Monday, August 11, 2008
Firehouse - Not a Good Night
The Firehouse restaurant has been a Sacramento institution since 1960. That's a long time. While dining, we heard a man at the next table mention that he had proposed to his wife there 36 years ago. That's a long time. It's hard to stay on top of your game consistently for that many years. There are cycles of ups and downs, chefs changing over time, etc. This is a restaurant that definitely calls for re-reviewing every once in a while.
The last time I ate at The Firehouse was at least ten years ago. My ex-husband's company took everyone there (small company) for the Christmas holiday dinner. The one thing I remember specifically from that night was that they made the Caesar salad dressing at the table in a big presentation.
We went on a Sunday night and the place was pretty empty. It hadn't changed much, and probably never will. After all, you got to stick with the historic theme when you are in Old Sac. The trusty fire pole was still there, although the holes at the ceiling and floor were blocked. I joked that it must be for pole dancing now. There is the old Victorian decor with the chandeliers, paneling, and giant era oil paintings. My guest mentioned over dinner that the place reminded him of the Haunted House ride at Disneyland, and I had to agree.
Another thing that hasn't changed is that it still run as an old school, fancy dining experience. The hostess pulls out your chair and does your napkin for you. It's funny how you notice things like that when nobody does it anymore at other places. One of those things that distinguishes high, middle, and low grade dining experiences. Our waiter was courteous enough, but amazingly still missed a couple of things, considering our expectation levels had now been raised. He did not tell us what the special was until after I mentioned what I wanted. I ordered the sea scallops and then he says, as a "by the way", that the special is another preparation of sea scallops.
For our first course, I had chosen the House-Smoked Salmon Roulade - watercress, tzatziki, capers, onions and mâche, baguette crostini and elephant garlic chips. Although I enjoyed the salmon, it was a little dry. I also would have liked more capers and onions. But it was a generous portion and the overall flavors were good.
My guest had the White Corn Lobster Bisque - caramelized shallots, leeks and fresh herbs in a sherry-infused velouté, with a butter-poached Maine lobster “salad”. It arrived with great presentation. The waiter put down the empty soup bowl with just a little mound of chopped lobster in the center. Then he poured the bisque from a small one-quart, copper saucepan, wiped the drips from the rim of the bowl, and then left. Upscale service. The bisque was delicious and was one of the few joys of the meal.
Next came small parfait glasses with lime cucumber sorbet to cleanse our palettes.
The entrees were where the disappointments entree'd.
As I had mentioned, I chose the Sea Scallops with white corn-lobster emulsion and lemon pepper-sweet pea risotto, sautéed Bloomsdale spinach, and saffron tapioca. You can see that it arrived looking beautiful and delicious. Look at those honkin' scallops! Unfortunately, it was sssaaal-ty! And really, that's all I care to say on it.
My guest ordered Grilled Swordfish with lemon-fennel marinade and fresh herb-olive salsa verde, sorrel-roasted French fingerlings, haricots verts and sweet pea emulsion. First thing, he tasted the "olive salsa verde" and swept that aside - yuck. Then he took a bite and I knew what it was gonna be (and can you tell by looking at the picture?). It was DRY and overcooked. Just looking at it you could tell. We called the waiter and commented on it and even he said it looked overcooked. To which my guest rightly asked, "then why would you serve something that is obviously overcooked?" The answer was not satisfactory to us. Basically, some people might want it cooked like that. People who don't know good food! (Unfortunately there are those non-foodies out there.) Anyway, we asked him to take it away. My guest was so put off that he lost his appetite to order anything else. I reminded him of my ten year memory of the Caesar salad and so he ordered that. Another disappointment. He received a plate of hearts of Romaine, but no table-side dressing preparation.
At this point the manager came up and apologized and offered us a free creme brulee for dessert. I was silently taken aback that he would only offer the creme brulee, and so we told him we'd think about it. Meanwhile I finished my salty scallops.
We looked at the dessert menu. I carefully noted the price of the creme brulee versus the other desserts - for the most part, the same. My guest picked what I had initially wanted, so I chose the chocolate decadence. Now another little aside on The Firehouse is that my friend, the 5-star pastry chef trained in Italy, used to be the pastry chef for The Firehouse. Now she's the personal chef to the Raley-Teel family. Anyway, me and my sweet tooth know good dessert and the standard that The Firehouse used to have. This chocolate decadence was passable at best. It reminded me of something you would get from a grocer's bakery and not something freshly made.
So now we end with the best dish of the entire meal - Passion Fruit Mousse - macadamia nut Japonaise cake and passion fruit mousse with coconut tuile and tropical fruit salsa. We both loved the tangy sweetness of the passion fruit mousse. I should have just ordered the same thing!
The bill arrived and they did remove the swordfish and one of the desserts, noted as "food waste". Even then, we paid over $100 with the tax and tip. Fancy restaurants come with fancy price tags, even without any alcohol. My guest has no interest in returning any time soon. As I said in the beginning, with a restaurant spanning as many decades as The Firehouse has, you do have to suffer through the ups and downs. Today was a down. It's just tough to say how long a break does one take before checking to see if it's at an up again. Another ten years?