Friday, August 04, 2006

No Luck at Trulucks

We eat out a lot. Consequently, we're always on the lookout for new restaurants to add to our list of acceptable dining establishments. This new place opened a few of months ago. It's called Trulucks, and it's one of those fancy-schmancy, do-you-have-a-reservation-while-they-look-over-your-attire, seafood/steak sort of places. We don't eat at these sorts of places very often, but we have to try out the new ones to see if they'll make the short list for the next birthday/anniversary/mother's day dinner. There is another Trulucks in town, but DC and I have never been there. It's downtown, which makes it an enormous pain in the ass to get to, park, etc., so we've just never bothered. But now there's one just down the road from our house, so now it's easy. We tried just stopping in once without a reservation (on a Thursday evening) and the wait was an hour and a half. I thought that was a good sign. People want to eat there.

When the time is right (i.e., we decide where we're going to eat more than 2 minutes before leaving the house), we decide to make a reservation and go. We invite our best dining buddy L to come along with us to judge the place. L agrees to join us, but also tells us that he's been to the Truluck's downtown. He informs us that food sucked and the service was even worse. "Oh," I say, "How could a restaurant charge those prices and get away with crappy food?? It must have been a fluke." <--- note the foreshadowing here

So, we make our reservation and show up at the appointed time. Upon entering the establishment, we are overcome with a certain, shall we say, fishy odor. DC announces that the place smells like a "Galveston shrimp boat," which the hostess definitely hears. I try to make nice by pointing out that they have seafood on ice directly behind us, apparently displaying their wares, and there's a tank of live lobsters behind the hostess podium, so maybe the dining room won't be so bad. The dining room is pleasant. We get a nice cushy booth. My feet don't touch the floor once I sit down, but I can't hold that against them, because it happens frequently. I usually just kick off my shoes and sit cross-legged on the seat in this situation, but I don't, because it seems inappropriate in such a classy place. We order some fried calamari to get started. It tastes pretty good, but there is way too much breading. I take a fairly large piece and excavate it. In the core is a small, but tasty, piece of calamari. Not rubbery and overcooked. B+, for good flavor and crunch. Not an A because the calamari/breading ratio isn’t quite right.

The waiter is very good. Very knowledgeable and attentive. He and DC get into an extended conversation about the steaks on the menu. (An aside about steaks….DC is on a quest to find a fabulous steak place. You wouldn't think it would be so hard. We live in Texas, for crying out loud. A good steak should just land on your plate for the asking. You shouldn't have to go searching, looking under rocks, and sneaking into back alleys, giving the secret handshake, or whatever. There are cows everywhere!) Anyway, DC settles on a steak. The most expensive one on the menu, naturally, since it's my turn to pick up the check, but that's fine. All I want is for my man to be happy, and if a $36 steak will do that, it's a small price to pay. I ordered the grilled shrimp, described on the menu as "Grilled shrimp, served with garlic butter and Truluck's special rice." Perfect. L gets the fried shrimp.

We make small talk until the food arrives, bitching about this, ridiculing that, and so on, as is our habit. The waiter arrives and sets a large, well-dressed plate down in front of me. And there on the plate, nestled among 6 lovely grilled shrimp, are grilled BELL PEPPERS! There was nothing mentioned on the menu about bell peppers! Where did these come from?? I despise bell peppers. Hate them. Any color. Any shape. There's no disguising them. Even chopped up in a salad when I can't see, I know they're there, ruining the flavor of everything else with their insidious ickiness. And these aren't little pieces. They are enormous chunks, touching each and every one of my grilled shrimp. They have clearly been cooked with the shrimp, getting their nasty bell pepper essence all over everything! Crap! I take a deep breath. It's OK. I can be mature. I remove said peppers and hope the garlic butter will cover up enough of the abomination for me to get it down. Oh, how naïve I was….

Though the shrimp looked like normal grilled shrimp, they are, in fact, shrimp jerky. They are tough, like shrimp get when you COOK THEM TOO LONG. They were over-done, rubbery, over-salted, bell peppery-tainted shrimp. They suck. I ate two. But it's OK. I still have the famous "Truluck's special rice," to fill my gullet, right? Well no. The Truluck's special rice was not done. Each grain had that little hard, chalky center that you get when you DON'T COOK IT LONG ENOUGH. Even I know this. And I don’t cook. I crunch down on a couple of bites before abandoning the special rice.

