Friday, December 26, 2008

Beijing Restaurant Edmonton - Tell All Your Friends Never to Eat There

I rarely blog a scathing restaurant review on this blog, reserving my comments and observations for my food blog. However, the experiences of this evening were so poor that it warranted an exception to the rule.

Beijing Chinese Restaurant, aka Beijing Beijing, a restaurant located in South Park Edmonton (Calgary Trail & 38 St.), offered the second worst dining experience of my 32 years of life. This eatery, formerly a buffet house, was recently renovated and converted into a traditional Chinese restaurant. They reopened under the same name just a few days ago, and are currently in the process of building a following in the Edmonton area. Given our inexcusably poor service this evening, I would doubt that this restaurant will be able to make a credible name for themselves in this falling economy, and with a finicky Chinese population.

After making a reservation well in advance for this Boxing Day family dinner, our party arrived tonight to discover that the restaurant had held a table for 3, rather than for the 30 of us that we had indicated on the phone.

After being seated (which they managed to do for us only because they still had tables available and we had arrived 20 minutes in advance of our maligned reservation), we ordered our food at 6:40 p.m. The "set meal" that we ordered for all 3 tables consisted of 10 savoury courses and dessert. In Chinese dining, this is a common type of meal ordered for special occasions, and normally, dinner service takes place over the course of approximately 1-2 hours, depending on how busy a restaurant is. Each dish is served in a specific sequence, and usually dishes are brought out one at a time.

This restaurant happened to be busy on this Boxing Day evening, and as a result we were prepared to be waiting for a bit, and eating for the full 2 hours. However, 1.5 hours into the meal (at approximately 8:15 p.m.), a mere 3 out of the 10 savoury dishes had been brought out to us. Attempts at grabbing the servers' attention were futile, and it seemed that the staff was deliberately avoiding us, or else they had entirely forgotten about our 3 tables situated smack in the middle of their dining room.

In the 40 minutes that followed, several unpleasant events occured, all without apology and without anyone from the restaurant taking responsibility:
- water was spilled all over the coat of one person in our party, and the jacket was completely soaked in one large area; the server seemed completely oblivious to this major spill
- the 4th dish on our menu, a crab dish, was served to several tables who had arrived after we did before we received ours; there seemed to be no order or sequence or logic involved in deciding which tables would receive their food
- our 4th dish was only received after a complaint was made to the service staff, and even then other tables outside of our party were served before we were
- the dishes were brought to us out of traditional menu order (think about getting your appetizer after finishing your entree), with the fish dish being served after the crab rather than at the end of the meal when it is usually served
- the bowl of one member of our group, which contained her as-yet-to-be-consumed food, was dumped out by a careless and inattentive server before the diner even had the opportunity to eat it
- by the time it was our turn to receive our next several dishes, the restaurant had run out of the chicken and fish that were supposed to be included in the menu; we were offered and subsequently given less-expensive, less-quality chicken and fish dishes in exchange for these, without even the courtesy of providing us a discount on the cost of the meal
- we had only received 7 of the 10 main dishes of our meal after 2 hours of waiting

Finally, affter 2.5 hours, at 9:05 p.m., we received the 10th dish of our meal.

It was at approximately 9:20 p.m. that we noticed that the restaurant had run out of our dessert, a sweet red bean soup. Servers were frantically scraping the bottom of the soup pot, which was located in front of the bar in full view of all dining patrons. One of our tables did manage to get the last remaining drops of the soup for their dessert, but our other two tables were yet again forced to wait an additional 20 minutes before the servers brought out a different sweet soup for us.

While we were waiting for our dishes to arrive, several other disconcerting things caught our attention. The ladies' bathroom was filthy, and lacked soap for patrons (and possibly the servers themselves) to use. The men's bathroom housed the closet used for the storage of extra tables; we observed servers returning several tables to the bathroom (past urinals and toilets) when they started to clean up the restaurant. We also noticed that the portions that they did finally serve us were appallingly small, and a table of 10 was left hungry and wanting at the end of the 11-course meal. The servers were also completely oblivious or inept or confused; throughout the meal they wandered around the restaurant aimlessly, seemingly uncertain as to whether or not they should actually place dishes on the table. In one instance, with the fish dish, our table was given a fish dish, the server physically walked away, and then the server came by again 20 seconds later and took the dish away, with nary an explanation for her behaviour.

