The Chronicles of Diva/Cindy McCartney – Gastronomy101


I think I am pretty sophisticated in a lot of ways, but my tastes in food are more like a third graders.  No one would ever confuse me with a foodie, by any means.  No seasoning, no sauce (except for some pasta sauces) and, most importantly, no garlic, should ever pass my lips. 

OK, lets call it as it is I am a boring eater.  My friends who consider themselves foodies talk about places they go where they have such amazing fare as, oh, delicious pork cheeks.  The mental picture of that dish is a bit more than I can take.  Give me a cherry preserves sandwich with the crust cut off (my lunch of choice for an entire year in elementary school) any day of the week.

This never really came to light so much as when, a few years ago, my husband, some friends and I formed something of a dinner club. The premise of the group was to explore the restaurants in the DC area, most of which were featured in Washingtonians Top 100. 

Each month, a different couple picked a restaurant to try.  We were first up to choose, and were excited to pick one located in DC that wed really wanted to try.  Every year it was a Top Pick of, well, everyone.  

We arrived at the restaurant and upon looking at the menu I realized there was nothing that sounded remotely tasty to me.  Everything had a chi-chi name and description, such as truffles with bubulafan reduction.   Already I was playing out the drama that was coming up with the server and/or the kitchen when I asked for my main course with no sauce, no garlic and simply seasoned with a little salt and pepper and if the bubulafan reduction absolutely has to accompany it, could it be on the side?

Begrudgingly, I am sure, the chef said he would try to accommodate me.  Lets just say that I had a lot of bread and not a lot else that evening.  I dont think the salt and pepper only, sauce on the side presentation was exactly part of his repertoire.

We had fun in our dinner club, but that was because of the people who were in it not the food.  It got to the point that I would semi-dread the inevitable conversation with the chef via the poor server. 

The last restaurant of the year was to be the now-defunctand then much-touted–Maestro in Tysons Corner.  I hoped that the food there would be exquisite and I was prepared to be a little adventurous that evening (a little garlic? go with it! Let that hair down!).  The cost of the meal was a prix fixe $500.00 a couple (not including wine or drinks).  We had the chefs table in a private room with a panoramic window view of the kitchen, an atmosphere not unlike an aquarium.

It was very elegant, I must say.  The menu was to be seven courses.  I waited to be wowed. 

The one catch:  Each course was brought out as a chefs surprise. We were not told in advance what was coming.  One of the first gastronomic surprises we received was what looked like a high school chemistry set with test tubes full of oyster shooters with cream. 

Needless to say, my mind immediately flashed to the amazing pair of shoes I could have bought (or the eight or so times we could have gone to the Outback, home of the plain food) with the $500 we were spending on this dinner.  After another course of, as they say in that VISA commercial, elf food, I asked the server to come over to talk.  I told him that it would be great if he could tell me in advance what was coming out so that I could maybe substitute something else for the Great Creation if it was beyond my pedestrian taste level.  (Not to mention hed avoid the look of horror which inevitably would be painted on my face.) He looked at me very blankly as if I asked him to do cartwheels down the hall and went back to the chef. 

The aquarium turned into a sharks den all we saw after that were arms flinging, towels being thrown down on the floor, and undoubtedly some obscenities being flung around.  If eyes could have burned a hole in glass, that window would have shattered.  It looked very much like a scene from Hells Kitchen.  Apparently have it your way was not part of Maestros mission statement. 

We got through that night with a very sore wallet and a big feeling of regret.  It was then that my husband and I looked at each other and agreed that meals like this were much more stress-inducing for us than relaxing and enjoyable.  It wasnt the money, it was the money being spent on meals we didnt enjoy that made us realize that wed never even want to eat our way through all of the Top 100 Washingtonian restaurants. 

And suffice it to say that we wont be dining with Anthony Bourdain on his show anytime soon.  Exotic food is just not us. We admit it.

Seriously, do people really like pork cheeks?

Cindy McCartney, Owner, Diva Designer Consignment and Other Delights