Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sharing A Meal At One Red Door

As part of the 2010 Taste of Hudson "challenge," similar to the one I created at the 2010 Taste of Akron, I targeted three vendors whose restaurants had yet to be reviewed here on the blog. This year, the three selectees were the North End Restaurant with Chef Jeff Jarrett (who has since departed to open up a new restaurant, Palate Restaurant & Lounge), Blue Canyon with Chef Brandt Evans, and a relative newcomer to the First and Main scene, One Red Door with Chef Shawn Monday who had recently left another Hudson institution, Downtown 140, to open up and run his own restaurant.

Realizing that the restaurant had opened up right around the same time as the Taste of Hudson, I wanted to give him and his staff a couple of weeks to get settled into their routine and work out any kinks in both the front of the house as well as the back. While it seems like it would be great to be the first person publishing a critical review of a new restaurant, often until things calm down and the staff discovers its groove, the experience of eating at a newly opened restaurant can vary wildly.

Five weeks after they opened, I contacted my good friend and public relations/marketing guru Jayni (designer of the awesome business cards for the blog) and asked if she would join me for dinner. After agreeing on a time and date for our meal, when the day finally came, I drove over to Hudson with great anticipation. One Red Door was situated in the First and Main district, specifically where Vue Restaurant used to be located. The address for One Red Door was 49 Village Way, Hudson, OH 44236 and they can be reached at 330-342-3667 or at They also have a website (Warning: Heavy Flash content with music turned on by default). Free parking was either at curbside parking spots on the street or in the parking garage a five minute walk from the restaurant.

Not knowing how long it would take to get from my job to the restaurant, I showed up thirty minutes before our reservation time. After taking a picture of the front door,

Entrance to One Red Door Restaurant
I decided to check in with the hostess to let her know that I had arrived and would be having a cocktail in the bar. After settling down in one of the seats at the bar, I proceeded to order a favorite pre-dinner cocktail, a Grey Goose Martini, up, with bleu cheese stuffed olives:

Grey Goose Martini Up with Bleu Cheese Olives
Execution-wise, the martini was okay. I've had versions of this cocktail where the bartender shook the vodka and ice so thoroughly that a thin, almost imperceptible layer of ice crystals floated on top of the liquid. As you sipped the drink, the finely distributed crystals would instantly melt in your mouth. Today's cocktail, while cold, also came with sizable unmelted pieces of ice which definitely did not melt upon sipping.

The cocktail aside, however, it was listening to the bartender's banter with the other guests at the bar that caught my attention. When I am by myself at a bar (or a restaurant for that matter), I am usually engaged in checking websites or email messages on my smartphone. In addition to that activity, I am usually multi-tasking and listening in to the conversations happening around me. As the bartender was regaling several of the other patrons about a woman who had complained that the service had been off during the restaurant's first week of business, my ears perked up and I tuned in.

"Of course there were some problems," he told the complaining woman. "We've only been open for a week."

I saw this as my chance. "So have all the kinks been worked out yet?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah. We've been open for a little over five weeks now and it's all good."

In case you're wondering, gentle reader, I am somewhat playfully using a technique called foreshadowing.

As I continued to sip my cocktail and wait for my guest to arrive, the banter of the bartender actually turned a fair bit crass, dutifully detailing his theory on why his current wife had never gotten pregnant with prior sexual partners. I understand the need to talk to your audience in order to connect with them, but this didn't seem quite appropriate given the surroundings.

Jayni arrived promptly at 6:30 and after a quick return trip to check in at the hostess stand, we were promptly shown to our table and handed the single page menu. I opted to take three photographs, one of each "pane" of the menu:

One Red Door's Menu Left
One Red Door's Menu Middle
One Red Door's Menu Right
In addition to catching up with a friend, my dining companion was excited to be joining me on one of my anonymous blogging expeditions and wanted to know all about my "process." I explained that other than trying to taste as many flavors as possible, just order what sounds good. To that end, we agreed to split one item from the Tastes, one from the Flatbreads, and one from the Shared items. When our server finally returned with our drink orders, I indicated that we'd be splitting the first part of the meal. Since the Shared item was a salad, he helpfully suggested that the kitchen could just split it onto two plates. After placing our order, Jayni and I got down to the serious business of catching up, something we had both been too busy to do for quite some time.

