It’s a good thing I live alone, because you do not want a pissed off Teagan on your hands and that is exactly what I am right now. I just got back from the restaurant reviewing experience at Zocalo (located at 36th and Lancaster Ave) and the whole thing was a complete disaster. I don’t think I will concentrate on the food too much here since that was actually decent, but it was everything else that made the meal what I would consider to be a big flop. Okay, so in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I am writing a review of the restaurant for 34th Street magazine, the arts and culture section of The Daily Pennsylvanian (the DP) that comes out each week on Thursdays. They were fully aware that we were coming to review the restaurant this evening and we even had a photographer with us from the paper snapping very obtrusive photos throughout the meal (I’ll get to her more specifically in a moment). I had called the manager about a week ago to set up the time to come in and also to make sure that the meal would be compensated because The Daily Pennsylvanian doesn’t have a big enough budget to pay for all the meals at all the restaurants it reviews. It’s a great gig to be able to eat out at some of the top places in the city for free, but you have to take the whole experience with a grain, or ten, of salt because the restaurant knowing who you are when you walk through the door clearly colors your experience and also you feel as if you can’t write too scathing a review of a place which was kind enough to supply you (a “starving” graduate student) with a free meal. That said, let’s turn to this evening’s meal.
I was informed that the DP would be sending along a photographer to the restaurant to meet us at the time of the reservation and that they would most likely be sitting down to eat with my friend and I. This ended up being extremely awkward on many levels, not only because I was anticipating a fun evening hanging out and catching up with a close friend, but also there was clearly a significant difference in what she (the photographer) and I wanted to get out of the meal and it did not make for a pleasant dining experience. When we first arrived at Zocalo the photographer was already there and had actually requested a table on the outdoor patio, um hello it’s 50 degrees outside and I’m not a big fan of eating both in the dark and with my coat on. So I nixed that idea post haste! The service throughout the meal was ridiculously slow. This, above all can make a good meal turn awful really quick. It took us over two hours to eat a two course meal, that means we had drinks, appetizers, and entrees and we gave up at desserts because I was honestly too sick of sitting on my bum in the same darned chair. I absolutely hate being in situations where you feel as if you’re trapped somewhere and you would rather be doing something else. I’m not one to sit still for very long, long enough to enjoy a good meal for sure, but this was above and beyond absurd! Our waitress, it should be admitted, was very knowledgeable and extremely nice, bringing us a taste of the mole sauce before we ordered so we could see if we would like the chicken mole dish (she was right when she said it was bitter, the sauce tasted almost burnt to me!). I acknowledge that service is something that my parents (and particularly my dad) have always been picky about and this is probably part of the reason why I am so attune to it, also because I myself have been a server. Honestly though, when the time between courses is so long that you start to play with the leftover food on the table to entertain yourself, that is too long. It was a Tuesday for goodness sakes; there was no one in the restaurant for the most part!
And then there was the intrusiveness of the photographer throughout the meal. I will not deny that she was doing her job, but I would say that she went far above and beyond the call of duty. This is a school paper, there will be one photo used next to an article about the restaurant that is about 200 words, this is not a big deal. I would say it is not to be taken too seriously, it’s more about going to eat out at these places then being a stickler for the assignment, but clearly this girl had other ideas. She literally took so many shots of her entrée when it arrived that my friend and I had finished ours by the time she even started to eat hers. And she also did not share any of the food that she ordered. Now I do understand this from one perspective, some people are not comfortable with sharing food and that’s their prerogative, but when you go out to a place to do a review of it, you want to try as many things as possible on the menu to get a sense of what they have to offer. Well, clearly she didn’t grasp this concept. I think it all boils down to this, dining is not only about having good food and a nice ambiance, but also about who you’re eating with. Obviously having an interloper for this meal who only added to the slow pace of it (and believe me I do like to savor a good thing, just not two hours worth of savoring) made what could have been a fun experience a completely frustrating one!