Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jilly’s Café and Steak House II

High Ridge MO
The Place:
It’s been nearly a year since we first/last ate at Jilly’s. We recalled that we liked it, but I resisted the temptation to re-read the review I wrote for it, didn’t want to walk in with a giant bias on my shoulder.
The place is large and sits on a hill east of, and sort of overlooking Highway 21. There were several cars there already, enough that we thought there might be a wait, but there wasn’t. We were greeted and seated immediately, once again Angel assumed the entire family wanted a booth instead of a table. I was immediately reminded of the last visit. Between the entrance and the dining area was a near-life size wood carving of an elderly man holding a tray. The tray was filled with hard candy. The wood carving was good enough to give me the creeps. Then there was the music, classic blues. That I liked. I couldn’t tell you the exact style, Memphis, St. Louis, or whatever, I like classic blues music but I am not an aficionado. Old guys wailing over acoustic guitars about somebody that “done left them.”
The booth we were shown was in the back, near, I recalled where we sat the previous time. Booths hug the walls on two or three sides; the center of the large room is a couple of steps down and filled with tables.
We were handed menus and asked about drinks, tea, lemonade and Coke. Angel didn’t want pink lemonade, but that’s the only kind they had. Why she wanted lemonade at all is anyone’s guess.
The menu was a few pages thick, not too many. There was a pasta page, a chicken page and a steak page. There was also an appetizer page. I struggled with the selections, I like steak, but I had eaten more lunch than I usually do on Saturday, that’s because I was breaking in a new rice cooker. Steak sounded heavy, so did pasta for that matter. Adam asked if we were getting an appetizer, he was eying the catalone bites, prepared similar to the locally popular fried ravioli. Angel was yearning for the fried oysters. Why I haven’t left this woman I have no idea. Oysters are disgusting, breading and frying them only makes them breaded and fried disgust.
At some point she said she didn’t want anything heavy, she’d had some of the rice earlier as well. Her decision was to get the oysters then have one of the many listed salads and let that be the meal. It sounded good to me so I scanned the appetizers. Yuck, blech, something I’d never heard of, more yuck, Chili. Sure, why not. Angel said she was getting the Cobb salad, with shrimp. I remarked that I didn’t think I’d ever tasted a Cobb and wasn’t sure I wanted them spoiling a perfectly good salad. She explained that Cobb was a style of salad, not an ingredient*. On that scant and dubious information I ordered it with my chili. Adam hadn’t had the rice earlier, he doesn’t like rice with anything other than rice in it, so he ordered the Ozark Bacon Tortellini. He was born in the Ozarks, and it had bacon in the title, it should certainly be good.
When asked about salad dressing, Angel opted for the Sweet Italian, I asked for options. The waitress pointed out on the menu the list. Most of the standards were there, and one that I didn’t recognize, the “House Mayfair”. She replied with a list of ingredients, leading with anchovies. “You lost me at anchovies.” I told her, but she was not going to let go. “Caesar dressing has anchovies.” She pronounced. “I’m well aware of that,” I snobbishly replied, “but only a very little, it’s not usually the first ingredient listed, I’ll have the Bleu Cheese, thanks.”
She still wouldn’t let go. “I’ll bring you a little to try!”
The Food:
A few minutes later the rolls arrived, along with a saucer that held a few chunks of lettuce and spinach, drizzled with a creamy dressing. We gave it a try.
When the waitress passed by again she stopped and asked what we thought. “It wasn’t awful.” I answered in my normal rude and condescending way. “Well that’s not so bad is it?” She asked.
I felt the need to burst this bubble once and for all.
“The thing is that the first bite or two was fine, it had some depth to it. But anchovies are very salty and I think after a few more bites the residual saltiness would build up and overwhelm everything else.”
She didn’t seem alarmed or angry, in fact she looked resigned and defeated.
“Oh yeah, Mr. Sodium.”
Now I was alarmed.
“Mr. Sodium?”
“Yeah, Joe, the Chef, he calls himself that, he says he tries to not make things too salty, but has trouble with it.”
Dear friends, loving family, ardent fans, I’ve never been an actual waitress, but I do know that this was a major gaff on her part. Surely at some point at the waitress academy there is a lecture, or even a mere bullet point about saying negative things about the chef, the food or both. I generally appreciate candid honesty, but honesty is a dish best served only atop a heaping pile of self restraint. This innocent statement became sadly prophetic, if not self fulfilling. With this unwelcome nugget of information I immediately became biased and ultra-vigilant.
