Saturday, September 22, 2007
report from the new mall
Everyone in Claremont is really excited about the Packing House/Village Expansion, and we were certainly looking forward to its opening. In the event, though, we are disappointed on nearly every count.
I could post daily for a month about the establishments they've brought in, and how they all seem to be run by first-time business owners. Even in the places that I frequent frequently, like the wine bar, they are friendly but they don't really know what they're doing (e.g.: serving white wine in stemless glasses, "because they look cool").
Last night, before seeing Across the Universe at the Laemmle (which you absolutely must see if you're between 35 and 55 -- plus you'll be the oldest person in the theater, for a change!), we hit Casablanca for dinner. I had been there for lunch a couple of weeks ago and wasn't all that bowled over, but K. hadn't tried it yet.
In a word: mediocre.
First of all, the food is solidly Lebanese. So why are they naming it after a city in Morocco? Beirut is 3200km from Casablanca.
The decor, too, seems to be the work of someone who has never designed a restaurant before. Not only is it not Middle Eastern -- lots of wrought iron, along with touches of the Baroque -- but the lighting is seriously hosed. In the back of the restaurant, you have your choice of sitting in shadow (without a candle or lamplet) or under a 150W spotlight.
Our waitress, although kind of charming in a geeky way, was the ditziest thing ever. She screwed up orders, she brought the wrong thing to the wrong table, she waited on later arrivals before earlier arrivals -- and all in a station that only held four tables. A guy who was giving off son-of-the-owner vibes kept trying to help her, but often he made things worse.
There was a systematic attempt to upsell on everything. I've worked food service, and I know that it has to be done subtly, but there was nothing subtle about this. They have removed the least expensive wine from the wine list, and instead they recommend the two most expensives ones, without telling you the price. And the wine list looks like it was chosen by the manager of the Albertson's, for that matter. Similarly, with the beers, both the waitress and the son-of-owner guy kept pushing K. to get the Almaza, an extremely bland Lebanese beer we've had at Grapevine (and which they charge more for than the Bass).
The food was okay but not great. For once, we got mains instead of making a meal of starters, as we usually do at Grapevine (which I think is the parent or at least godparent of this place -- except that Grapevine is worth returning to. They even play the same mixtape!). I got the lamb chops, rare, which were too salty and more "seared raw" than rare. They were certainly edible -- I don't mind eating lamb completely raw -- but they showed no skill at all.
K. order the salmon kebab and got the salmon filet, which he was too nice to send back. The filet was fine, although it was slightly overcooked, being quite dry in the center. Both our dishes were served with sides of mashed potatoes, boiled milled carrots (those baby-finger things that are good for snacking), raw onions sprinkled with sumac, and a grilled anaheim pepper. Not particularly good, and the mashed potatoes, while flavorful enough, had been done in the food processor, so they had that gluey thing going that happens when you break down the starch molecules.
We might be back, if we're in the nabe or something, but I'd far rather go to Grapevine or Darvish.