Monday, November 26, 2012

James River Grill at Norfolk Int'l Airport -- SUCKS

From time to time I have an eating experience that transcends all others. For the people snickering in the back, I'm talking food.

Recently, I was astonished by a series of innovative sashimi dishes at Nobu in Malibu, as the guest of good friends. Raw fish lovers will no doubt appreciate my good fortune. Canned tuna eaters, not so much. 

Before that particular epicurean moment of ecstasy, I was rocked to the bottom of my orthotics at Naha, one of Chicago's trendy food spots. Despite my love of raw fish, after a bad experience with oysters Rockefeller many years ago, I had eschewed the dish ever after. However, at a private party, I felt like tasting the raw oysters the servers at Naha were passing around. For one thing, there was no spinach. Even better, there was no hot sauce. Here's a description from Naha's menu:  "French Kiss" Oysters from New Brunswick with a Sorbet of Champagne Vinegar and Celery "Marmalade."  Oh. My. God. I ate twenty before they cut me off. 

Yesterday afternoon, I had a transcendent culinary experience of another kind at an airport. My stepma and I had driven from this year's Thanksgiving family gathering on the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Norfolk International Airport in Virginia. Apropos of nothing, I think it's worth noting that the Honda Civic we rented from Alamo went almost 100 highway miles on 1.6 gallons of gas -- 62.5 mph per gallon. That economy button really works.  

We were early for our 5:10 PM flight to Chicago, so we decided to sit in the James River Grill across from our gate [A-5], watch some football, and have some lunch. This restaurant opened to great fanfare in May of 2012 with photo ops and a ribbon cutting. You can read about it HERE.

We were enthralled by the appearance of this nicely appointed [for an airport] eatery. The burgundy faux leather extended from the booths to the menus, which promised a number of mainstream, yet trendy food choices -- calamari, for one. But we were taken by the description of the spinach artichoke dip, which sounded so rich, robust, and filled with artichokes, we could have it for lunch. 

Even as my memory becomes more and more suspect, I still have a vivid recollection of spinach artichoke dip. I know that, like its name says, there are artichokes involved. Along with whatever else might be included, my previous encounters told me that parmesan cheese should also play an important role. Naturally we ordered it, practically smacking our lips. 

What arrived at our table looked like a bowl of green and yellow snot, covered with something cut up and red. Pimentos? Peppers? Raw meat? Apparently the chef hadn't read the recipe and microwaved a box of creamed spinach, scraped it into a serving bowl, then topped it with a half cup of chopped tomatoes. There was not an artichoke in sight. Or the taste of parmesan. But, for some reason, there were tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes -- the one ingredient I've never found in spinach artichoke dip. Ever. 

Surrounding the dip was a pile of tortilla chips. Stale, it turns out. We were tired from traveling to the airport. We were hungry. 

We ate the chips and dip. 

Still hungry, and, apparently, brain dead, we decided to try the salmon Caesar salad. How bad could that be?  

A platter arrived with a layer of limp romaine lettuce and croutons scattered about. This appetizing duo was topped with strips of chicken which looked like they had been cooked a couple of days ago, left out, then reheated on top of a radiator. The presentation was orderly, with each strip of chicken lined up in a row like pencils in a drawer. A yellowish dressing [I'll forego another snot reference] had been poured over the top. Ghastly. And you'll be proud to know that we sent it back right away. 

Because we had ordered salmon.

The salmon version arrived. Turns out the croutons were stale, the salmon was done to the point of chewiness, and the dressing tasted like you feel when you walk into the wrong restroom. 

By this time, I realized I was onto something. A blog entry at the very least. So, to complete this tasty trifecta, I asked about dessert. According to our server, the apple pie was good. So was the chocolate cake. 

Deciding to poke the bear one more time, I asked if I could have some apple pie heated with a slice of cheddar cheese on top. Maybe put it in the microwave to melt it. 

My stepma had shared the spinach dip and split the salmon Caesar with me. But she wisely opted out of any dessert. 

When the pie arrived, I noticed there was no cheese on it. Instead, next to it, there was a hockey puck-shaped serving of vanilla ice cream I didn't ask for. Apparently that's the way it usually comes. To accommodate my request for a slice of melted cheese on top, they had substituted grated cheese on the side in a thimble-sized container. I guess I was supposed to sprinkle it like salt. I should have just asked for the nacho cheese topping they were putting on tortilla chips. That would have warmed up the pie at least, which was not only cold, but tasted like food tastes when it's been left uncovered in the refrigerator since before Thanksgiving. 

There was one exception to this disaster. Their sweet tea was good. It was fresh, not bitter, and not overly sweetened. I had three glasses. I needed three glasses. It was the one bright spot in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad meal. 


Chris said...

Cheese on pie? I thought you were pulling my leg on that one.

Last time I ate at an airport restaurant, I went to the "newstand" immediately after and paid $11 for immodium. I think it's a racket.

Mrs. L said...

Chris -- I've always loved apple pie with cheddar cheese melted on top. Great for breakfast.

Jon said...

This is precisely why I seldom go to "fancy" restaurants anymore (not to mention the fact that there aren't any in West Texas).

I prefer to stay home, watch "Restaurant Impossible" on TV and eat canned tuna.

All is not lost, however. I love cheddar cheese with apple pie.

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

I coulda had cheddar cheese with apple pic the day after TG

Instead I forgot and had whipped cream

My bad

Chris said...

I stand corrected. I was just reading a food blog that I follow and....

It has a cheddar crust.

I was thinking you were the only one in the world ;)

Mrs. L said...

Chris -- First, I am the only one in my world. Second, I just checked out the link and OMG -- heaven!! Especially with the bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!