first. As I pried the lid off the plastic container, an odd but familiar smell rose to greet me. I couldn’t quite place it at first, but gradually it dawned on me: Dial soap! On one hand, I was relieved to learn that the cooks were washing their hands. On the other, I was not glad that they were using the lettuce as a washcloth. And I couldn’t bear to find out if the rest of the meal also tasted like soap, so I just threw the whole meal out, and contented myself with a can of tuna fish.
4. You are no more likely to get sick at a cheap restaurant as you are at a fancy restaurant. In fact, you’re more vulnerable at the upscale spot, because you can’t see what’s going on in the kitchen. But no matter where you are, if you can see bloody meat juice dried on the walls, it is best not to eat there. If the prep area looks like a multiple homicide forensics investigation, don’t be a hero. “Wussy, prissy thinking!” I said to myself as a friend and I took in the carnage at a celebrated Chinatown spot, “Just eat.” Three days later, we were in the hospital, wishing the digestive tract had never been invented.
3. My companion and I were leaving for a long trip to West Africa bright and early the next morning, and we picked an Avenue A sushi bar for our last American meal. Halfway through an enjoyable repast, a couple obviously on a first date sat down next to us. They seemed a little nervous, so when I saw a giant water bug feeling its way across the ceiling above them, I gasped but quickly diverted my eyes. Sure enough, when the thing got directly above them, it fell right onto the couple’s sushi assortment, on its back, legs flailing. The girl leapt up and burst into tears, while the guy sat frozen and looking annoyed. The date was obviously finito, and our meal ruined as well.
2. An obligatory hair story: A friend ordered a doughnut ice cream sandwich from a celebrated Greenpoint doughnut shop. The guy making it had shoulder-length hair. Sure enough, one of the strands made it into my friend’s order. He saw it sticking out, grabbed it, and started pulling. He pulled and pulled and pulled some more, but the hair just kept on coming. Finally, he got the entire thing out. He claims the hair was two feet long. My friend can still taste the chocolate doughnut smeared with strawberry ice cream, which are no longer pleasant flavors for him.
1. I’m not a squeamish guy, so when I see a roach or a mouse in a restaurant — fairly common in New York — I look the other way. But 10 years ago I was sitting with a pair of friends in Singleton’s, a barbecue joint in Harlem, now long gone. As we chatted amiably in the cluttered establishment, a large rat trundled out from under the table inches from our toes. It was followed by another, possibly his mate. We acted downtown-cool about the event, dropping a $20 bill on the table to pay for the food we’d already ordered, then stood up and beat it out of there without looking back.