The rolls were excellent, dark in color but not too heavy. In the basket were also a couple of mini-muffins that I never got the chance to try. Along with the condiment packets of butter was a small ramekin of the house spread. Pecan cranberry butter, we were told. Even Adam knew I wouldn’t like it because he knows, as should all of you, that I do not like nuts as an ingredient in anything except peanut butter. I like nuts by themselves and in trail mixes, in their natural form, but not in brownies, pie, ice cream, or anything else where they don’t stand on their own. Angel and Adam liked the butter, I happily settled for the real stuff.
The appetizers and salads arrived. Angel’s oysters were drizzled with a red pepper sauce and surrounded a large dollop of some sort of horseradish dip. Take something disgusting, bread it, deep fry it, and then dip it into something that is also patently disgusting. I’m pretty sure she does this just to tick me off.
The salads were enormous. A deep bowl filled with some of everything in the cupboard. Three kinds of greens, an entire sliced boiled egg, bacon, tomatoes, onions, strips of chicken, and five lovely grilled shrimp. The bleu cheese dressing was probably not the best choice, as there was already a generous portion of bleu cheese in the salad. Too much bleu cheese can be overwhelming, and a bit salty. If you’re going to have a salad with bleu cheese in it, it’s best to choose a sweeter dressing for balance.**
The average-size bowl of chili was served with oyster crackers. Oddly enough oyster crackers are not disgusting. The chili caught me off-guard. By now you’ve all read my various essays on chili, how it’s different everywhere, ingredients can vary wildly, and that’s okay. Let me tell you now what chili is never, ever, ever supposed to taste like; spaghetti sauce. If I had to guess, I’d say they took their house marinara and added some beans. I detected parmesan, oregano, basil, parsley, and sure enough the meat was a spicy Italian sausage. As a pasta sauce or atop a pizza this would have been fine, as chili, it failed miserably. My brain wanted chili, you know, with chili peppers or powder, it was getting Ragu, AND it was, dare I say it? Too salty.
It was fairly obvious that we wouldn’t be able to eat the entire salad, it was simply too massive. I abandoned the chili, Angel reserved a couple of oysters, which she said were a bit disappointing due to the texture of the breading. It seemed to have been the kind of breading that you get in frozen foods, distinctly different from a fresh breading. She only managed to finish about half her salad. Adam had picked the bits of stuff he didn’t like out of his tortellini and about half finished that. The sauce on it was indeed bacon flavored. He had barely touched his mashed potatoes though, which seemed odd, he’s usually a big fan. “Something doesn’t taste right about it.”
Angel and I grabbed our forks and tried. Immediately the texture was off-putting, gritty, undercooked, then it hit like a hammer. At first I guessed butter, but after a couple of seconds, with Angel’s nose also in a wrinkle, we both pronounced “Salt!” We boxed up our leftovers, enough for another full meal.
I hate to think my disappointment with the food was due to a heightened alert for saltiness due to the waitress’s HUGE error telling us about ‘Mr. Sodium.’ Was I too critical? I have to admit that is a distinct possibilityBold, except for the mashed potatoes that is, they were just awful by any standard.
Then there’s the price. Angel and I ordered an appetizer and a salad. Adam had an appetizer and a pasta dish. There was no dessert, no additional drinks. The bill came in at just under seventy five dollars. Yeah, I know! Sure it was sort of ala carte, but seriously seventy five dollars? I did save a little by not heavily-tipping though.
I don’t mind paying for a good meal, but this came in at about the second highest amount we’ve paid for a meal anywhere. Did I mention that the food wasn’t really prepared well? What can I say?
I only just now re-read the original review.
At the bottom was a note:
Several minutes after the meal I noticed an aftertaste. Something was too salty, perhaps the potatoes, I don’t recall noticing it so much as I was dining, but there was a definite lingering saltiness later.
So this is a problem, sometimes better/worse than others perhaps, but still a problem. I’d be afraid to take someone I was trying to impress there. What if it’s another bad night?

* Cobb salad was invented by Robert Cobb for the famous Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood. That’s right, Bob Cobb. He was the first cousin of Ty Cobb, who was apparently some sort of renowned sports figure.
** Sure enough, on Sunday I popped open the box of leftover salad, poured a little Creamy Vidalia dressing on it and it was much, much better, especially with a side dish of rice.

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