Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gimme the Check (Now) Please!

I love the show Check Please! Bay Area on the PBS channel up here in San Francisco. Check Please! Bay Area showcases three articulate yuppies who each voluntarily promote their favorite Bay Area eatery and critique the favorite eating establishments of the other two guests on the show. Most of the featured restaurants are high-end establishments that are out of the price range of the overwhelming majority of the populace. However, some seem like they'd be right up my penny-pinching alley.

Check Please! Bay Area is the Bay Area's version of confrontation "Jerry Springer-style." However, unlike Jerry Springer (whose show generally features a topless 300-pound she/male) there is a bickering trio of MPWATOORs (Multiracial People Who Are Tolerant of Other Religions--not WASPs) who one-up each other with descriptive vocabulary words. Just replace Jerry Springer with Leslie Sbrocco (complete with a feigned Kool-Aid red smile that disguises her genuine disinterest) while keeping the rude interruptions, insulting jabs, inappropriate zingers from the guests, and voila! You've got yourself a show titled Check Please! Bay Area!

I decided to take two of my out-of-town friends to a cool-looking San Francisco restaurant featured on the show, the Hard Knox Cafe. My reasoning? If the PBS producers selected this person to endorse his or her favorite restaurant, he or she must have great taste and at least some credibility. Unfortunately, this reasoning was flawed.

Play the "Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea" song from those uber-irritating Pepto-Bismol commercials here. . .

It was more than just a coincidence that three out of five of us had the "runs" later that evening. After eating at Hard Knox, uncontrollable fury of the intestines ensued.

Allow me to list and describe the menu items that may have contributed to our digestive demise, the most of which, however, were pretty good.

We sipped on icy summer lemonade that was poured in fat canning jars with glass handles. The jars were slippery with swollen beads of condensed water and the lemonade was tart and sweetly satisfying.

Several our orders came with two plump corn muffins, and the bulbous muffins were buttery, nutty, and crumbly with the coarse ground meal of golden corn kernels.

I ordered the cornmeal-encrusted red snapper, which was surprisingly tasty. The crisp cornmeal crust acted as the perfect retaining wall to lock in moisture and steam so that the snapper fell apart into substantial and moist flakes when penetrated with a fork. Unfortunately, the salted black-eyed peas were a little sandy (even gritty at times) and the fork-fluffed rice tasted like Uncle Ben's. Similarly, the potato salad that came with my dish was only decent.

One friend of mine ordered the barbequed ribs, which had tender meat that easily fell-off-the-bone with a simple tug of my clasped jaws. The ribs were smothered with a gentle coating of tangy barbeque sauce. She also ordered macaroni and cheese and smashed yams (or sweet potatoes). The saccharinely-sweet yams were flavored with the earthy overtones of an overzealous helping of pumpkin pie spices. And yet, the yams were still very appealing and palatable.

Earlier, I had forebodingly advised my friends, "Not to get the mac and cheese because the Check Please! Bay Area reviews said that it tasted like the instant kind made with reconstituted powdered cheese." Some attentive friends obeyed. However, when I sampled my non-obeying friend's dish, I learned of my error. Admittedly, the macaroni did taste instant, but like the tasty Deluxe brand--the kind with the bulging foil packets of squeezable and velvety Velveeta. Yum! I like that kind.

I was also able to sample my beau's fried chicken and collard greens. Unfortunately, Hard Knox's signature three-piece chicken dish was a dismal failure. The motley pieces of chicken included the "reject piece" of the chicken: the wing. How the heck are you gonna classify the wing as a real "chicken piece?" Ain't nobody I know who does that. Well, except for Church's, Popeye's, and KFC. However, the chicken was unredeemable. It tasted as if it had been fried in rancid and putrefied oil because it was permeated with the musty flavors and odors of a fetid closet. Too bad the collard greens were similarly tasteless. The ragged collard greens were limp and flavored like Billy Bob's old towel from gym class.

I also got a taste of my other friend's braised short ribs, which were smothered in gravy. Of the mini-bite I tried, I was pleased. The meat was supple and toothsome and . . . Well, "rib-like."

On an unrelated note, when I entered the restaurant, I realized I must lack depth perception because the video footage and pictures on Check Please! Bay Area of the three tight booths in the restaurant were actually dead-on accurate representations of the restaurant seating--for the entire restaurant. Somehow, I thought the restaurant was bigger. However, there were only three (or four) booths and limited bar seating in the entire establishment. When we entered, all of the seating was filled. Thus, we had to wait for a table, which is fine, but when I have to wait for a table, I expect the food to be dayum good.

Overall, the food wasn't bad, but the aftereffects of the meal were very bad for those of us who had sampled the fried chicken. Essentially, Hard Knox gave
Passionate Eater a new motto: "Trust your gut when it comes to other people's restaurant recommendations--especially to prevent gut piercing explosions."


  1. Hi PE - It's great to have you posting again! Too bad about the meal though....

  2. Ouch...that was a most unfortuante post-restaurant experience.
    PS. I am partial to the 'deluxe' mac n cheese myself :)

  3. Even though you had some good dishes, the bad ones really stood out to me. "Rancid" oil that tastes of a "fetid closet"! Wow...I can totally imagine that. So sorry you had to pay money for that...and the fact that it, um, caused gastrointestinal distress sucks!

  4. eeee! that is not pleasant. :(

  5. Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen. She's back. I couldn't be happier.

    Rock on sexy lady.

    - Chubbypanda

  6. Yes Kirk K, Rachel, Elmo Monster, Pink Nest, and Chubby Panda, it was definitely an unfortunate experience. It taught me that I gotta keep some Pepto Bismol on hand when I visit new restaurants--just in case.

  7. Hi PE,

    Great review of an unfortunate experience!

    You should check out a new service we’re developing called Palore To Go (http://www.palore.com/). It enables you to create a “To Go” version of your blog and makes your reviews visible to many more users on other websites. Basically, it boosts the exposure and traffic of your blog.

    Feel free to contact me at noa@spearcast.com or through skype (noa.gertin) if you’d like to try it.

  8. Wow, I would like to try it actually Noa! I remember in the early stages of Yelp, I got an invitation, but never followed up on it (to my dismay). I will check out your site.

  9. Hi PE,

    I apologize for not being in touch sooner, I didn’t see your response to my comment. I hope you enjoyed the holidays and that the New Year is treating you well.

    I'd love to show you an example of what a To Go version of your blog would look like (you can also check out a short demo here: www.palore.com/ToGoDemo1 .

    Drop me a line at noa@spearcast.com or catch me on skype (noa.gertin) if you’re interested.


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