April 26, 2008

Have you ever had a restaurant meal so horrifically bad...

... that you acquired a phobia about eating in restaurants?


matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
matthew said...

No. But I have had one so horrifically bad that I will never eat at Applebee's again.

I hope this didn't happen to you... I enjoy seeing the pictures of random restaurants that happen to strike you, aesthetically speaking.

Spread Eagle ® said...

Bad in the sense of cleanliness bad, yes.

Joe said...

I had service so bad at several restaurants a year ago, I refused to eat out for months.

(Just ate at Applebee's yesterday. Hadn't eaten there in ten years. Burger was good, but nothing spectacular. Won't eat there again.)

madawaskan said...

Not exactly-but I worked in a lot of restuarants-and once as a bartender I got a hold of two state food inspectors-and according to them-this will only be useful to Oklahomans-Taco Mayo is damn clean.

Now for the icky.

Use to work at a frozen pizza plant-in another country.

I don't eat frozen pizza anymore-and that ain't based on a phobia-that's reality.

So-think your safe?

Guess again!

I saw this pizza for sale in Florida-

Now just to clue the commentariat in without getting Ann sued-the company that makes this pizza and other assorted items has the same name as one of the Presidential candidates still in the mix.


Rick Lee said...

A couple of times in my life I've spent the whole night up with vomiting and diarrhea, but it never made me want to quit eating out.

rhhardin said...

I haven't eaten out in a decade, just from finding it a bother and a time waster.

Not from any bad experience except a general distaste for the restaurant rituals.

Meade said...

I have. It happened to me thirty-five years ago when, at a restaurant in Washington, DC, I almost took a bite of salad with a used band-aid in it. It took me about ten years to conquer my fear of restaurant food and I still never order anything raw when I go out to eat.

Being confined to the back of an airliner seated next to Erica Jong and made to eat cole slaw made with mayonnaise... now you know my three phobias.

mrs whatsit said...

A number of years ago I had some carrot cake in a restaurant in Portland, Maine, and discovered too late that the cake was full of small pieces of broken glass. I bit down on a mouthful before realizing it was there, ending up with a lot of small cuts on the inside of my mouth, an awful crunchy feeling in my teeth, and a lot of anxiety about what I might have swallowed before I spat out a mouthful of cake, blood, and glass. I told the waitperson, and the manager came to my table. He offered, with obvious reluctance, not to make me pay for the cake, but he seemed genuinely surprised when I suggested that he might want to consider comping the whole meal.

Of course, I never went back to that restaurant. But also, I didn't eat out again comfortably anywhere for a long, long time. I was quite surprised at how much it bothered me, and for how long. That was a lot of years ago and I go to restaurants now without even remembering it. But come to think of it, I never order the carrot cake. I still remember quite vividly just how awful it feels to bite down onto bits and pieces of glass. I strongly recommend that you do not try this at home.

knoxwhirled said...

Subway: "do you want any scabs with that?"

Ann Althouse said...

Mine wasn't even dangerous. It was just such bad food that it made me lose all hope that words written on a menu could have a corresponding reality.

Ann Althouse said...

I keep thinking about the olives that were involved. Just the memory of how they tasted is upsetting me.

John Burgess said...

Not me. The occasional bad meal, food poisoning, grotty environment... they all come with the game and sharpen one's skillz in ID-ing problems before entering.

The US Embassy in Syria, though, had a particular restaurant to which we'd send (or occasionally bring) inopportune visitors--like the one who arrives on Christmas Eve and wants 'a briefing right now, or tomorrow at the latest'.

The Wadi Al-Akhdar, on the Beirut Rd. would, without fail, keep said visitor confined to a hotel room for a minimum of three days after an unwise meal. The escape clause was 'don't eat anything not cooked to death'.

ricpic said...

I fail to see the humor in sending someone, albeit an ass, to a restaurant which may very well leave him deathly ill.

George said...

I stumbled into a fancy restaurant in the Middle East before it opened.

The waiters were spraying the plates with Zam-Zam.

Zam-Zam is insect spray, like Raid.

knoxwhirled said...

"the olives that were involved"


dannyboy said...

A certain steakhouse which will remain nameless was bad experience. I like my steaks rare. When asked how I like them cooked, I say pull off the horns, wipe its ass and just pass it through a warm room and I'm good to go.

So when I say rare, I want it rare. It should still be mooing on the plate and this cheesedick of a waiter brings me a 8 oz filet of charcol. I'm like, wtf dude, did the cook face take a nap or something? And he's like rare steak isn't good for you and theres like e coli if it isn't cooked properly or some such nonsense.

