Thu 21 May 2009
The signs were there; you just didn’t want to acknowledge them. Maybe you got too comfortable…or maybe he just started taking you for granted. Either way, there was a while there where things were clearly winding down. As long as we’re being completely honest here, you had already started seeing someone else. And when it was all over? Some regret, sure – but it was tempered with a healthy dose of relief.
I’m not sure if everyone experiences this kind of thing with a restaurant or if it’s just a weird side effect of thinking about food so often, but we’ve recently gone through a long-overdue breakup. For the better part of eight years, there was one restaurant we visited more than any other. We knew the menu well enough that we could tell when they made changes. We outlasted at least three servers and witnessed a chef’s growth from a young apprentice to a comfortable hand. Our meals there became comfort food in the broadest sense of the phrase.
But over time, we noticed a few disturbing trends. Each was off-putting in its own right, sure, but it was the combination of them that cemented our decision to end things. It’s been a month now, and we don’t show any signs of backsliding. For better or worse, it looks like this breakup is going to stick.
Here at Capital Spice, we’ve adhered to a policy of not writing about restaurants we visit if we don’t have primarily positive things to say about our experience. We recognize that any establishment can have an off night, and we rarely visit restaurants often enough to distinguish chronic problems from one-time missteps. In this case, though, our lengthy relationship with this restaurant and the fact that we’ve previously given it a positive review brought us to the conclusion that this post was an exception we were willing to make. Even so, we’d rather wait until after the jump to name names – so if you’d rather not know you should probably stop reading here.
It’s not us, it’s them…after the jump.
It was almost exactly a year ago that Elizabeth wrote a review of Sushi-Zen, talking about its role as the gateway drug that opened her eyes to all kinds of sushi over the years. Since that time, I’m sad to say, our experiences at the neighborhood sushi restaurant in Arlington have gone consistently downhill. At first, we were content to shrug off small problems as mere hiccups; but there’s only so much shrugging you can do before asking yourself why you keep coming back.
While one of the servers recognized us every time, remembering our usual drink orders and noting periods when we had been absent for longer than usual, the majority of the staff seemed unaware of how frequently (or for how long) we had been visiting. Drink orders would come back incorrect, despite the fact that we ordered the same things week after week. Service became inexplicably slow from time to time, regardless of how many tables were occupied. And the perks that came with being ‘regulars’ - extra ginger without having to ask for it, red cabbage left off one of our salads – ceased to show up with any regularity. Despite eight years of loyalty, we were just another table.
At the same time, we started to see occasional lapses in the quality of rolls we knew so well we could potentially recreate them from memory. Ingredients weren’t always up to snuff: one night, we found ourselves crunching into unripe avocado; another, mushing our way through overcooked rice. Spicy rolls that were mainstays of our order were inconsistently spicy from one visit to the next. And fluctuations in the rice-to-fish ratio from week to week resulted in dense, chewy rolls one day and near-sashimi conditions the next.
In their defense, the final blow was beyond Sushi-Zen’s control. We discovered Momoyama, a wonderful local sushi place near us on Capitol Hill, and we started to visit them with regularity. Because the majority of their business is done at lunchtime, they quickly came to recognize us as repeat customers, and they took steps to show their appreciation. On a particularly cold night, I was rewarded for coming out to pick up sushi with two complimentary bowls of miso soup. Just last week, they threw in a free salad for no good reason. Little things, sure, but they added up to make us feel like Momoyama actually values the frequency with which we visit. When we held that treatment up against what we were seeing at Sushi-Zen, the contrast was clear…and disappointing.
Maybe we just grew apart. In any case, we’ve found a new (closer) place to satisfy our sushi cravings, and it seems likely that few of the folks at Sushi-Zen will even notice we’re gone. But we can’t help feeling just a little disappointed that such a long-term relationship could just fizzle out like this. We’re taking the experience as a cautionary tale in case we start to notice those warning signs again at any of our current favorites.
If you recognize a similar situation in your own dining routine, maybe it’s time you ask yourself just where that relationship is headed…and what you’re going to do about it.