It was at this point I noticed the first glitch in service tonight. Other tables had bread plates with bread on them. Ours remained empty. No worries, I thought to myself, I'm sure he'll back around with the bread basket. Sadly, I was mistaken and by the time our appetizers arrived, skipping the bread course just seemed like a foregone conclusion.

First up were the warmed olives with oil and herbs:

Warmed Olives
Serving plates of warmed olives seems to be a trendy thing to do nowadays as I've seen it at all sorts of other restaurants. Warming the olives, in theory, will help release more of their natural flavor and the fresh herbs used help to provide a counterpoint to their flavor. Tonight's olives were small Nicoise olives and a larger, unexpectedly sweeter green olive (whose name I never got). These were okay and if you're into warmed olives, this would be right up your alley. I, however, was not particularly enamored by them (and to be fair, nor would I be at most restaurants).

Next up was the three cheese marinara flatbread with parsley and basil:

Three Cheese Marinara Flatbread
Made with actual Italian 00 flour, I wanted to see what Chef Monday's take on this thin crispy bread would be. When the flatbread arrived, I inspected both the top and the bottom. While there was definitely freshly chopped parsley sprinkled on top, I didn't detect any sign of fresh basil as the menu had suggested. The bottom of the pizza had been browned only to the point where the crust was mostly blond with a spot of tasty brownness every now and again. One of the hallmarks of a nicely cooked pie (or flatbread in this case) is the presence of a nice brown caramelized crust.

I took a bite and while I could taste the sharpness from the cheeses and the richness from the marinara sauce, the flatbread only achieved half of its raison d'etre. While it did have a nice crispy crust, it lacked the chewiness in the crumb that was the hallmark of a really good Neopolitan style pizza. Which, okay, technically it wasn't being called a pizza on the menu, but let's call a spade a spade. It wasn't a bad pie, in fact it was better than average. It just wasn't great.

It was during our appetizer noshing that service issue number two reared its ugly head: refills. Jayni was a Diet Coke drinker and as such, had finished her first glass in no time flat. When the server came over to check on us, she asked him for a refill. When he returned to the table a second time, sans refill, she had to remind him again before he brought her another beverage. Had this happened once during the meal, it would be pretty easy to brush off. However, this happened several times, going from the slightly inconvenient to quite annoying.

Our third appetizer was a poached Bartlett pear salad with hazelnuts and crumbled bleu cheese:

Bartlett Pear Salad with Bleu Cheese and Walnuts
What you see in the photograph was a half portion of the salad as my dining companion and I split this. Both of us felt that the full size salad would've been enough for an entire meal. You may want to keep that in mind should you decide to order this on your visit, gentle reader. The salad was flavorful, the salad greens were dressed nicely in a hazelnut vinaigrette, and the textural balance between the creamy cheese and the crunchy toasted hazelnuts worked quite well. In short, this was a tasty salad. The pear had been properly poached and as such was soft without being mushy and turned out to be a nicely sweet contrast to the tangy and salty elements in the dish.

Having finished our starters, our server now returned to the table to take our entrée orders. Jayni ordered the chicken, which I was also considering, but instead ended up going with the pan seared Grouper with lobster gnocchi and Maine lobster jus. When I asked our server if the kitchen cooked the fish to a specific temperature, he looked puzzled and asked me what I meant. "Uh, oh," I thought to myself. I started to try and explain my question but realized that his continued look of apprehension over this line of questioning meant that for sure there would be a breakdown in communications. I changed my tune and simply said, "However the chef recommends it will be fine."

After some time (and still with no bread and Jayni's glass of Diet Coke sitting empty), our dinner plates finally made their way out of the kitchen. In what turned out to be another service hiccup, after removing our salad plates from the table which contained both of our knives, the server never came back around with new cutlery to replace the removed pieces. When our entrées arrived, I had to point out that we would be needing two new knives and it took several minutes for him to return with the proper silverware. I have a funny feeling that with the multiple service mistakes we had experienced tonight, it wasn't necessarily One Red Door's issue, but this particular server.

