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Friday, May 2, 2008

Evergreen Indeed (Rolls Eyes)

The great thing about the regular place concept--whether a bar, cafe, AA venue or restaurant--is the familiarity, the safety, the knowing what you're going to get and, unless you're an idiot or a masochist, probably like it. For my friend and I, Evergreen serves as a near weekly regular lunch place. A reliable, noteworthy for its lack of things that suck and prevalence of things that are fast, midtown diner spot, Evergreen is perfect for a quick, decent, cheap lunch. That is, it was.

Knowing I'm in for a delicious BBQ dinner at Brooklyn's Fette Sau this evening, I opted for a lighter midday fare: Manhattan clam chowder and tossed salad (a stupid term really, as it is so rarely actually tossed). I considered the New England chowder which they were also offering today, but 1) back to light fare thing 2) the waiter said he preferred New England clam chowder, but that the Manhattan was good. When waiters tell me what they like, it's not so much that I don't care for that as much as that I find it totally irrelevant. What I was asking was which was better, not whether the (very nice) waiter preferred cream or tomato-based soups. 3) My mom will no be surprised by this as she knows whichever outfit she likes better will be the one I do not wear; sorry mom, but you're right in observing that -- no contradiction there. 4) I do quite enjoy a good Manhattan clam chowder and I find they vary so much from place to place, it's worth seeing where what you end up with ranks.

This one did not rank so well. The soup itself is what I would call diner-style vegetable soup with clams, which is probably what most diner Manhattan clam chowders taste like, come to think of it. I was actually ok with that. It sort of invoked the (not good) vegetable soup at Big Boy's I loved growing up; an excellent pairing with the (maybe good?) fish sandwich. The clams added a nice chewiness. It was good enough and more or less what I expected. The thing is, though, that a few bites in I thought to myself: "No, it couldn't be. Really. Is this a joke? Who puts cilantro in Manhattan clam chowder?" Plus Friend and I were having a nice conversation and I didn't want to interrupt with my food neuroses. But then, several bites later, that same, familiar ineffably bad flavor attacked my palate and this time it wouldn't let go.

"OK. Enough about your life, you must try this soup. I swear. I think there's cilantro in it. Try it. No not that bite, there's nothing green. This bite. Try this bite." Dutifully, she did: "Probably. I guess. Uh, maybe that's cilantro."

As a point of fact there wasn't much cilantro in the soup or I would have smelled it before it hit my mouth, in all likelihood. So my friend's lukewarm confirmation was as good as gospel to me. Of course I had to keep sampling it to be absolutely sure and each infinitesimal spoonful reinforced what I already knew: this was a Manhattan clam chowder unlike any other I'd ever had, and unlike any anyone else should ever have to have.

But to be fair, this was all my mistake. I should be more pointed in my waiter Q&A sessions. Instead of "Which is better?" I should say "Which do you recommend and by recommend I mean which is either objectively better, preferred by more customers or the chef or all three. Whether you prefer pasta carbonara or alfredo (gross) is of no interest to me. And if there is cilantro in anything, any amount at all, I don't want it. No, I don't mind if you check with the kitchen." But then I'd be kind of a bitch and I used to be a waiter so I don't like to give them too hard of a time. Perhaps I could prepare a cute flowchart to hand to waiters upon entering a restaurant that begins with: 1) Does this item feature cilantro? 2) if not, do more than 75% of customers like it and do those customers appear to have discriminating palates and/or college degrees? 3) If yes will the item arrive properly cooked and in a timely fashion? And so on and so on. This approach is perhaps no less bitchy, but, you have to admit, it's pretty hilarious. Flowchart forthcoming.

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