3.08.2013

Rant on the Avenue

As The Bloggess says, this isn't a real post. My real posts are positive, supportive of local businesses and mom and pop shops, and the culinary bounty of Upstate New York. A real post wouldn't tell you where not to go, but would give you all sorts of ideas about day trips, and make your mouth water. And I'm sorry about that.

This post makes me feel guilty for writing, but I feel like we need to discuss declining restaurants, and why work ethic and a passion for feeding people wonderful food - feeding their very souls - is so important, especially in a family-owned business.

On Wednesday night, I had the misfortune of eating at Nirchi's on the Avenue in Endicott with a large group of colleagues. We had just finished a day of grueling plannings meetings, and needed a good meal, strong libations, and some laughs to properly recover. Now, back when Nirchi's first opened their fine-dining location on Endicott's Washington Avenue in 2001, I was a big fan. The calamari was a standout, with one of the lightest, airiest breadings I'd ever tasted, and they were one of the only local joints doing risotto, which was white hot in the early aughts.

A decade and change has taken its toll. Once a place for special occasion meals (Shawn and I had a very romantic Valentine's Day dinner there once) and work dinners, Nirchi's has failed to invest back in itself. The dining room, always dark, is now dated and somewhat shabby, and much-loved menu items like seafood risotto and angels on horseback are no longer available. I can see Robert Irvine, from Food Network's Restaurant Impossible, tearing this place to shreds with glee, harping on the burgundy lace curtain panels and lack of seasoning in the dishes.

I ordered the fettucine carbonara Wednesday night, on the recommendation of the waitress. I had been waffling between that and the chicken marsala, but she said the carbonara was very popular, so I heeded her advice. I didn't expect it to be authentic carbonara, which is pancetta and copious amounts of black pepper, sometimes graced with onions or peas, first mixed with the al dente pasta, and then doused in beaten eggs and pecorino romano cheese. The heat from the pasta "cooks" the eggs gently, forming a sauce without scrambling them, and the black pepper represents coal, which is where the name carbonara comes from. Most restaurants forgo the delicate egg tempering process and cheat the dish with cream, which allows for more consistent results. But Nirchi's version was so off the mark, I barely finished half of my portion. They're using proscuitto instead of pancetta, which doesn't allow for the rendering process to infuse the whole dish with the cured pork flavor, and pre-made alfredo sauce, which was far too runny. In addition, the cook either rinsed the pasta before mixing it with the sauce, or didn't allow the pasta and sauce to cook together for a minute or two before plating, because the sauce slid right off the pasta with no adherence whatsoever. This is the first rule of Italian cookery, and something you can pick up in 30 minutes of watching Rachael Ray or any other pedestrian chef on the Food Network.

It was not, as the menu states, "unforgettable." I shall forget it as soon as this post is published.

You can even see in the photo how separate the sauce and pasta are. Moreover, the calamari our table ordered was greasy, with none of the etheral crunch this dish used to carry. Even the spinach and artichoke dip was an abomination, and the sure example of laziness in the kitchen. The canned artichoke chunks were left whole instead of being chopped up in order to meld with the spinach and sauce, which in this case was broken, leaving huge puddles of grease in the dish. Ugh. My UK colleagues ordered seafood dishes, as they are so often wont to do, and I pitied them, as the crabcakes smelled so foul and looked so bland, I would have sent them back.

I don't know if the issue at Nirchi's is that at some point they lost their chef and let a less experienced line cook simply take over the recipes without any oversight, or if the ambivalance about fine cuisine in the Southern Tier has engendered malaise in some of our older establishments. It's the same question I have about Fireside, up in Black River, or Donoli's in Apalachin. Clearly, these places were once vibrant, thriving restaurants, and they're now serving crap to disenfranchised fools who don't care enough about what they put in their bodies to demand better quality.

So there you have it, folks. My simple rant is that I cannot abide by a chef who permits insipid, low quality, lazy, poorly prepared, under-seasoned food to be sent out from his or her kitchen. Food is not difficult, you guys. Salt and pepper are not exotic ingredients. Carbonara is a ten minute dish, and one I can whip up in my kitchen and be ready to serve to guests in no time. I make a better spinach artichoke dip when I'm hungover, and my job is not cooking. If you believe, like I do, that professional cooking is a calling, then you won't condone laziness out of your local restaurants. Nirchi's needs a new dining room, and a new chef, stat. They have a huge company right up the street with business travelers galore asking where to eat - in this market, you just can't afford to be falling behind.

