Restaurant food is generally excellent in Houston. Choose a random restaurant and the food will be spiced and flavored, seared when it should be seared, simmered when it should be simmered, raw when it should be raw. If you want the salad dressing on the side, you will get it on the side. If you want a different combination, they will prepare it for you. Of course there is variation in quality not only predicted by price or genre, but the standard is high. This is a city that does not know what provel cheese is, or overwhelm you with grease or sugar (sorry, St. Louis).
But more than anything, restauranteurs, from servers to water-glass-fillers to chefs, are kind and friendly. They will move tables together if needed. They will seat you where you want to be seated. If there is a glitch of any kind, you will get a free dessert or something similar.
That was not our experience two nights ago in Leiden, where we were for an excellent meeting. First, our group of eight hunted for a place to continue our scientific discussion on biological markets over beer. The first place we entered had a great corner for this, with three small tables. But nearby there were two tables set for dinner, not for drinking. The server told us we could not move tables or even chairs together because it might disturb the eventual customers for dinner. Never mind that it was only 4 PM, and the diners would not come for three more hours. We were not welcome. Is this what happens when tips are not part of the culture? We left, and found a dark bar with a perfect round table. We moved high stools around it, and drank Grolsch and Duvel, two of the surprisingly small handful of beers on offer.
After we finished, our colleagues caught the train to their homes in Amsterdam, or the bus back to their partners at the hotel. We looked for a place for dinner and chose a Greek one, called Rhodos. The smiling red-headed server brought our wine and water quickly, then congratulated us for ordering the 12 small plates for two, saying it was a great sampling. The first two trays came quickly enough, with eight tiny portions of salads and fish. They were good, if salty. We wondered if that made the count 8 of 12 or 2 of 12 and decided we didn’t care. A dessert or two would round out the meal. If that was just the appetizer, it would be a bit much to face the remaining courses, but we could try.
So we waited. And waited. Our plates had been cleared. We did not want another glass of wine. After 30 minutes, they put fresh plates and silverware in front of us. After another 15 minutes we inquired again. Tray after tray of meat, vegetables, salads, and french fries had come from the window into the kitchen and gone to tables around us, to people who had come in long after us. Finally we realized that a couple sitting near us had ordered the same thing we did half an hour after us and we were being made to wait for the next courses when they were ready. I guess the chef did not want to prepare these things two times. After more than 50 minutes, food finally came, along with an angry chef. He told us it was his restaurant and he decided what people ate and when people ate it and if we couldn’t sit there for 50 minutes between courses, it was because we did not know how to enjoy life. He went on and on. I see from the restaurant’s Facebook page that he is from Larnaca, Cyprus.
We left without waiting for the remaining courses, though we did pay for them. Both servers followed us outside apologizing and looking sad. We told them we knew it was not their fault. Then the angry chef came out to the street, exploding at us, and ordering the servers back inside.
I looked for Yelp, TripAdvisor, anywhere to warn others, but did not find this restaurant, so I can only assume two things. First, it must be new and second, with a chef like that, it won’t last long.
Oh, you wondered about the food. The main courses were nearly raw lamb kebobs and over-cooked, over-salted deep-fried fish. Maybe the baklava would have been good, but we didn’t stay to discover it. Has anything like this ever happened to you in Houston? I didn’t think so.
The friendly bar that found a nook for us.
The angry chef at Rhodos, who thinks it is all right to make people wait 50 minutes between courses.