Dining Escapades and Marinades

Some waiters can ruin dining out. But when you’re cooking out, a meat smoker and two marinades will serve you well.

Breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) at Brennan’s, a phrase that conjures up all manner of nostalgia about the Vieux Carre” in New Orleans, does not translate well in Dallas. The food varies from very good to just all right, but the service, with one bright exception, has been consistently the worst that I have encountered anywhere.

The first time that I went to lunch at the attractive restaurant on the plaza level of One Main Place, I was pleased with, but not overwhelmed by, the food, and the service had been grudgingly adequate until we had finished our entrees. The waiter then tried to bring the check with coffee, not even asking if we wanted after-dinner drinks. I ordered the drinks anyway, and he again brought the billboard-sized check with them. Everyone at the table started hurrying, even though we weren’t pressed for time, just because that check was staring at us. I couldn’t find the waiter to ask him to remove it, so I put it on the floor under the table. He appeared, and began to lecture me about where I couldn’t put the offensive tab. When I told him where he could put it, he got very angry.

The next time that I ate lunch there, I was expecting more of the same. I was surprised by the best service imaginable. The waiter brought the drinks promptly, and took our order intelligently. There was no lack of communication between waiter and captain (I don’t like to give three different people the same information). All courses were given to the proper person without having to ask, “Now who had the vinegar and oil?” Service was attentive and friendly without hovering and being syrupy. The desserts were expertly prepared, and brandy was brought in warmed snifters.

My next venture there was for breakfast. The service was neither hostile nor delightful. It was simply inept. Eggs were brought before the appetizers, then cheerfully returned. Old lukewarm coffee was cheerfully replaced, with the explanation that we probably just didn’t understand that it was “New Orleans style.” Crepes Suzette, which should be folded in neat quadrants with a reduced sauce of slightly syrupy consistency, were sloppily piled on one another and covered with warm orange juice and barely cooked curacao. During that breakfast we were privy to internal problems as the manager and a waiter had a rather unpleasant discussion next to our table. We wouldn’t have heard it if the captain hadn’t stopped banging coffee pots for just a minute. The food, except for the egg dishes, was good but not enough to overcome the bad taste in our mouths caused by the service.

Dinner and another lunch provided less dramatic incidents, but mediocrity pervades the dining experience at Brennan’s and mediocrity is not what you go there for.

Food: Good

Service: Adequate

Ambience: Excellent

The Chimney, in Willow Creek Center, has been a luncheon standby in Dallas for several years. Recently, under new management, it began opening for dinner with continental specialties. It is a classic case of overreaching.

The luncheon format has changed little. Most of the patrons drink coffee and smoke cigarettes before lunch and apply lipstick at the table after lunch. The lunches are good, preceded by thin broth and usually featuring a choice of two plats du jour and a cold plate or a seafood salad. The plats have an entree (often chicken breast and sometimes a cheese soufflé and the like), vegetable, and usually a fruit salad either congealed or fresh with a poppy seed dressing. The desserts have always been outstanding except for an anemic baked alaska I once had. The service is pleasant, attentive, and prompt.

At night, they drag out a menu that is way beyond the capabilities of the dining room staff to serve and slightly beyond the kitchen to prepare. When they first opened for dinner, I went and was thoroughly pleased. They were obviously green, but the maitre d’hotel was skilled and knew his business. I pegged this place as a real comer. The food was very good and the service had all of the earmarks of becoming impeccable.

It was a couple of months before I returned to find that the maitre d’ was gone and his replacement was not nearly so knowledgeable or smooth. The food, although still good, was slipping. I was saddened but hoped that the trend would reverse itself before I returned. It didn’t. My most recent visit was a bizarre comedy. The soup was served cold and when it was heated and brought back, it was inedible. I had to wait ten minutes to get a bottle of wine even though there were only three or four other parties in the room. The waiter tried to carve the largest, toughest duck I’ve ever seen with a standard table knife. After struggling and tearing the duck beyond recognition, he piled it on a plate and handed me a sauce boat of cherry preserves, pronouncing it Mandarin sauce. A large sirloin steak provided less problem and was quite good with a creditable Béarnaise.

The entrees were accompanied by carrots carefully chateau-cut, then over-cooked and smothered in a glop of tasteless cheese sauce, stale bread with margarine, and an unexciting salad.

At least we finished on a good note. The Crepes Suzette were very good and the delicious Bananas Foster would make Brennan’s hide their heads in shame.

Food: Good

Service: Good

Ambience: Good

It is now mid-summer and Mr. and Ms. America are enjoying saved daylight outdoors. Often this means the cookout in varying or not-so-varying forms. Mr. America drags out his cornball Don’t-Disturb-the-Genius-at-Work apron and funny hat, gloves and various paraphernalia to build a fire. Ms. America usually commands the indoor theatre, tossing the salad, cooking potatoes, making garlic bread, and figuring logistics.

Last January, when all of this was far from my mind, I received in the mail a new meat smoker. I had heard a great deal, mostly good, about the rash of home smokers on the market and was anxious to try one. So, I have braved snow, sleet, freezing weather, and neighborhood gossip about my sanity to put the product to a test. I am very pleased. These units will cook inexpensive cuts of beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and game easily and de-liciously. The preliminaries take a little time, but not much effort. Basically all you do is marinate the meat for 8-24 hours, and smoke for 3-12 hours (no basting). I will give you two basic marinades. You can use these, or you can cook the meat without marination, although the flavor is not as good. Otherwise, follow the manufacturers’ instructions using at least twice as many wood chunks as they recommend (they’ll sell you hickory, but pecan and mesquite work as well), and extending the cooking time to 1 1/2 hours per pound of meat.

These smokers all work on a self-basting principle and use a combination of charcoal and wood. Once you build the fire and put the meat on and cover it, your work is completely done. You can relax until time to eat.

Marinade # 1 (for pork, beef, lamb and game)

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup vinegar

1 cup red wine

1 large onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled & crushed

2 Tablespoons Coleman’s or Dijon mustard

1 small can tomato paste

1 bell pepper, sliced (optional)

1 Tablespoon each thyme, basil, pepper, Worcestershire, soy sauce

Mix ingredients and marinate meat 8 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Note: This recipe may be doubled or halved to suit.

Marinade # 2 (for chicken, lamb, and steak cuts of beef)

1/2 cup oil

1 cup white wine

1/4 cup sherry juice of 2 lemons

1 large onion, sliced

2 ribs celery, sliced1 bay leaf

1 Tablespoon each parsley, tarragon,rosemary and pepp

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

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