Next Wednesday, on a yummier note, stop on by for a fun taste of bar food in Syracuse! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Nirchi's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

11 comments:

  1. Don't feel bad at all about this. If they're smart, they'll heed your advice. As a local, family-owned business, they can't afford to serve Applebee's-style crap. You can ride your reputation for just a few years, you have to live up to it. If anything, you've done them a favor by calling them on it. As you know, as a follower of the Slow Food movement, I'm a huge proponent of local restaurants (I haven't eaten in a chain restaurant in YEARS) because they truly reflect the heart and soul of the local cuisine. If you can't be authentic, there's no reason to choose you over TGI Friday's. Here's to hoping they read this and do something about it. Don't you dare feel bad.

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    1. Thanks for the support, Vron! I don't like the tone of my blog to be negative, but this food was so bad, and so overpriced for what we got, I felt like I had to say something. Especially because some of the reviews on Urbanspoon were so old and so positive. I do hope they read it and hire someone who gives a damn to run their kitchen. There are certainly enough good people out there who needs jobs right now.

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  2. They need Robert Irvine.

    You need to be honest in your reviews, people expect that of you.

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  3. The carbonara may be unforgettable, but not in the way they would like. It's a shame when a beloved restaurant goes downhill like that.

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    1. I agree Gwen, and I never, ever, like to hear of a small business going under. But some changes need to be made. I hope they read this and submit themselves into Restaruant Impossible! Nirchi's is an empire in these parts - their pizza is what all the Binghamton expats remember and loved from their childhoods.

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  4. Nirchi's On the Avenue does have some questionable dishes sometimes, but the Steaks are always very good, and they also have the best veal dishes in the area, I cant say it is fair to judge a place based on a carbonara? Also I have been several times and I have to say the wait staff is one of the best, I've never had a rude server, in fact last time I was in I had a very young server who I expected to be unknowledgeable and slow, I was very wrong, he went out of his way to make sure everything was great and even recommended a wine to us that was great and a new favorite of mine (Hess Cab). When you review a restaurant you should review all aspects of it, service, wine selection, dessert, cleanliness, not just a pasta dish. this is a local family restaurant that the southern teer should support!!!

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    1. This wasn't a full review, which I stated in my post. However, I disagree that a diner can't judge a restaurant based on one meal. People's disposable income I slimited - how many tries do you think most consumers will give an establishment? Also, Nirchi's is billing itself as an Italian restaurant, not a steak house, so I wouldn't presume the steaks would be the standout. I don't disparage Nirchi's wine selection, but again, that is not something every diner is looking for.

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    2. Moreover, I agree completely that we need to support local, family-owned businesses. If you read more of my blog, you'll see that that's why I blog in the first place. That doesn't mean I'll send my readers to a place that's not worth their hard-earned money! More so than chain places, we should expect our local restaurants to provide great food prepared with care and served in a clean, contemporary environment!

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  5. You've been misled by server jargon, so it seems. Generally when a server tells you a dish is "popular", it's because it's the best thing they can say about it. They're damning it with faint praise, if you will. A lot of people may very well order it, but it doesn't mean that it's any good. If you're looking for a quality recommendation from a server, ask them what dishes they themselves like, or give them a general idea of the kinds of flavors you're looking for. They should be able to help you find something on the menu that suits your taste. By all means, however, don't just ask for the "best dish on the menu" or ask the server "what's good here?", as both of those questions are highly subjective, and the server isn't going to know your particular tastes unless you're a longtime regular.

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  6. Well said!! I discovered your blog and am adding you to my favorites from Jennifer over at Home in the Finger Lakes. I live in Greece, NY, a burb of Rochester.

    I couldn't agree with you more. What I think they are trying to do is just like you said, hire lesser qualified ppl to take place of a professional, and then justify it with lesser quality ingredients. I doubt very much their dining room was packed. I doubt very much it ever is. The bottom line is; whether you have gourmet tastes or not, you can always taste a failure. Business is probably down explaining the dated decor. Why can't ppl wake up!!

    So glad to have found your blog. Off to look for you on FB!!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Didi! Where do you love to eat in Greece? I went to school in Geneseo, and I love Tom Wahl's and Rohrbachs!

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