Waiting for Turbot
Setting: The Remington Grill. A weekday night. David, Ruth, Robert and Dennis arrive on time, having previously confirmed their reservations. They are shown to a fine table in the center of the room. They are presented with a lovely dish of crudités on ice. No menus.
Waiter: Would you like to have a drink or see the wine list?
Dennis (after consulting with the rest of the table): No, we'll just have water and iced tea, please.
(Waiter exits and reappears, looking hopeful.)
Waiter: Can I get you Pellegrino or Perrier water?
Table (variously): No. No, thanks.
(Exit waiter. Ten minutes pass, and the four men at the table trade improvisational comments about whether the waiter will return. They attempt to make eye contact and fail; they finally begin waving their hands. The waiter returns.)
Waiter: Oh, would you like to see a menu?
Dennis (sarcastic): Why, yes, thank you, that would be lovely.
(Waiter provides menus without comment and exits for another ten minutes. He is seen graciously serving other customers, who all seem to be drinking wine or bottled water. After further attempts at eye contact and more frantic hand gestures, the waiter grudgingly returns to take orders.)
But enough. I think you get the point. If you've read any of my previous reviews, you know that quality service comes in a distant second to food in my estimation of a restaurant. But there comes a time in every man's life when he has to stand up and draw the line.
This was that time. It was painfully evident to all of us that the moment we declined to order wine, drinks or expensive bottled water, the waitstaff decided to treat us like lepers. This was totally unacceptable. I was appalled that the waitstaff at such a restaurant -- where appetizers are priced from $5.75 to $15.50, and entrées from $19.50 to $29 (without potatoes or vegetables, an additional $4.50 to $8) -- acted like we were steerage passengers on the Titanic.
It was a shame, really, because despite the poor service, I liked The Remington Grill -- a lot. (Which reminded me of one of my father's favorite jokes: "And other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the theater?") It was a comfortable space, a clublike room with a crowd that exuded, well, money -- not obnoxious, juvenile, dot-com money, but older, dignified money. It was the quiet, no-need-to-flaunt-it kind of money. The Remington was a nice place to enjoy a leisurely meal, from a menu expertly put together by executive chef Toby Joseph, who appeared to specialize in high-class comfort food.
A good example was the pepperoncini seared calamari ($9); extra large, extra thick rings of calamari were quickly and ideally sautéed, then dressed with a lush wine-butter-lemon sauce and enough pepper to give your taste buds a nice kick with every bite. Equally good, and with a bite that compared favorably to the calamari's, was the smoked carpaccio and steak tartare ($13). The coarsely ground steak tartare was heavily seasoned with a dressing of pungent mustard and fresh horseradish, a lovely counterpoint to the tender slices of freshly smoked carpaccio.
I also enjoyed the arugula, watercress and artichoke salad ($5.75). Fresh greens and tender baby artichokes were tossed with the lightest of dressings. For a plate of green vegetables, it wasn't bad at all, and I'm not damning with faint praise here.
I ordered the spit-roasted chicken almost as a dare, curious to see what Joseph could do to justify a charge of $19.50 ($agrave; la carte, if you please). He couldn't do much, it turned out. It was a half chicken, free-range would be my guess, the skin golden-brown, the meat slightly dry, with no sauce to liven it up. For nearly $20, I expected more: bells, whistles, fireworks, Roman candles, anything but a naked half chicken.
To compensate for its blandness, I had the foie gras whipped potatoes ($7.50), a terrine of fluffy whipped potatoes, dripping rivulets of butter, spiked with nuggets of foie gras. All I could say was, "Wow, and wow again."
The rest of the entrées were, by and large, grilled: There was a good New York strip steak ($29), which had the proper mineral tang; a veal chop ($29) stuffed with a flavorful mixture of Stilton cheese, roasted corn and peppers that arguably overpowered the cut of meat; and a profoundly simple (and simply profound) turbot fillet ($29), which was a reminder that sometimes (but only sometimes) less is more.
For those not ordering drinks, I recommend you order the 14 vegetables plate ($7.50) as a side dish. They were good, yes, but they made themselves useful in other ways, too: We killed time waiting on our server by counting them to make sure all 14 veggies were there. (Consider this an adult version of the place mat puzzles restaurants used to provide to keep kids happy.)
If you can get a waiter to bring you a dessert menu -- it may take a while, trust me -- there are some worthwhile choices. Unfortunately the soufflé that caught my eye would have added an extra 25 minutes to an already lengthy meal. (Surprisingly enough, the waitstaff neglected to mention this at the beginning of the meal.) However, an order of lemon crepes ($7.25) and a lovely mascarpone-and-berry "napoleon" (ladyfingers rather than puff pastry, but never mind) ($6.25) eased my disappointment.
It was, in fact, a testament to the quality of the food and the comfort of the surroundings that we all made it through the meal smiling and happy, despite the negligent waitstaff. The next time I visit the Remington, I will be prepared: I will bring a book (the collected Samuel Beckett, perhaps). I can read it while waiting or, if necessary, throw it at a waiter to get his attention.
The Remington Grill at The St. Regis, Houston 1919 Briar Oaks Lane, (713)403-2631.
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