March 05, 2006

Welcome to Bridges, would you like fries with that?

I've debated about whether to comment about our latest Bridges experience or just let it be. This is one of our all-time favorite restaurants. It's over there on the right, in my links. It's the first place we think of going when we're celebrating something big. We consider the owner, the chef and many of the staff among our friends...

But if the only time I post about a restaurant is to rave about how fabulous it is, I think I lose some credibility here. For those of you who remember the Life cereal ads of the 70's, I start to look like Mikey's optimistic cousin -- she loves EVERYTHING. (For those of you who don't, just humor me). So while I love Bridges, if our latest dinner there had been our first experience, I don't think we would go back...

First, the changes we made that contributed to a less than four-star experience:

We went with an early dinner reservation on a Sunday, due to time constraints. Normally we make the latest reservations we can, on a Friday or a Saturday night. But we're booked solid for the next several Friday and Saturday nights, and I wanted my Bridges fix. But Sunday at 5 meant that the executive chef wasn't there, the owner wasn't there, most of the 'regular' staff wasn't there. A disappointment, but not a travesty. But it went steadily downhill from there.

Because we were seated before the sunset, we were offered (and opted for) the early bird pre fixe menu. We selected almost exactly the same thing. For the salad course, I had the Caesar, John had the Mixed Baby Lettuce Salad (Wisconsin Buttermilk Blue cheese, garlic crostini and red wine-walnut vinaigrette). We both had the salmon entree and for dessert the Vanilla Creme Brulee (with cinnamon shortbread cookie). For two meals where we ordered the same thing, presumably prepared by the same chef, clearly in the same kitchen, we couldn't have had two more disparate experiences. With the entrees, John complained he couldn't taste the main component of the sauce (I've forgotten what it was now... if he remembers he'll post a comment). I DO remember thinking he was out of his mind, it came through loud and clear on MY plate. At least until I tasted his. It was like they'd left ingredients out. With the dessert, we had the same experience with the cookie -- mine tasted completely different from his. In defense of the restaurant, I should point out that I enjoyed the meal itself -- it was the disparity between two of the same thing that was... odd.

And here's where I risk pissing off the parents among you. About midway through our meal, the host seated a party of 11 at a nearby table. Since only four members of the party were over the age of 10, we had concerns about the adult-to-child ratio when they walked in. When three of these kids needed booster seats I was glad our dessert was forthcoming. To add insult to injury, the adults decided that in order to have any prayer of conversing together, they needed to seat all of the kids together at one end of the table.

I realize that children are children. That there are limits to their attention span. That they cannot be expected to act as mini-adults. I'm just asking that parents respect that, and not bring their kids into adult environments they're not ready for. If that bothers you, I suggest you stop reading here...

[ begin rant ]

If the only way you can enjoy an evening out is to sequester your kids at one end of the table, please stay home. Set up a kids table in the family room. Yes, I'm afraid that means that you're going to have to clean up if they throw food on the floor. But it's not fair to expect the restaurant staff to clean up after your kids. Or fellow restaurant patrons to endure a forty five minute food fight.

If Johnny and Joanie can't be in the same county without ripping each other's limbs off, please respect that. Don't seat them next to each other in a restaurant so you can hold hands with your spouse. We don't want to watch them dismember each other. Really. We don't. We may come dismember you.

If your child can't handle dinner out without diversions like handheld video games, your cell phone, or silverware to beat on the table, please choose your venue accordingly. When I dine at a kid-friendly establishment, I'm actually fairly tolerant of that kind of behavior. But when I'm paying $35 for my entree, I don't want to be serenaded by Johnny's game boy. Or subject to his skills with percussion instruments.

And a note to the restaurant... "fine dining" and "kids eat free" are mutually exclusive concepts. If I've paid $40 for my entree, I don't want to know that it's marked up so that Johnny can throw the vegetables at Joanie at no cost to their inconsiderate parents.

[ /end rant ]