Continuing forward, here was my grouper:

Seared Grouper with Lobster Gnocchi
The grouper had been pan seared on the presentation side (the side you see first) and the crust on the fish was an enjoyable contrast to the soft, creaminess of the flesh underneath. I'd say the fish came out somewhere between medium and medium-well, which meant while it was moist, it could've been just a touch moister. The potato gnocchi accompanying the fish was also caramelized and, just as with the fish, served as a nice contrast to the interior of the small potato dumplings.

The lobster portion of "potato lobster gnocchi" was simply pieces of cooked lobster meat tossed in with the gnocchi. Sadly, the lobster meat was a bit chewy and honestly, other than the Maine lobster jus served underneath the fish, it felt a little out of place. The broth, however was properly seasoned (as was the entire dish) and the sautéed spinach located underneath the grouper was a nice touch. The only real complaint I had about the dish was the perceived value. At $25.50, this was the second most expensive item on the menu and both Jayni and I felt that the portion seemed small for that price point.

Not normally a dessert person, when Jayni suggested that we split one, I quickly agreed. Here was a shot of the dessert menu:

One Red Door's Dessert Menu
Figuring that Jayni's sweet tooth needed to be satisfied more than mine, I gave control of the dessert selection to her. She picked the Maple Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Walnut:

Maple Carrot Cake with Candied Walnut
At $8, this seemed on the high side for desserts in northeast Ohio. While the cake had a very good flavor and the crumb was incredibly moist, what Jayni and I noticed almost right away was that there wasn't any textural contrast to the cake. One would assume that if the cake had been adorned with a candied walnut that there would be chopped walnuts inside the cake, too. Not so. Even the carrots, normally added in their crunchy raw state, had softened to the point where they didn't add a contrast either. Don't get me wrong, it was a good piece of carrot cake. But it didn't wow either one of us. The other thing that both of noticed was that there wasn't anything particularly impressive about the presentation; an average size piece of cake, sitting on a white plate sprinkled with powdered sugar and adorned with a sliced and fanned strawberry (albeit a tasty one).

While we did finish the cake, it left us both feeling like it could have been much more than it was.

For the two of us, between tip and tax, it came to $100 (not counting my cocktail earlier in the evening). While I think you will get a tasty meal at One Red Door, the service blips between the bartender and our server were a bit too obvious to ignore. While the bartender may have been referring to the kitchen working out its kinks, I think the front of house staff needs to undergo the same level of scrutiny as the back. With the dish I had tasted from One Red Door during the Taste of Hudson had left me slightly worried, tonight's dinner definitely redeemed them in my eyes. I definitely recommend that you check them out.

One Red Door on Urbanspoon


Mahala said...

I have been waiting for this particular review for some time. I will still give One Red door a try, but probably for lunch instead of dinner. The service issues you experienced are really inexcusable. I have never found an effective way to deal with this kind of thing, other than leaving an tip commensurate with the level of service. And even then you are left wondering if the server even makes the connection. What do you suggest when this kind of poor service happens?

Tino said...

@Mahala: I definitely think if price is an issue (or just that you aren't sure you want to commit to dinner prices), lunch is the way to go.

Bad service. Two words that have a lot of shades of gray to them. Probably the easiest and quickest thing to do is to gently micro-manage your server. Yes, this is a pain in the butt and "not your job," but sometimes that is what the situation calls for. For instance, had our server walked by our table between apps and entrees, I probably would've stopped him and said, "Pardon me, but would you mind bringing out some new knives and a refill for my friend's Diet Coke?" Sadly, he wasn't around until our food showed up.

Every once in a while, if I can tell that the server is a little green, I may wait until the end of the meal and if the server isn't totally slammed, I will ask if they wish to receive some constructive criticism. Most times they will say "yes" and I will offer it to them.

However, if the server isn't new to the restaurant business and the micro-managing trick doesn't work, then you really have no other choice than to speak with your wallet. There's really only so much you can do without it becoming confrontational.

It's also about context, too. I noticed our server's service level because my expectations were high given the level of restaurant at which we were dining. Were I to dine at a more casual family-friendly place, I might not have paid as much attention.

Bite Buff said...

Well it's good to hear that Shawn Monday's new restaurant is holding up his reputation as a top chef in our area. Hopefully they will work out their service "kinks".

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