One of the most irritating things about moving to a new town is finding great places to eat. Every place has at least one -- but it always takes forever to find it, especially if your local newspaper doesn't run reviews of local establishments. Two years (ish) ago, we moved to Oneonta, NY, which is near Cooperstown, which is where the Baseball Hall of Fame is. Oneonta, home to both a SUNY campus and Hartwick college, is a happening little place in its own right and is full of neat little shops, a nifty downtown, a thriving Farmer's Market and walkable neighborhoods. Also here is, for what it's worth, the Soccer Hall of Fame. No, I've not been.
We do have a local newspaper. (Disclaimer: I worked for them last summer and currently write for them.) Like all papers, it has things that work well and things that do not. Given how wee (in terms of numbers, not spirit) the editorial staff is, it is amazing that it is as good as it is. But one thing it doesn't have is restaurant reviews. I did pitch a column dedicated to the same when we first moved here. It was shot down for a variety of reasons, all of which are very sound. The most resounding of which is that restaurant reviews tend to piss off advertisers, which I know firsthand from my days at the Pulse. Any review, it seemed, no matter how stunning, always caused the restaurant in question to pull its ads. And if we reviewed a non-advertising place, they always vowed to never, ever advertise with us. While it would be nice to say that that sort of thing doesn't play into editorial decisions, it does. Welcome to the world.
(An aside: a German restaurant in Knoxville pulled its ads because, in an otherwise gleamingly positive review, I called the food "beige." I did not assign a value judgment to the word beige, nor imply that beige is in anyway less desirable, just that German food, generally, is beige. People are weird.)
I have, however, been bemoaning the lack of solid info about local eateries that a newcomer could make decisions from. And it dawned on me in the shower this morning -- why not just do it myself? After all, the blog has no advertisers, no overhead, no payroll and no mercy. It also has virtually no readers, so the repercussions will be few. If nothing else, it will give me something to look at in my dotage, to remind myself that I used to do things that didn't involve knitting toilet paper roll covers.
And if I can save one person from a bad meal or steer them to a better one, then my work here will be done. Which doesn't mean I'll shut up, of course, just that I'll be finally able to sleep the blissful sleep of the righteous.
Today's entry: Renee's Crossing. (In theory, I've set up a category called "Oneonta-area eats". If you click on the link at the bottom of the post, you should be able to call all of these reviews up. We'll see how this works in practice.)
The best thing that Renee's Crossing has going for it is its location. The restaurant itself is in an old train dining car that is now set up on a bluff overlooking the still-functional freight tracks. The car is a quant throwback, complete with luxuriously upholstered seats and old-fashioned luggage on the racks. During the meal, we (the Hub and I, with our equally foodie friends, the Grillmaster and the Pie Goddess) got to watch a train thread its way through the valley, which is just greening up. Spring comes late, here.
Sad to say, however, that the ambience (and the company, natch) were the best part of the meal. The service was dreadful. While our waitress was well-intentioned and eager to please, she didn't really seem to know what she was doing. Little things -- like refilling water glasses and clearing empty plates -- added up. She was cheerful, certainly, and would do anything (well, not anything) that you asked of her. But you always had to ask for crazy stuff like butter and the check.
But inexperienced service wouldn't be a dealbreaker if the food were good. It wasn't. It wasn't awful, certainly, but at $14-$20 per entree, my expectations were higher than, say, what they would be at Applebee's. Frankly, Applebee's is much, much tastier. My crab cakes were dry and bland, and no amount of remoulade or lemon could bring out much flavor. The Hub's seafood platter, while covered with various fruits of the sea, was unevenly cooked and not seasoned much at all. The Pie Goddess' shrimp scampi lacked garlic and the twice-baked potato required a good tablespoon of added butter to make it edible. The Grillmaster's steak, however, was cooked to perfection and my sweet bourbon mashed potatoes [which should be more properly called "bourbon mashed sweet potatoes," fyi] were lovely.
Desserts -- a chocolate mousse concoction and apple pie a la mode -- were clearly made off premises a couple of days earlier and the pie, at least, tasted of refrigerator. We would have been much better served to drive to the nearby Pie in the Sky (which I unhesitatingly recommend for ice cream) for a scoop or two of their fresh, homemade treats. Live, learn.
Part of me wonders if the whole experience was so very eh because it was a Wednesday evening and the B-team was working. But that same part of me gets a little pissed at the suggestion. We were still paying Saturday prices and should expect Saturday food and service, yes?
So the question that should be answered at the end of any restaurant review: Will we go back. In a word, no. Not even on a weekend. Not even in a box. Not even with a fox. It wasn't bad, really, just not worth the money and time.
Questions? Suggestions? Please comment...