Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How is the restaurant going?

And how has the restaurant been in my absence? Did they miss me? The waiters said they were glad I was back because mio marito was getting more grumpy without me. Mio marito says that he had to play the role of the strict manager, which he had let me do while I was around … while he got to be the laid back, approachable boss, saying ‘I’ll need to ask my wife about that’, for anything he disagreed with. Ha.

We have the same cook as before. He started muttering after the summer period that he would need to be paid more, once the restaurant started closing Mondays and Tuesdays through the winter. I would have been harder to convince on that one, because I think he has an easy time of it. The only time he might have some work is Saturday and Sunday, on week nights three or four tables max – and they might have piadine or panini which the second cook takes care of – and Fridays are really the worst night for the restaurant strangely. But he started muttering about how he was sending his CV to places in the north of Italy – I seriously doubt it, his family are here, he lives a ten minute walk from the restaurant, and he’s getting well enough paid. Other places he has worked we know he didn’t even get paid at the end of the month. Anyway, the classic situation. As mio marito maintains that there have been no more problems in the kitchen since he been working for us and actually quite a few compliments, he was willing to give him a bit more to keep him happy.

Now that I am back though, I keep him on his toes. He wanted us to sample his sformata di salmone: a kind of smoked salmon parcel stuffed with Philadelphia cheese and rocket – and with a dash of Tabasco. Even before I tasted it I knew the Tabasco was out of place. I didn’t give him the whole ‘I’m Irish – we have the best smoked salmon in the world and the only way to do it is with good Irish butter and brown bread.’ I just said that Tabasco is a Mexican sauce. It doesn’t go with smoked salmon. And the rocket already gives a peppery flavour – which goes quite well with the smoked salmon and the cream cheese. And the smoked salmon needs to be of good quality. It is hard to get good smoked salmon here. It is usually over smoked, extremely salty and very slimy, whether it comes from Scotland, Norway or Ireland. It was a very unusual association, I though. And it made me wonder about his tastebuds as a chef.

Even more so when I sampled a ‘torta salata’, a kind of pastry he made mid-week of mushrooms, smoked provolone cheese and rocket. Unfortunately the rocket goes bitter when cooked, and the smoked cheese tasted way too strong for the mushrooms. Plus, as the waiter pointed out (the waiters are very skeptical of the cook’s abilities), it was burned round the crust. So, again, I tactfully (I hope) pointed out that the smoked cheese was too strong for the mushrooms and maybe a soft cheese with less flavour to it would go better. I wonder does he taste his experiments? That pastry was inedible. I wouldn’t even have sent it out on the aperitivo on Sunday …

But we are doing better than last year. We have regulars who come to the restaurant, one of whom has asked us to do an aperitivo for their wedding, after the church ceremony. We have regulars who come for the desserts, and those who come for the tapas and the paella. And the new pasta dishes are going well. Also, the addition of hamburgers – mio marito got inspired in Ireland – is turning out to be popular. This time last year it was very very quiet and we were not happy with our kitchen staff. So we’ve made progress.

We’ve painted the bottom half of the bar area green, which somehow gives it a more Andalusian touch, and placed a large round mirror behind the bar which reflects off the long mirror opposite. And there is now a flat screen at the back of the room, making the corner area more interesting. Don’t worry, it’s not for football, we’ve no intention of getting Sky. We show old movies, Carlo Saura, Almodovar, Woody Allen, documentaries, music videos – on silent, while the dj, or stereo system play other music. Good conversation point to while away the winter nights …

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