Everyone has their own family Christmas traditions. For some families it’s stockings hung by the chimney with care. For others it’s a big ole ham or turkey or goose or roast beef or Norwegan lefsa. It might be Midnight Mass or calls to family members around the country. And you have your Christmas traditions, Fellow FoodBeest.
In our Jewish family it’s homemade scones for breakfast, a first-run movie and dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
There is a fairly celebrated restaurant group in Chicago’s Chinatown headed by Tony Hu under the name of the Tony Gourmet Group. The restaurants represent various regional Chinese cuisines and are generally well respected. Lao Sze Chuan, Lao Shanghai, Lao Hunan, Lao Bejing and something new called Lao You Ju. Hu refers to himself as a “celebrity chef” and he clearly has good public relations representation having been featured (according to his website) on media on two continents:”ABC, CBS, NBC, WGN, FOX, and “Check Please” on WTTW; Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Magazine, New York Sun Times, Time Out Chicago, World Journal, Singtao Daily, People’s Daily [Ren Min Ri Bao], Sichuan Daily, Western China City Daily, Hunan TV)”.
The restaurants are casual and inexpensive and, like most of Chinatown, open on Christmas Day, when – for years – people who are not having a formal family Christmas dinner flock to Chinese restaurants.
This year on Christmas, our family wound up surviving one of the worst dinners we’ve ever had anywhere – at Lao Bejing. Fellow FoodBeest, I assert that this meal will henceforth be part of family legend.
Allegedly serving Northern Chinese cuisine, Lao Bejing was busy but not slammed. It was relatively early. We had a reservation, but there were tables available. We were seated almost immediately in one of the rooms upstairs. So far, so good.
I know it was Christmas, but it’s hardly a surprise to the management of local Chinese restaurants that they can expect to get very busy on Christmas so they can plan accordingly. Typically we have had very pleasant meals at Chinese restaurants on Christmas.
It took about 15 minutes before a waitress even bothered to approach our table. And then we discovered that she didn’t speak English. Couldn’t answer any questions. Barely understood our order when we pointed at the menu item. “Lo Mein,” I asked in hopes of getting a chicken and noodle dish for the five-year old with us. “Lo Mein?” repeated the waitron at me cluelessly.
We ordered two appetizers: Tony’s Special Potstickers and spring roll. We also ordered hot and sour soup. “Should we order our entrees now?” we asked our Chinese waitron. She shrugged, clearly having no clue what we asked or how she should answer.
We were never served water. We were never served the spicy slaw that the restaurant offers all diners at the start of the meal. We had chopsticks and napkins. No forks.
When Steve, one of our dinner companions, wanted a fork, he first went to the waitstaff who couldn’t figure out how to fulfill his request and then he went downstairs to get one himself. He came back with a fork, but when he got back to the table he discovered it had some rice wedged between the tines. In frustration he threw it over to a neighboring table that had not yet been cleared after the patrons had left.
You go, Steve! He may have acted alone, but his behavior reflected all our frustration. Just a good thing that the five-year old was busy playing with an iphone app at the time and didn’t notice.
Another waitron, astonishingly actually seeing what happened, brought over three white plastic carry-out forks. Seriously.
Finally, after another half-hour, someone brought three entrees to the table – no soup; no appetizers. When I objected (to the apparently uncomprehending ears of the server), the rest of our hungry table stopped me. They just wanted to eat. Something. Anything. Now.
Then we were informed that the restaurant had run out of hot and sour soup. It was about 6 pm.
About 10 minutes later came an appetizer and another entree.
About 10 minutes later another entree and another appetizer.
And nearly all the food was oily. Even the potstickers. The salt and pepper shrimp sat in a pool of oil.
The waitress spilled beer on me and didn’t offer to replace it or even attempt to clean it up.
The restaurant attempted to remake the soup, but when it came – at the end of the meal – it was tasteless (it takes more than 30 minutes to make soup properly) and gelatinous due to the amount of corn starch thickening it.
This was clearly a serious breakdown at the restaurant and, based on similar comments on a local food board, [http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/825028] our experience was not unique.
It would make sense on a night that was going to be predictably busy that a restaurant would prepare a double-batch of their most popular soup. How do you run out by 6 pm? One would expect that they would have sufficient wait staff the spoke the language of the customer. One might even expect that on a busy night the restaurant would be sure to have and be washing enough tableware. How do you not have clean forks?
I think we’ll rethink Christmas dinner next year.
What are your Christmas traditions, Fellow FoodBeest? Have any of them gone awry? Or been smashingly successful. Share the in the “Comments” section below.