The front of the restaurant – well-run, attentive, and pleasant – deserved better from the kitchen where the food preparation proved so inept that I felt that we had stumbled into a restaurant that would fit in well those showcased on Kitchen Nightmares. The restaurant, clearly well-intentioned, was effectively sabotaged by seriously inept food preparation on the one night we attended.
Connecticut Restaurant week provides customers the chance to sample new restaurants at bargain prices and the restaurants the opportunity to win over new regulars. Our excursion to 50 West dramatically proved that a cheap dinner was as much a myth as the proverbial free lunch.
While waiting for the course, we tried the cornbread brought to the table along with an accompanying container of garlic-infused oil. The cornbread was moist and pleasantly spicy but was overly sugared for our tastes and rendered the garlic oil an odd companiou. Verdict: The miss of the over-sweetening was somewhat balanced out by the hit of the moistness. So, thumbs to the side.
Both my wife and I went with the same first course -- the Connecticut Corn Chowder. Served luke-warm (about the temperature of pool water on a hot summer's afternoon), the temperature wasn't the only miss. There was no taste of corn, carrots, onions, or applewood-smoked bacon present. All that was present was the one-note taste of some spice that was allowed to dominate the luke-warm chowder.
Well, OK. It was just the appetizer. But, so far, things weren't bad enough to be disturbing or good enough to be promising. Let's see the main courses.
My choice was the duck confit and cassoulet described in the menu as a "hearty southern French stew of white beans, aromatic vegetable & herbs, pork sausage, and a fork-tender braised MarWin Farm duck leg." Under a cover of a soggy dough, was the again one-note stew. It had a smoky, slightly gamey taste which one would either find agreeable or not that, once again, masked the individual tastes of the components. I didn't hate it and didn't love it. It was the food equivalent of an is-that-all-there-is yawn.
As it turned out, my choice was more fortunate than the visually attractive "Stuff Smoked Gouda Pork Chops" described as "bone-in-pan-roasted chops stuffed with melted smoked gouda served with roasted root vegetables, charred leeks, and slow-roasted pumpkin puree." The single large and thick chop was not cut in half and stuffed. That would have, perhaps, made it possible to cook it though without bringing the generous-sized meat to a leathery, tough, and woebegone state. It wasn't merely tough and tasteless. It was bad enough for us to return it – something we’ve very seldom done in over 40 years of dining out together since we realize that most restaurants aren’t operating with large profit margins. So, we allow considerable distance between the meal we’d like to see and the one we’ll accept. (After tracking me down and calling me after the earlier version of this review, the chef provided the defense that “nobody else complained about the pork chop.” If not, some may well have concluded that providing feedback on such a far miss would probably prove pointless – and, from the chef’s response, they’ve been proven right!)
Her dish returned, my wife ordered a chicken sandwich from the regular menu -- figuring that it would come out quickly and be impossible to mess up. Well, wrong on both counts. The sandwich arrived a good 20 minutes after I had finished my entree and the chicken was . . . you guessed it . . . overcooked, dry, and tasteless with the cheese not melted on it but laid upon it at the last minute. It was as ineptly prepared as the pork chop had been.
The hostess came over and offered us a free drink, but we declined. "Thank you, but at this point we just want to pay the check and leave."
"But, you haven't had your dessert. Can we bring that to you?"
"No, thank you. Just the check, please."
That was me talking -- passing up a dessert!!! I don't do that -- even when it's not included in the price of the dinner as this one was. Not until I found myself actually preferring an escape to a dessert did I realize just how miserable the experience had been.
It was a shame -- less for us than for the attentive and eager-to-please waitress and hostess (owner?). The waitress, reluctant to provide the check while we were unhappy, said, "Is there ANYTHING I can do to make things right?" She was too nice for me to give her the answer that I thought of -- which was, "Well, can YOU cook?" But, even if she could, it would have made no difference. The truer response would have been, "Yes, let me outta here!"
They did comp my wife's non-meal and I did leave a good tip on more than the price charged. And, maybe, I just caught the restaurant on a very bad (though not overly busy) night. I don't know and I will never know because we're not going to try again. There wasn't a whiff of promise to be found in any of the dishes tried -- not the cornbread, not the chowder, not the Duck Confit, not the chicken sandwich. So, for me, there is no reason to return.
I wish the owners well. They, too, deserve better than what emerged from their kitchen last Thursday (Oct 17, 2013). Possibly, the night was an outlier. I dunno. I just know that, at any price, the dishes we received were no bargain. Literally, a TV dinner would have been more enjoyable
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