As if the 3+ hour length of the service wasn't terrible enough, the restaurant was also unabashedly unapologetic for their poor attitudes, their lack of food, and the inexplicably slow service. No apology was given to our tables, and no discount offered for the meal. Even the billing was inept, as the three tables were charged separately for the meal even though it was indicated at the start of the meal that all three tables belonged to the same party and should be billed together.

Though this review is appalling, the atrociousness of this restaurant can hardly be captured in words and with these descriptions. In all of my dining experiences, I have never encountered such pathetically poor service, such mediocre food, and such arrogant attitudes toward patrons as Beijing Chinese Restaurant offered to us this evening. That not ONE of the several servers and "managers" that we spoke with all evening were sufficiently responsible or courageous enough to own up to our concerns and complaints is absolutely inexcusable. We were given no apology, and offered no plausible explanation. We were not compensated in any way for the excessive wait and the horrendous service.

Nobody of the 30 of us in our party will be returning to Beijing Restaurant. I suggest you do likewise, unless you are willing to go through a similar ordeal as what we endured tonight.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Feasting Limitations

Christmas tends to involve some form of feasting.  In most North American families, turkeys and hams are the norm.  In mine, turkeys and hams and prime rib are staples of the Christmas meals, of which we have several.

In Peru, the feasting standard?  Cuy.  Also known as roasted guinea pig.  Would you do it?  Would you eat the rodent, with its incisors still bared and its rodent-like claws baked to a golden brown? 

Apparently it tastes a little bit like dark chicken meat, or like roasted pork.  It is described as a fatty rich protein, with more skin than actual meat.  Those who have tried it consider it a tasty treat.

Here's the thing.  Generally, I have a pretty strong stomach.  After all, I am Chinese.  I've had beef tongue, chicken's feet (a favourite of mine, actually), fowl gizzard, beef stomach, beef tripe, suckling pig, and other seemingly gross meats that I'm sure would turn most stomachs.  For me, those foods are tasty and ingenious delights.

However, my stomach may not be strong enough for guinea pig.  I've not had the opportunity, but I think that if anyone were to bring me a platter with a stretched out, charbroiled rodent on it, complete with claws and a head, I would probably be making a mad dash to the nearest washroom to hurl.  I think that the visual reminder that this was once a furry caged member of the rat family is enough to give me the willies.

That said, I'm not an eating prude.  I just don't enjoy being reminded of what I'm eating.  I would probably be as creeped out if you brought me a side of cow with the head still on, or any animal with its head and feet still attached.  Frogs' legs are therefore okay, since they look like chicken wings and aren't accompanied by the ogly eyes of the frogs.

So would I try cuy?  Not if the head and the claws were attached, as they seem to be when they're traditionally served up in Peru.  However, if the rodent head and claws were lopped off prior to preparation and I was left with just the meat, I might dare sample a piece.  Maybe.

But not today.  Not after Googling the term "roasted guinea pig cuy" and studying the images.  Even a seasoned carnivore like me has feasting limitations.  

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Decememeber :)


Is it lame that a thirty-something year-old woman looks forward to Christmas like a giddy child?  IMHO, no.  I love Christmas, and the hype that leads up to those festive family celebrations held between the 23rd and the 27th (in my family, Christmas lasts at least that long).  I feel sorry for those who have removed "Christmas" from their list of observed holidays, replacing it with a lame ol' "winter holiday" or whatever it is that those kill-joys like to call December 25th. 

