Whenever I tell anyone that I'm a food critic, I invariably get asked two questions: "Where's the best place you've eaten?" "And the worst?"
I'm now wondering if Joseph's Fine Dining might be the answer to both.
Sixteen years ago, I was introduced to fine dining service as a front-line employee at the Penrose Room, then under Joseph Freyre's leadership. He was graceful, classy, unpretentious and totally debonair.
On a recent visit, I was glad to see that had not changed. Gliding through the soft, well-adorned dining room which starkly contrasts with the shell of a building that's housed Mr. Steak, Walter's Bistro, La Belle Vie, etc. as if in some '50s musical, Freyre didn't skip a beat with his tableside carts.
The fine dining master delivered on the flambed spinach Pernod for two ($9.99 per person), a delicate saut of onion, brown sugar, smoked bacon and vinegar with a hit of Pernod, set alight then tossed with baby spinach. Simply the best salad I've ever had. No over-the-top additives, just crisp spinach leaves perfectly dressed in a sweet, savory anise flavor with a salty bite of bacon. Superb.
A throwback to a more elegant time, the flambed pepper steak ($28.99) had me silently singing "I Feel Pretty" with my eyes closed. Pan-seared in fragrant butter, mango chutney and just the right amount of black pepper, its touch of brandy birthed a dramatic flame.
But perfection stopped there, and what followed was nothing short of shocking and infuriating.
At lunch, as Joseph's was out of bleu cheese for the burger, we settled on the Roast Beef Swirlwich ($10.99). Shredded Havarti, sliced pepper jack, minced green onion and lettuce with a "touch of teriyaki sauce" supposedly accompanied roast beef wrapped in a tomato dill tortilla.
The sandwich was thick, cold and dry, so my companion requested a side of honey mustard. Upon our server's return, she mentioned that the chef had "placed a small layer of teriyaki sauce in the wrap." When I asked for more of it, she returned from the kitchen admitting that they, in fact, had no teriyaki sauce on-site. Upon further inspection, the sandwich also was missing the Havarti and the onion. Someone forgot to buy the groceries, then lied about it.
Intentionally misleading or simply unfortunate? Well, let's consider the rest of my aforementioned dinner.
In addition to that beautiful pepper steak, we had ordered the crab-stuffed white trout ($19.99). One bite and a peek inside revealed telltale bright pink bits of imitation crab. When asked about the crab used, the server went to the kitchen and returned saying, "Blue crab." The hell you say!
I challenged that, and she consulted her boss. Returning, she simply stated, "Joseph says there is a "percentage' of imitation crab in the dish." Like what: 50 percent? 95? 100? I can't imagine anyone mixing delicate blue crab with imitation and calling it good.
Two visits, and twice intentionally misinformed as to what was in the dish! Sadder still, Joseph was made aware of the questions raised and never personally addressed them.
A to-die-for pepper steak and spinach salad provides no justification for underestimating your customers. There are some, like me, that give a flying focaccia what the challah they're eating.