Needless to say I didn't eat there again. Bad food is one thing, bad attitudes piss me off.

I should have kicked his ass.

vbspurs said...

Ann, I hope your hanging question isn't the cause of something ghastly which just happened to you!

However, to answer the question, yes.

No band-aids in salads (ewww! Meade, poor thing), or broken glass in cakes (I shudder to think, Mrs. Whatsit!) in my anecdote.

But once when I was doing a tour of the South American capitals, when I was 15 or so, we happened to be in La Paz, Bolivia.

I was taken short, and if you don't know, in South America using the "facilities" in restaurants is not common at all.

The waiters bark at you, and hound you away like a beggar. People know that there won't be toilet paper inside the loos anyway, so they carry their own wherever they go (obviously, in the chi-chi restaraunts they do, but not your average eatery).

Nevertheless, Miss Gringa Tourist here just couldn't wait and when the waiters weren't looking, I went inside one packed restaurant and dashed into the loo.

I got lost, and try as I might, I couldn't find it. Turns out there was a toilet that was located practically inside the kitchen. Whether that was the one for the patrons, I didn't bother to ask.

If you think, "eww she's going to recount tales of cockroaches in corners, with chefs picking up dropped veal from the floor."

Not quite.

Oh it was ABSOLUTELY filthy inside, don't get me wrong.

But when I got to the bathroom itself, I found a pile of dishes with food on them, about to be washed in the loo sink with a blackest, rattiest rag you've ever seen, presumably there to dry the plates. Under the sink, there were about 2 or 3 mousetraps.

My voice wanted to scream, but all that came out was a horrific hum of utter shock.

It was then that I understood the term, silence of the lambs.


chuckR said...

Years ago, my business partner spent a week at an oil exploration camp (with a lot of nervous-making military gear there too) near Ras Shukheir in Egypt. He was warned to prepare for the inevitable trots. Alone of the group he was with, he avoided any gastrointestinal problems. His solution - he ate nothing but french fried potatoes and drank only bottled Coke (and not the kind with screw-on caps either). Food immersed in boiling oil and drink with a pH of 3. He lost 10 pounds so I guess if you can stand it, it works as a crash diet too.

Rick Lee said...

Since we've wandered into foreign experiences I'll mention my fun time in Costa Rica. This was around 1985 or so, before all the development down there. I went with a group of people and we were all warned about what to eat and what not to eat. Lettuce was a no-no. Cooked meat was fine. On the way back from the volcano, we stopped at a nice little roadside eatery and we all ordered steak since it was safe. All the steaks came out sitting on a bed of lettuce. What to do? It was a real quandary. Were we supposed to just send it back? These were poor people serving us this food. We just ate the meat and avoided the lettuce and hoped for the best... but we all got sick. I had to visit an infectious disease specialist when I got home to get completely rid of whatever it was.

Trooper York said...

I do the taxes for a lot of bars and restaurants. Which means I have to go into the basement where the office would be found next to the rotting chop meat or unrefridgerated chicken. When my wife came to help me a few times, I told her she was either never going to eat in a restaurant again, or she wasn't ever gonna worry too much about it. It's just the way it is, don't sweat it that much, just call Ralph on the big white telephone and drink lots of water. You'll be fine.

Finn Kristiansen said...

I don't order from one of the big three pizza chains due to hair in my pizza that actually stretched from my mouth to the slice in one nasty bit of cheesyness.

vbspurs said...

I had to visit an infectious disease specialist when I got home to get completely rid of whatever it was.

Poor Rick! I genuinely wonder how Andrew Zimmern copes, don't you?

My mother got salmonella poisoning in Morocco (from a local chicken dish, I think) and my father got dysentry in Eastern Turkey.

We get around. ;)

When I was a child I used to think the Queen taking caseloads of Malvern water with her to go to various countries, was a little on the insulting, culturally-superior side.

Now I think how wise that lady is...


PatCA said...

Only once did I have such an experience. I ordered some kind of chicken with champagne sauce. The smell was so bad my friend and I both recoiled when the dish arrived. It tasted like old, damp gym socks, or how I imagined they would taste, were I ever so desperate as to have to eat them. The waiter was not understanding when I had to send it back.

The restaurant closed a few months later, thank goodness. Never again have I ordered any dish with champagne sauce. The mere reading of same on a menu causes a *shudder*.

TMink said...