Anyway, 'tis not the time for a rant.  Tis the season for a meme, a Christmas meme no less!  Feel free to rip this off and stick it on your own blog for some cheap jolly Christmas fun ;)

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?  Whatever is easiest.  I personally prefer to open wrapped gifts but sometimes it is just a lot less painful to just shove the gift in a bag with some tissue paper.
2. Real tree or Artificial?  Fake all the way, baby.  I don't enjoy the smell of pine and now that I've heard stories about stowaway bees and other insects taking refuge inside the live trees, I will never get a real one!
3. When do you put up the tree? Whenever Hubbs lets me.  This year we've opted not to do the tree, though we've decorated in every other possible way with the few meagre Christmas ornaments that we have.
4. When do you take the tree down? Whenever Hubbs is willing to help me with it.  Usually this occurs sometime before February, though it can cut it pretty close to the end of the month!
5. Do you like eggnog? Yes, but only in small portions sipped from a glass.  That stuff can get pretty rich...and fattening.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? Hmmm.  I can't say that there was any one gift that stands out in my mind.  I'm sure I liked any non-clothing gifts as a kid, but there wasn't a Christmas present that was particularly memorable for me.  I've enjoyed getting bracelets from year he even picked it out himself and it was beautiful.  Stuff like that is always special to me.
7. Hardest person to buy for? Hubbs' grandparents.  All they want are Swiss Chalet and McDonald gift certificates.  It is hard to be creative with those two!
8. Easiest person to buy for? Myself :)  Hubbs is pretty easy to buy for as well.  And anyone who offers up a wish list has my greatest gratitude during this season of stressful gift shopping.
9. Do you have a nativity scene?  Not yet.  I have yet to find one that goes well with our decor and isn't uber-tacky looking.  
10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Neither.  I totally suck.  Sorry my friends!!  That said, I'm hoping to actually do the Christmas card mail-out next year.  That is one of my New Year's resolutions ;)
11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?  Hot pink sweatshirt and matching sweatpants with silver zippered pockets.  That thing was hideous.  Oh, and an ugly troll doll given without much thought.  I am still bitter about both of these atrocious items and wonder what sort of misery I must have inflicted on the givers to have been cruelly subject to such pathetic excuses for gifts. 
12. Favorite Christmas movie? The Charlie Brown Christmas special.  I also like watching The Sound of Music around this time of year, since it plays every December.   
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?  November, sometimes October.  This year was a late one, and I really just started shopping in December.
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I think so...but nothing specific comes to mind.  I probably regifted candles and boxes of chocolate at some point in life, though.
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?  Everything!  Turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, Poppycock (we only eat it at Christmas time, for some reason), chocolate, candy canes, rich decadent desserts, prime rib, and so on and so forth.  I belong to two families that enjoy their food immensely.  
16. Lights on the tree? Yes, white ones.  I'm not a fan of those crazy multi-coloured lights that some people use on their trees.  I prefer simple white lights, or else blue lights.  
17. Favorite Christmas song?  You mean songs, plural, right?  Because honestly, I cannot simply choose just ONE.  I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, Silent Night, O Holy Night, Carol of the Bells, Chestnuts Roasting on a Open Fire (The Christmas Song), Joy to the World, What Child is This?, Silver Bells, O Come All Ye Faithful, Do You Hear What I Hear?, and of course, Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas song "Christmas Time is Here." 
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?  Always traveling.  Our time is split between my family and Hubbs' family.  This year it's long-distance travel, no less! 
19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?  Yes, of course!  I know the song.  Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.
20. Angel on the tree top or a star?  I prefer the star, but it doesn't prefer to stay put on the top of the tree.  Usually our tree goes topless as a result.  
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?  Both. :)  We do Hubbs' family's gifts on Christmas Eve (and then again after Boxing Day for the stocking stuffers), and we do MY family's Christmas presents on Christmas morning (or early afternoon if the 25th falls on a Sunday).
22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?  Crowds of shoppers and long line ups, as well as stores that run out of stuff because of the increased demands.
23. Favorite ornament theme or color? I never thought I had a favourite, though one might be inclined to think it is cherry red, forest green, and gold, since that seems to be the colour scheme of most of my Christmas "stuff."  My tastes run a bit traditional, though this is mixed with a simplicity characteristic of more modern decorating habits.  I do enjoy different themes and colours, however; I like the look of some champagne gold and dusty rose trees (Victorian style), and I also appreciate the silver/white/blue colour schemes.  
24. Favorite for Christmas dinner? Stuffing and cranberry sauce.  Meat(turkey or prime rib...not a fan of ham).  Mashed potatoes and gravy.  
25. What do you want for Christmas this year?  Besides everything my heart desires? ;) A fun time spent with my family.  Truthfully, Hubbs and I have been very blessed and we want for nothing.  At this point in our lives, Christmas is meaningful to us not only because we are celebrating our Savior's birth, but because it gives us an excuse to take time out to spend with our loved ones.  That is what we want - time - and what we enjoy more than any material gift.  A great gift this Christmas would be the continued good health of all of our family.  
26. Who is most likely to respond to this? I'm sure you've all responded mentally, in that as you've read these questions, you've considered what your own responses might be.  I don't know who might want to also complete this meme, however.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Maybe I Need Queer Eye for the Straight Girl...


