Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici. With a name like that, my expectations were high as I first learned that this is where I would be dining for my friend’s 20th birthday. And as I entered the tall, mahogany doors and laid my eyes on the elegant dining room, my expectations continued to grow. Fancy chandeliers and tables filled the space, which, might I add, was lit beautifully. By the time my server politely asked what I would be eating, my expectations were somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. After my meal, however, I found myself disappointed, unsatisfied, and worst of all, hungry.
It had been my personal mission to dine at the Culinary Institute of America for the past two years. The Culinary is a college that specializes in cooking and baking arts education. In order to provide experience for its students, the school opened a number of restaurants that would be staffed by qualified students. It is a student who will be seating you, a student who will be taking your order, and yes, a student who will be preparing your meal.
Although we were just a bunch of hungry college kids, from the moment we stepped foot in Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici, we were treated like royalty. We arrived fifteen minutes early for our 7:00 reservation but were immediately escorted to our table. Our menus were already waiting for us, and as I picked up the single-sided piece of paper, well, that’s when I began to panic.
How can an entire menu, from appetizers to sides, fit on just a single piece of paper? That was the first thought that popped into my head.
Octopus?! was the second thought, only this one managed to slip out of my mouth.
My friends laughed at my visceral reaction, and in an attempt to cover up my horror, so did I. But as I continued to scan the menu, I realized I was doomed. Absolutely doomed.
So the octopus was a definite no-go. And there was absolutely no way I was going to try the rabbit. I mean, those things are pets! While I’m certainly not a vegetarian, I could never bring myself to eat a cute, little bunny that was happily hopping around just a few days ago.
Veal? Hell no.
Basil-crusted grouper? Uh…what even is that?
Eventually I settled for what appeared to be the simplest (and safest) item on the menu: pollo ai peperoni, which is simply roasted chicken, stewed peppers, and onions.
As we waited for our food, we were certainly not forgotten about. Our waitress served us basket after basket of bread, which my friends described as “delicious” and “addicting.” (Hence the need for refills… )I opted to not take part in this pre-meal feast because I did not want to spoil my appetite. I was at Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici and I was going to enjoy my entrée!
After waiting over 30 long and excruciating minutes, it was the moment of truth: our food had arrived. As my waitress reached over and placed a large, white dish in front of me, I could not contain my excitement. I had been waiting for this meal for the last half hour – for the last 2 years! – and the moment was finally here. The moment I had been waiting for.
And then I looked down. My smile promptly disappeared from my face and the pangs of hunger in my stomach turned into knots of regret.
Sitting below me, in a gigantic dish, was what appeared to be a piece of chicken. Actually, scratch that. It was a piece of a piece of a piece. In other words, this was the smallest portion I had ever received at a restaurant.
I immediately dug into the chicken, expecting to find the rest of my meal hidden beneath. But no, to my disappointment, no hidden food was found. I then looked up at my waitress, hoping she’d yell “April Fool’s!” and bring out my real dinner. Again, I was disappointed. It’s September.
At that point, I did all I could possibly do: I dug in and took a bite. If I’m paying $20 for a scrap of chicken, then it better taste like angel tears. (Not that I know what angel tears taste like…)
So…you’re probably wondering, well, what did it taste like?
Well, I’ll tell you. it tasted like chicken.
Yeah, that’s right. I said it. It tasted like chicken. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Was it good? Yes, it was good. But so is the chicken I cook for myself every day. So is the chicken I get at Applebees. So is the chicken at the deli, grocery store, and practically any establishment that serves food.
The only difference?
They don’t cost me my lifesavings and they actually give me what I came for: a meal. At Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici I paid a huge sum of money to merely taste a meal, rather than eat it. Like I said, if I was given angel tears or magic meat I’d gladly spend the money. But nope, I was just given chicken.
Overall, the experience was enjoyable and something different, but ultimately could not deliver what I ultimately came for: a worthwhile meal.
For me, Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici provided a small portion, big checks, and an even bigger disappointments
I mean, as I was leaving, I was having regrets about not eating the pre-meal bread. What does that say about a restaurant?