I’m a bit discomforted by my recent experience at Southern Kitchen, the beloved Tacoma famous for its screen door. I was making my first visit in many years, holding memories of delicious deep-fried dishes and big Ball jars of mango lemonade. Friends (fine dining types) from California wanted to meet for brunch, so I steered us away from the safety of a place like Anthony’s HomePort for what I promised would be a special experience at this Southern-style restaurant.
Southern Kitchen is still a friendly place with wonderfully diverse clientele. And it still serves decent comfort food. One friend got a huge omelette, while another got some tender brisket that was actually one of the best bites on the table. Akiko and I shared fried chicken and a whole fried catfish, along with fried okra, mashed potatoes with gravy, a corncake, buttered corn, eggs over easy, home fries, and a biscuit. Oh…and a mango lemonade. Yes, a lot of food! Fun, fried, and filling.
And yet a bit unfulfilling.
I’m trying to figure out what that lack of fulfillment is all about. Maybe my tastes and desires have changed. The day before, I went to Szechuan Noodle Bowl, which I’ve enjoyed previously, but this time around I wasn’t pleased. The pig ears were still great, but the gyoza and spicy wontons were disappointing, and the beef noodle soup paled in comparison to my new standard of excellence. (Szechuan Noodle Bowl uses mealy, Chinese-style udon noodles, and while the broth has some spicy zip, there’s a lack of depth and an absence of some of the spices I now seek in such a soup.) Meanwhile, at Southern Kitchen, the first bites of everything were fun, but aside from the fried chicken (and the brisket), nothing was particularly compelling in terms of flavor. Everyone at the table picked at their food, and we all shook our heads “no” when asked if we wanted the plentiful leftovers boxed to go.
This leads me to re-think how I report on restaurants. I don’t want to rush to report that any restaurant is particularly bad. Different places are different people’s cups of tea. In reading a restaurant report/review, it’s important to get to know the writer, and see if that person’s taste resonates with yours. (I do this when I read critics and bloggers, and then try to follow my favorite ones; Jonathan Kaufmann was my favorite – the reviewer I most trusted – until he left the Seattle Weekly to move back to San Francisco.)
I’ll be doing some thinking about my (evolving) taste in food, as well as the way I write about it as we move forward.