You know the "rubbernecker" syndrome? Where something you see is so bad, that you gotta just stare at it a get a good view of the wreck. Well, there's a situation going on in Kaohsiung that fits that bill. Something that I just have to watch as it trundles to a horrible crunching mess. It's a new restaurant called The Villa.
Close to where I used to live about 2 years ago, there was a no name noodle shop that I ate at once. Only once. Now, I've eaten at over 100 noodles shops here in Taiwan, and most have been good to excellent. It's hard to mess up noodles. But this noodle shop? Wow. We got the noodles and walked home to have them for dinner, and opened up the box. Slimy, overcooked, and tasting only of...well, oil. They were so awful we couldn't eat them. Fiona's comment was "好利害! hao lihai" which is normally used for something "awesome, amazing, formidable" in a good sense. I looked at her quizzically, and she explained that the shop was so amazing because they could screw up something that was practically un-screw-up-able. So it is with the same amusement that I came across General Pancho's, and now The Villa, a foreigner-owned place that could claim "好利害! hao lihai" status.
It's not out of spite that I do this. I just think it is amazing how captivated I am at this place. Maybe it's schadenfreude or 幸災樂禍 (xing4 zai1 le4 huo4), but occasionally, I am just intrigued by ineptitude.
The Villa, which I think is owned by a Canadian, opened up as an offshoot of a Mexican roadside stand called General Pancho's. Now, let me say that I would love to have a(nother) good Mexican restaurant in town. Teresa's (South American, actually) has some delicious stuff down in Yen Chung district, and Smokey Joe's provides some decent "tex-mex" cuisine, though I have never been a huge fan. So the promises of The Villa sounded good. Opening reports were rough--friends reported waiting 45 minutes for a drink, and 15 minutes for someone to open a bottle of beer (eventually just getting their own), despite the staff's standing around doing nothing. I believe the words "incompetent" were used by a fellow barstaffer in description of the service. Now, any restaurant that doesn't do a soft opening for some friends (as presumably they didn't) is going to run into some problems, so it's a little understandable. Another report comes my way--they ran out of ice for the cocktail that the customer watied 15 minutes for, no salsa in the burrito, terrible taste. Nacho chips made from ..deep fried white bread. Yes, that's no typo. OK. Well, I'll try it and see.
Now, the first time I went to the General Pancho's to try it out I got a real surprise. How do you screw up tacos? Here's how: take a nice, crunchy pre-baked corn tortilla shell, and d e e p f r y it until it is the thickness, texture, and taste of a paper plate. Add toppings, omitting salsa, (which can be added for an extra NT$30!). We ended up removing the contents from the shells, which were dripping oil onto the plates. Now, I don't know how they make tacos in your neck of the woods (is this a tradition somewhere?) but when they delivered the deep fried shells, my reaction was "what the f*%$ is that?"
My second "what the f*%$ is that?" occurred when I went to The Villa last night. I perused the fairly extensive salad list, as I was really wanting a good salad. House salad, chef's salad, shrimp & something salad, Ceasar salad, Greek salad, prosciutto and gouda salad... looks pretty good. I ordered a Greek salad and a margarita. My margarita (timely delivered!) had only the small problem of being made of orange juice and garnished with a lemon. But the Greek salad was what did it. As promised, the cucumbers, olives, feta, onions, and green peppers were all there. In a 2 centimeter pile on a plate. With no lettuce. Uh, a Greek salad? "What the f*%$ is that?" I explained my understanding to the waitress that salads as those listed have lettuce by default. [imagine for comparison a "bread lover's hamburger"--all bun with nothing in between...] I was not offered any choice except to order an additional house salad (costing extra of course) to add some lettuce to the "salad". I folded, and said okay. She comes back later to report that they are out of lettuce. Out of lettuce? It's a Mexican restaurant that advertises lettuce in fully half their items, not to mention the salads and the hamburgers that require lettuce. Not to mention that there is a big grocery store 2 minutes away that is open and has tons of lettuce! My thought here is really that they probably just figured that they could serve a Greek salad without lettuce, hoping I wouldn't notice.
At this point, I realized that earlier reports were not unjustified. The owners appear to be really clueless. Anyway, I changed to a beef burrito, knowing of course that the burrito, which was advertised to include "rice, refried beans, lettuce, southwestern sauce, and salsa" would not have lettuce. What I didn't count on was the omission of the refried beans and salsa as well. Now, I want to stress that I don't know where all this is coming from. Is the owner a foreigner with a peculiar sense of taste and humor? Is it being reinterpreted in the kitchen by a Taiwanese cook who has no idea what this cuisine is supposed to be? I don't know, but The Villa's ability to screw things up is nevertheless uncanny.
So now I want to go again. Why? I realize that they are just "好利害! hao lihai"--so talented as to be able to screw up something that I previously thought was un-screw-up-able. So I am dying to order something else and see what shows up, to see what clueless creative "take" on a standard will arrive at the table and prompt me to say "what the f*%$ is that?" I think I had better go soon, though, as I don't think it will be around for long.
Maybe I'll go back to that noodle shop, as well...