Working Too Hard

Recently I was on the road and arrived at my hotel at about 8 p.m.  I hadn’t eaten, so after dropping off my bag in my room I visited the hotel restaurant, had a cheeseburger for dinner, and then was tempted by an apple crumble for dessert.  I asked if I could get it with ice cream, and the waiter said that would be fine.  The combination above is what arrived.

In case you’re wondering, on the plate that’s closest to the camera, that’s a kind of crumble pie, with no apple pieces, at the far left, two little green apple spheres with faux stems in the middle, and an apple slice dipped in dark chocolate in a mold made out of a cheesecake-like substance on the right, all set against the backdrop of Aztec-like lines inscribed in dark chocolate that was hardened on the plate.  The bowl at the far side of the plate contains my scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I’m sure I was supposed to admire the artistry of the presentation of the dessert, and the delicate nature of the plating. Mostly, though, I wondered how I was supposed to eat the various elements. I spooned the scoop of ice cream onto the crumble pie to let it melt, grabbed one of the little green apples by its faux stem and ate it, and then was stumped.  Was the molded cheesecake-chocolate option on one side of the plate supposed to be eaten in conjunction with the crumble pie at the other end?  If so, how?  And what was I expected to do with the chocolate markings –scrape them off and chow them down with the crumble pie, or the apples, or the cheesecake chocolate mold, or all three?  I ended up alternating between bites of the crumble pie and the molded object, ate the second little green apple at some point in between, and left the dark chocolate stripes alone.  It was fine,  I guess, but it would have been even better if I’d just gotten what I expected in the first place — a single dish that contained warm spiced apple slices, crumble, and ice cream on top that you could eat in the normal way.

I admire haute cuisine, and the efforts of chefs to bring creativity to the art of cooking and to reimagine some time-honored dishes.  But there’s a time and a place for it — and a late dinner at a hotel restaurant isn’t it.  It was clear that the kitchen had worked hard on the dish, but it really was making me work too hard in order to enjoy it.  Call me a philistine if you will, but I wasn’t ordering dessert to get a work of art.  I just wanted a traditional fruit dessert served in the traditional way.  Maybe the artistry can be reserved for the souffle.

The Guys At The Hotel Bar

As a normal rule of business travel, I don’t eat at the restaurant — if there is one — at the hotel where I’m spending the night.  I think it’s important to get out and at least see some of the surrounding area, and if I don’t get out I feel trapped and confined.

liquor-shop-in-keralaSometimes, though, when you’re in a remote area and the only nearby food option is a bad chain eatery, there really is no alternative, and the hotel restaurant is the only viable option.  So it was that last night I found myself eating in the hotel combination bar-restaurant and reading my book — or at least trying to, because there was a group of about a dozen guys at the bar area who were raising a huge ruckus, eating chicken wings and arguing very loudly about what kind of pick-up truck has the best towing capability.  (One guy actually said, with total, high-volume conviction:  “I’m a Ram Man until the day I die.”  Who knew people had that kind of a deeply personal connection to a consumer product?)

These guys weren’t complete jerks.  They didn’t get into a fight or harass the waitresses or start calling out people in the room.  But they were loud and thoughtless and annoying, and they obviously didn’t care that they were intruding upon the worlds of other hotel guests.  It’s one of the realities of life in the hotel zone:  it’s a transient existence, on the road in a faraway place that you’ll probably never visit again in the future, and the social mores that would otherwise tamp down your behavior if you were in your home territory aren’t present.

This is one of the reasons why I hate to eat at a hotel.  I’d rather not see my fellow guests up close and personal, truck-loving warts and all.  I’d rather operate under the illusion that my fellow hotel guests are all anonymous, well-mannered types.  When you get a good look at the complete strangers who might be staying in the room next door to yours, it can be unnerving.