Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Disappointing Thanksgiving Dinner

As is my wont, I had researched places to go, things to do and restaurants to eat at prior to our trip to Panama City Beach, Florida. One of the restaurants that I had picked for us to try seemed particularly promising. Besides being lauded as being one of the best restaurants in Panama City Beach, the centerpiece of the the Saltwater Grill Restaurant is a 25,000 gallon salt water aquarium. We decided to eat there on Thanksgiving Day, foregoing the traditional day’s dinner.

Well, that was the plan. Too bad the restaurant had other ideas. Upon being seated, we were informed that ordering off their extensive and tempting menu was not an option. We were instead directed to the impromptu buffet that had been set up in a corner of the dining room.

Now here is a cautionary tale for restaurateurs. Stick to what you know and to what you do best. If, for example, you are an upscale seafood and steak eatery, don’t try to suddenly become a common family buffet, serving foods that normally don’t appear on your menu. If your customers really wanted the traditional Thanksgiving Day fare they wouldn’t be venturing into your restaurant to begin with, now would they? No, of course not. They would be coming to you in order to escape the same old boring menu that can easily be found at the clich├ęd family restaurant/country store chain just down the street. If you do try to venture into these unfamiliar waters, the results will likely be less than spectacular and those customers who do dine with you on this occasion will probably be vastly disappointed with your food. So do yourself and your reputation a favor by playing to your strengths.

Now back to the matter at hand: perhaps we should have just left at this point, but we were playing the part of meek little mice (we have that role down pat, thank you very much), so we stayed. Obediently we made our way to the buffet to see just what our choices were.

A tossed salad and a Caesar salad started off the buffet. Lobster bisque (where’s the lobster?) and some other soup were up next. Roast beef to be carved by the attendant preceded the turkey, honey ham, mahi mahi with mango salsa and a vegetarian dish consisting of penne pasta in tomato sauce sitting in their chafing dishes, slowly drying out, diminishing into the sunset as they awaited the diners. Similarly, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, corn, stuffing (made with chicken stock and thus off limits to me), corn and rice pilaf suffered the same ignominy.

Cranberry compote, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and pecan bread pudding finished off the buffet.

The ham was decent, but the mahi mahi might as well have dated from the time of the Pharaohs. That poor fish, which is one of the most expensive fish in our neck of the woods, was dry, dense and tasteless. The potatoes (both varieties) were dried out and would have been tossed if found in my kitchen. Fortunately, it is nearly impossible to ruin corn, even on a forsaken buffet.

In the end I would have to say that the bread pudding was by far the best item on the buffet that I tried that evening.

Sadly, this ultimately disappointing fare set us back $90 with tip and that was entirely too much money for a sad excuse of a meal for these admittedly cheap Yankees*. Now, I want to believe that this truly is a very nice restaurant, but this meal did not advertise this fact and indeed leads one to believe the opposite.
*Please understand that we have no problem with paying good money for exceptional fare, but this barely qualified as edible food in our book.

Restaurateurs, please heed my advice and don’t try to be what you are not. You can only hurt yourself in the process. Either do what you do proudly or close for the day and save your reputation.

I really cannot tell you how much writing this post hurt me as I hate to disparage anyone. I hope to return someday to Panama City Beach and perhaps learn firsthand that this truly is a great restaurant. Unfortunately, this trip did not prove that fact.

1 comment:

Rosie Hawthorne said...

$90. Ouch.
Points for "ignominy."