Then there's the steak. The $36 steak. I haven't paid much attention to my spouse while being horrified by my own dinner. He's oddly quiet. I look over to see him exerting himself. His biceps are taut. There is the faintest hint of perspiration on his brow. What could he being doing?? He is attempting to cut his $36 steak. Then he tries chewing his $36 steak. He gives aid to his poor jaw muscles by squeezing his jaw and cranium together with his hands. The steak is tough. Very tough. And unseasoned. Now, I'm not a food snob. I have eaten sausage-on-a-stick at the local fair. I adore Smarties. I will happily zip down to Sonic and pick up dinner for my family. "Who ordered the extra-long cheese Coney?" When I eat a bag of M&Ms, I line them all up by color and eat the red ones first. I once begged my step-mother to mail me some chocolate vanilla-cream Pop Tarts, because I couldn't find them in Texas. But when I buy a $36 steak for my husband, I want him to like it. I want moans of delight. I want him coming in his pants while he eats it. I want him satisfied and HAPPY! He is not happy. By the end of it, he is tired. Yes, he finishes it all. What a trooper.

L’s fried shrimp were perfectly edible, but he was full of fried breading from the calamari and didn’t finish his dinner either. The waiter cheerfully asks us both if he can box up our shrimp leftovers to take home. Sure, why not. I always feel like I'm letting them down if I don't take the leftovers home, even if I know I’m not going to eat them.

I know, it’s a waste of packaging materials, but I just can’t disappoint the wait staff. I feel bad that they have to run and fetch for me and want them to feel satisfied by me being satisfied, even if I’m not really satisfied. All that matters is that they think I’m satisfied. I don’t want to have to explain why I don’t want to take the food home. I don’t want the manager to come over to make sure everything is OK. I don’t want free dessert or a gift certificate for $10 off my next visit. If I don’t like something, I just don’t eat it and I don’t order it again. If this happens more than once at the same establishment, or everyone at the table hates what they got, I just don’t go back there again. I’m very non-confrontational about dining out. I attribute this some of this attitude to a co-worker I had many years ago. He always tagged along whenever the work group went out to lunch or dinner, and he simply could not be pleased. Anything less than absolute perfection in the service or food was reason to call the manager over and complain. You never knew exactly what was going to set him off, but you knew there would be something. It was always a scene, and I don’t like scenes. Anyway, I know what I do doesn’t help the restaurant fix things it could fix, but what can I say. If the people running a restaurant can’t tell that they are serving shrimp jerky and tough steak at premium prices, then anything I have to say probably won’t make any difference. Besides, that’s why God made food critics. On the other hand, DC has completely different reasons for not complaining. He never sends back a steak. Never. He worked as a busboy in a steak house as a teenager and apparently saw some pretty ugly things. He’s convinced that anything brought to him after he’s sent a steak back will be contaminated with the cook’s DNA. I’d like to think those sorts of things wouldn’t happen in a restaurant that would charge $36 for a steak, but I have no data to back that up, and it’s not worth the risk to DC.

So anyway, the waiter packs up the shrimp for us to take home. We all console ourselves with this chocolate dessert thingy that is surprisingly good and then leave with the aroma of “Galveston shrimp boat” still clinging to our hair and clothing. I stick my leftover shrimp in the fridge when we got home without thinking about it and go on about my evening, unaware that something was brewing….

Apparently, some sort of evolutionary process happened in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning when I opened the fridge to get the milk, I was nearly knocked down by a fishy, shrimpy, disgusting stink. The shrimp still had some life left in them, likely microbial. While trying not to wretch, I immediately tossed the box in the kitchen trash with the intention of taking the whole thing out as I left for the office, but the kitchen stunk to high heaven by the time I had finished my first bowl of cereal. I interrupted breakfast to dump them in the can outside, and fanned the door a little to air out the house. The stink lingered in the kitchen, but at least it didn’t make me gag after that. Leaving for work that morning, I fully expected the yard to be overrun by cats and buzzards by the time I returned.

I didn’t hear from L for a couple of days after that. I was afraid that he might have been carried off by wild hyenas after they rampaged through his house, looking for his left-over shrimp, but not to worry. He was just fine. However, next time we're listening to him when he gives restaurant advice.


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