Charley, why?

I know what you are going to say. “What did you expect?” “Isn’t that where blue hairs go at 5 PM for food that doesn’t require chewing?” “Isn’t it expensive?” “Aren’t there better restaurants in town these days?”

I will spare you the suspense and tell you that you all were right. But damn it, I just got a new job (type thing) and I wanted to go somewhere extravagant, and my husband has a serious yen for scallops. So to Charley’s Crab we went. Things started out all right- downtown was crazy with some event but there was complimentary(!) valet parking that made me feel just like the princess-millionaire-astronaut I wanted to be. I was wearing new shoes. Ted looked pretty hot in his sweater and “Beetel-guise” tie. We were a little disappointed to sit up in a corner by the bar instead of down by the windows, but thus is life.

I was similarly disappointed looking at the drinks list. Charley’s Crab places its wine list prominently- it takes up the entire back page of the menu- but it was a depressing sight. With just a handful of wines available by the glass the bad deals seemed to jump off the page. I am wholeheartedly in favor of cheapy wines, but there are so many better choices than the crap they were slinging. In a sea of Trinity Oaks, Lindeman’s and (gasp! barf!) Beringer white zinfandel, I got a cocktail instead.

Things got worse from there. Though the waitress was perfectly sweet when we asked to share the lobster bisque to start, she opted to serve it to us in a single bowl. This resulted in an awkward dance of pushing the dish across the table, with just one of us eating at a time. The (non-complimentary) bread basket helped some, with the exception of the crackers, which were as dry as a zwieback and about as hard, and the scallion-laced biscuits, which had the gluey texture of underdone pancakes. The bisque itself was fine, if a bit one-note in its sweetness. Ted liked it better than I did, and was poised with a bit of roll to swipe up the dregs when the waitress appeared out of nowhere and snatched the plate from under him. She was just as quick with the silverware, leaving me dabbing at the butter dish with my roll.

The sinking feeling I felt settled deeper as a bowl was plunked in front of me containing those absurd cracking tools sometimes served with shellfish, wrapped in a plastic bib that said “Let’s get Cracking!” in a fun script. This came with a wire contraption suspending a small dish of butter over a candle. I had ordered the bouillabaisse. Why was clarified butter (no milk solids, but some indeterminate crumbs!) being served with a dish based on broth? The reason became clear with the first bite. Far from the rich saffron seafood broth I was expecting, instead I tasted salt water with butter. Perhaps this was a modern take on the dish? The broth is the ocean and the seafood stops into a butter bath before it hits my mouth? Sadly no, as there is no way those greying nubbins of salmon could have escaped in their overcooked state. Ted’s scallops fared better in their cooking, though it became apparent that in oversalting my food, the kitchen forgot to salt Ted’s. Like, at all. Luckily for me, my husband is a good eater, finishing off both our underwhelming dishes while I nursed my cocktail and nibbled on the unfortunate crackers from the bread basket. As Ted was eating, the waitress again swooped in for my plate, though this time I stopped her before she could grab it, explaining that we were still eating. This seemed to spook her, and for the next fifteen minutes, well after we were both finished, she continued to avoid the table, eyeing us conspicuously from near the bar, from the host stand, from the door to the kitchen.

When we left, as we were putting on our coats, the young hostess asked us how our meal was. “The bouillabaisse was much too salty, but otherwise it was all right.” Her smile never faltered as she replied, “Oh, that’s good! Have a great night!” And off we walked into the night.

What a joy it was to pay a hundred dollars for this meal!

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