I used to think that home decorating was easy - just buy stuff that looks nice together and put it together.  I have since been humbled from that perspective, given that good home decor is an altogether different talent, and a skill that is far more difficult to develop than one might think.  

Despite living in a place that is far more chic, modern, and urban than any other I've lived in before, I still cannot make any of my rooms look like a room from Martha Stewart Living.  I'm lucky that I don't have clashing colour combinations, but that's about it.  It was humbling to walk into our neighbour's place and see that even he, a single man living in a bachelor suite with a Murphy bed, could make his place look more posh than ours.  He obviously has an eye for design that I am desperately lacking.

Truth is, I think I know why I'm not able to (or willing to) class up my home the way that those places featured in home magazines can.  In a nutshell, there are 3 reasons:

1. Money - To decorate well takes a great expense, and most of the coolest furniture in the city cannot be found at IKEA or the Brick.  The places that do carry the unique funky furnishings usually offer these up at ridiculously high prices.  We of humble stock do not dare to drop $400 on a stool or $250 on a piece of decorative wall art that serves no purpose.  My peasant-classed, lower-middle-class roots forbid me from ever making such purchases, even if I had an unlimited amount of cashola to spend.

2. Function vs. Fashion - I'm Chinese.  I am genetically programmed to be practical, and possibly a little bit cheap.  My home, as an expression of my efficient and practical nature, is set up so that I can be at my most productive in the least amount of time at any given point in time.  This means that pots are not discreetly hidden away in cupboards; they are on the stove, where they will be easily accessed for quick and immediate use.  Likewise with the rice cooker, the salt & pepper shakers, the grill, and the kettle.  To put these things away would mean it would take precious extra minutes locating and retrieving these items on a daily basis.  

The gloriously-fashioned rooms featured in home magazines are not very comfortable to live in either, I would imagine.  Their TV remotes and Wii's are tucked away inconveniently while some giant display vase or centerpiece features prominently on the "use-a-coaster-or-it-will-stain" coffee table.  How could someone as anal as I am possibly live in such a place?!? I really couldn't, which is why my place looks a little bit messy, a little bit cluttered, and very much "lived in."  At least I don't have to worry constantly about someone accidentally breaking an expensive crystal vase or knocking over my art-deco plate of gold balls.

3. Time - This ties in with the practicality element, really.  To maintain the appearance of pristine home-as-art designing takes a lot of time.  It takes time to find the great pieces that go together, and time to hang them up.  It takes time to care for these pieces, and to clean them.  It also takes a lot of time to return things to their original states of poshness following any kind of social event or even just any kind of human activity, like sleeping.  I confess - I don't make my bed every day, and even when I do, sometimes I don't do it well, since that would take time.  If I had to put away my alarm clock and the Nintendo DS that lulls me to sleep every morning, a further few minutes might be added to the day that could otherwise be spent elsewhere.  I'm almost totally convinced that unless one lives alone and is never home or is retired and has tons of spare time, the residents/owners of well-decorated homes probably have hired help to assist in maintaining the look of their places.  The rest of us that work simply do not have the time or energy to invest in all of the little details that make for effective, fancy home decor.

So, in essence, I will simply have to settle with my humble surroundings and the even more humble decor that I've chosen for it.  I must resign myself to the cruel reality that I will never be like Martha Stewart and my home will never be featured in any home magazines.  I suppose I can live with that, though.  In the big picture of life, there are far more important things for me to focus my money and my time on.