Since moving from Upstate New York to San Diego in 1993, my wife and I are pretty much orphans. That’s not to say we don’t have close friends. However, all of my family and lifelong friends live in Rochester, NY, and my wife, Brooklyn born, has family that spans from New York City to Jersey to Florida to Brazil.
Because my wife and I don’t visit our hometowns for the holidays, Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. In fact, it’s hard to get excited about a holiday that’s focused on family when you’re nearest relative is 3,000 miles away. Talking on the telephone just isn’t the same as sitting next to one of your grandsons and showing him how to build a skyscraper with a box of Legos. Of course we do have the option to travel east for the holidays, but have you ever been in Upstate New York in the dead of winter? It’s like Siberia. Freezing cold. Snow up to your butt. And dreary, unfriendly skies.
To compensate for not having family in San Diego, my wife and I either enjoy an intimate dinner at home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or once in a while, we’ll go out to dinner. We haven’t had great luck with restaurants here in San Diego. You can call us New-York-snobs if you like, but I’m here to tell you that for the most part, the restaurants in San Diego don’t even come close to those in New York. We can count on one hand the number of restaurants that we really like here on the west coast.
In constant search for a new restaurant my wife and I would enjoy, I recently had lunch with some of my friends at a place in Fashion Valley Mall called Bing Crosby’s. I thought the food was great and the atmosphere charming. So this year, I decided to surprise my wife on Christmas Eve and take her to this new restaurant. Neither my wife nor I eat meat—except for chicken and turkey—so I checked out Bing Crosby’s menu on line to be sure their fare worked for us.
When we arrived, the hostess cheerfully greeted us, wished us a Merry Christmas and promptly seated us. When we studied the menu, I noticed that it was different than what was posted on line, offering fewer choices than I expected. Although limited, there were still a few entrées that fit our dietary needs. We ordered two appetizers—broiled scallops and an ahi tuna trio. The scallops were tasty but the ahi didn’t excite either of us. After careful consideration, we both ordered the sea bass.
When our waiter delivered the entrées, the portion seemed small but the presentation was very appealing. My wife dug in first and tasting the first bite she nearly spit it out. So salty, it was virtually inedible. I tried a piece and although mine wasn’t as salty as my wife’s, I felt certain that my blood pressure medication wouldn’t appreciate competing with this sodium-rich meal. The waiter apologized profusely and promised to return quickly with a freshly prepared meal for my wife. I decided to rough it and didn’t ask for my entrée to be redone.
A few minutes later, our waiter set a freshly made plate of sea bass in front of my wife. Her second bite into the fish, she discovered that the center was raw. Not cooked rare. Raw. We both love sushi and sashimi, but sea bass is not meant to be eaten uncooked. By now, we had both lost our appetites. We motioned for our waiter and expressed our concern. He again apologized and said he would speak with the restaurant manager. A few minutes later, a well-dressed woman appeared and she, too, couldn’t apologize enough. She handed us a $50 gift card and said she would only charge us for the appetizers. Fair enough, we thought. Even Julia Child must have screwed up a meal now and then. The manager almost redeemed the chef until she said that Bing Crosby’s generally cooks their fish entrées rare. Now I eat a lot of fish but don’t pretend to be a fish authority. But I do know that some fish—like ahi tuna—should only be eaten seared and rare. But sea bass? Sorry, but no self-respecting chef would ever undercook sea bass.
So, where am I going with this boring chapter and verse recap of my dubious Christmas Eve? Just trying to illustrate that the Christmas holiday should be spent with family and friends and home cooked meals—not in a restaurant that doesn’t know how to cook fish. Next year, if we’re not with family—and we expect to be—we’re cooking at home. And we won’t be serving salty or raw sea bass.