Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pouring Salt in my Wound

Occasionally we get complaints or comments on why we do not automatically put salt & pepper shakers on our tables at Pacific Grill restaurant.

The answer is very simple. I (like a lot of other chefs I know) want my guests to taste their food first. This is not a health issue--it is a taste issue.

I have a close friend named Charlene who always—almost unconsciously—salts her food the minute it is placed in front of her and she hasn’t even tasted it yet.

At dinner she would talk on and on relentlessly salting whatever dish it was, until I almost lunged across the table and shouted out to her to stop! This habitual, knee-jerk reaction is rude to the chefs that have toiled so long and hard to make a perfect dish. And especially rude to me since she was dining in my home.

When a dish leaves my kitchen it has been seasoned. It has salt and pepper, or soy sauce—or Thai fish sauce or some other seasoning particular to the dish and very carefully chosen. And hopefully it leaves the kitchen well-seasoned.

The only thing worse than over-seasoned food is UNDER-seasoned food!

Granted we sometimes make mistakes and under or over-season a dish, but please try the dish first, then if you would like additional salt please ask.

Many times when we garnish dishes, just before delivering them to the dining room, we add a final grind of a special exotic peppercorn blend, or we use an expensive finishing sea salt over juicy heirloom tomatoes, for example—if you then add table salt on top of the sea salt, you are most likely not going to like the flavor.

I had this happen to me many times where a guest returned a dish as being “too salty” with the waiter later explaining to me that they saw the guest flailing away with the salt before tasting it. A few restaurants ago I decided that I would remove the salt shakers from the dining room.

The worst example was once upon a time I had served a potato pancake with an ounce of expensive Beluga caviar on top. The guest told the waiter that it was too salty --when the waiter returned the dish he explained that the guest was seen salting the CAVIAR!!! (And the wholesale cost of caviar at the time was about $50/oz).

After that, the decision to remove the salt shakers from my dining room was very easy.

4 comments:

Fadzrul said...

Hi Chef Gordon,

I have indeed tried Monsoon, on a rainy day no less. When I decided to write a blog about my dining experience I realized that I have to revisit the 100 restaurants or so that I have been to in the Sea Metro area. This Summer I'm staying in Pierce County and will be returning to Seattle in Fall. Therefore I want to try as many Pierce County restaurants as I can and I was blessed to have chosen Pacific Grill as my first one to try.

The creme brulee is indeed a classic dessert that I enjoyed and I'm sure yours is amazing. What I was trying to say in my post is that as amazing as the creme brulee was, it was also very common. Almost every restaurants I have been to serves creme brulee. Even a supposedly Asian Restaurant like Indochine serves this lovely dessert. I was surprised last year when I came across a creme brulee infused with lemongrass. I guess I was expecting your creme brulee to surprise me like the lemongrass creme brulee did. It was nonetheless a good dessert but my expectation for dessert was probably too high that day.

Thank you for taking note of my humble post. I am glad that you show your care - definitely the best way to run a restaurant. I will surely come to Pac Grill a few times more before I move back to Seattle. (To be honest, even when I do return to Seattle, I might drive down to Tacoma if I miss your Mahi-mahi).

Anonymous said...

Bravo!

Anonymous said...

We dine regularly, mostly in your bar. I would encourage you to discuss with your staff (expeditors and/or servers) that when a customer does ask for S&P, we should be given it immediately. I can count a dozen times when we've asked for it only to watch the expeditor or server head off in a different direction to clear a table, take an order or head back to the kitchen, forcing us to ask another passing staff member, all the while the lovely food so carefully prepared gets cold. I've been tempted to jump up and get them out of the buffet myself. Seems to me you create a different problem for your diners when you elect to control bad behavior from only a few customers, who would probably raise a stink about something other than over-salted food given half the chance. We are not salt fiends, but your sense of what is "seasoned" and what our palettes' percieve apparently don't jive, since we routinely need to ask for it.

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

I will definitely speak to my entire staff about responding to a guest's request immediately --and thank you for your input.

However, I think I will still continue to not put out salt & pepper unless requested.

We frequently tag Guest preferences in our computer system. When a guest arrives, the waiter or bartender gets a copy-- which may list favorite drinks and so on. One of our frequent guests has "always bring salt & pepper" on her customer profile.

We would be happy to add your request so that we can always take good care of you. And again, thanks for the feedback.