Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snob Review: The Grape

Ok. I have to put my actual snob hat on for a moment. The thing is, the point of snobetarianism is not to be elitist. I don't generally mean “snob” as in I only like things that are fancy or up-scale or expensive or involve odd flavor combos like chocolate and bacon or rosemary-caramel-peach-cayenne. Greasy diners, veggie sloppy joes, ketchup. These are all things I love and am just as snobbily defensive of as I am of good pinots and hand-crafted pasta. Snobetarianism is, among other things, about appreciating things that are done well, whatever they are. Just do what you do well, and I'm be there behind you the whole yummy way.

But. Do what you do poorly and out comes the snob hat.

And in this case, unfortunately, I'm going to sound like the more traditional snob variety – the elitist. Here goes...

For those of you who don't know, I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. About three years ago a little walking mall, charmingly dubbed Perkins Rowe, opened up in mid-BR. This is not the kind of place I tend to frequent – to quote from an article my friend, Tracey Duncan, wrote comparing Perkins Rowe to downtown BR, it smacks of “pseudo-cosmopolitanism.” It is “a reproduction of downtown Everywhere, USA . . . a monument to broken and deserted downtowns everywhere . . . [it] has none of the flavor that makes Baton Rouge spicy, none of the pungency of the muddy Mississippi.” What it has is a J. Crew, an Urban Outfitters and a Sur La Table. It has a California Pizza Kitchen and a movie theater that sometimes plays not as mainstream movies. And it has The Grape.

The Grape is a chain wine bar, which I have never before encountered, but am not against in theory, if for no other reason than that they have wine and outdoor seating. Something not common here in the BR. To be fair, they have a pretty nice wine selection – the wine list organized by white and red and then light, medium and full-bodied wines. They carry things I know that I like as well as things I'd be happy to taste and you can get glasses and half-glasses of everything, which can make for a pretty tipsy afternoon. The prices aren't even that bad – there's a solid range – although I think they may have gone up since the place opened two years ago.

The problem with The Grape is the food. The food and the service. The food is horrendous. Embarrassing. Insulting. And the waitstaff – at least the few I've had, particularly our waitress last night – are clueless. Not to mention the condescending wine lesson we got from the wine manager.

I won't go into all of the food, and again to be fair, I haven't tried anything they have with meat. Perhaps the meat is fantastic. But if they can't even get a cheese plate right. Good God. Get out of the game.

A cheese plate may seem simple, but cheese is actually a relatively delicate beast. It has to be well cared for. Cheese – real cheese – is a living creature. It has to be able to breath. Cut and stored properly. This isn't a hard task, per se, it just takes a little attention. The cheese at The Grape is not well cared for. Their Parmesan-style cheese selection – Bellwether Farms San Andreas – is often dried out, and their semi-soft is rubbery. For starters. Beyond the cheeses themselves, there was also our waitress's complete lack of understanding. First, she hadn't ever tasted the blue because she “doesn't like blues,” and then she offered my friends the mozzarella and fontina that they have “in the back for other dishes” as alternatives to the artisinal cheeses on listed on the menu. Both of these cheeses can be quite good, but the type The Grape keeps in bulk stock for their “other dishes” does not a cheeseboard cheese make. Then, when she brought the board out, I immediately noticed the the blue looked . . . odd. More like a pile of mush than a nice slice of cheese. She informed us that they were out of the Point Reyes, but she had gotten the kitchen to spoon up some blue cheese crumbles in its place because “it's pretty much the same thing.”


On top of that, the "homemade vinaigrette" on the Greek salad I ordered was uninspired, and the salad showed up without either the garbanzo beans or the pepperoncini that the menu claimed it contained. This is not the first time I've ordered something there that has come sans some important ingredient; the last time it was the basil missing from my tomato basil mozzarella flatbread. The waitstaff tried to tell me the basil was in there. Seriously. If there was basil in there that I couldn't even see, what the hell was the point? At restaurant that has sleek black furniture, velveted chairs and a fancy broad-side menu, I expect real, fresh, whole-leaf basil when the menu promises basil. On top of that, the mozzarella appeared to be the shredded kind.

I could go on, but I think that sums it up nicely. In conclusion, the hummus was decent – garlicky with a balsamic tomato and onion 'salsa' on top. So if you like wine and cigarettes on the patio, by all means, but unless you like hummus, leave your appetite at home.

To read Tracey Duncan's article on Perkins Rowe in full, check it out in Sweet Tooth, a publication produced by Baton Rouge's Culture Candy Arts Org.

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