While I had just begun dating the wonderful woman who is now my wife, I was of course trying to impress her. We were at a sushi restaurant, one that she frequented, and the chef had a fondness for her that included checking out her suitors. I was ignorant of this crucial fact.

So there I was, calling the dishes by their Japanese names and being a bit of a pompus ass and he decided to take me down a notch. "So, you like Japanese sushi?" he asked innocently enough. "Oh yes, I prefer Ama Ebi, Uni, and Ikura to more Americanized offerings" I replied, somewhat smugly.

With an almost imperceptible raising of a single eyebrow he said "Then you should try this." He went into the back room and came back with a small serving of the most foul looking concoction I had ever seen. "What is that Sam?" my now bride of 8 years asked. "That is for him" he said with a sly half smile.

I was now beginning to see what was happening, but I could only see one way out of the ordeal, and that was straight through it. I tasted it. Words fail me, but for 12 calender months after tasting that stuff I could still taste it each time I told this story. 12 months. It was like a blend of dirty socks and playdoh and fermented squid innards. The worst thing I have ever tasted in my life.

"You like it" he asked with a smile that would make the Buddah jealous. "Sam, that is worse than the worst taste I could ever imagine" was my reply. The now mother of my children reached her chopsticks innocently toward the brown mass, and I waved her off. I feared for her fertility. She insisted on trying it, and she could taste it for 18 months after the dreaded squid gut incident, every time I told the story.

She retched a bit and spit it out after tasting it and laughed. Then I had a second taste, larger than the first, making eye contact with Sam the whole time, because I had a point to make. Sam's eyebrows raised a bit as I took a second helping. "Yes, that is truly dreadful. What is it?"

"That squid gut. Not even Japanese like that." He paused for a second, then truly smiled and said "You OK."

It was a test, and I passed. I think it was the second helping that sealed it for me. Trial by innards, and I said "Please sir may I have another." Sam is Japanese, and he appreciated my gung ho spirit. He gave me a double chou hi on the house as a sort of acknowledgement.

So unless you are doing it to win the woman or man of your dreams, I recommend that you pass on the squid guts.


Methadras said...

There was a Hep A outbreak in a Chipotle grille in La Mesa, California last week and it's pretty bad. I won't be going there anymore. Eating out now is getting to be a chore. The waits, the rudeness, the neglect, and that's just waiting for your wife to hurry the hell up to get out the door.

Pogo said...

When the cook came out from behind the counter, it was the freakishly large tumor on his forehead that caught my eye. It was above his right eye and had hair on it, and seemed to glisten. The man himself was thin, with a gaunt, smoker's mien. His hair was wild; uncombed and oddly shaped, as if belonging to some other man. He stared at me and I had the feeling this guy slept in a room in the back and could identify mad dog 20/20 by the label from 100 yards.

Fortunately my wife and son had their backs to him, and the meal had already been eaten, or it would have added to the disbelief.

It had been the only restaurant open at 10:30 p.m. The food wasn't quite horrible, just dramatically bland, so devoid of taste that it was almost an art form. To be able to create several different kinds of food, meat and corn and drink and potato, yet none having any taste at all, was to me something remarkable.

The only other customers were frightening. Two couples, all -how to say this- unbelievably homely. Almost hideous. One girl laughed a lispy wet laugh that sounded after she were slurping the table. And they spoke of dalliances with many many people in such details that I am certain I could point them out in a photo lineup of their genitals.

The interior of the place was a bizarre mixture of kitschy country, homeless lady shopping cart, and our handyman is blind and drunk, but we love him. Our booth had lots of duct tape over the rips.

After awhile, we were so overwhelmed by the impossibility of ever finding such a raw combination of sheer horror, that we stayed a little longer, just so we wouldn't forget.

But again, the food was merely bland.

Chip Ahoy said...

One of my favorite breakfast restaurants was written up in the newspaper in an article about restaurant inspections. The notation that lodged in my mind was, "they used the same spatula to flip eggs that they used to swat cockroaches." Now that left an ugly image burnt in my mind and darn near dissuaded me from ever going back. I chalked it up to creative writing. The worst bugs I ever saw in a restaurant was in Miami where the biggest cockroach I ever saw crawled right up next to me and started reading my menu. <-- 30% of fact.

Chip Ahoy said...

I also saw a rat in a restaurant in San Francisco. It ran right up to a little miniature shrine, or some kind of Buddhist thingie set up on the floor with a food offering. The rat acted like it was his. He kept going back and forth and taking some of the food bits. I don't think the owners cared.

Chip Ahoy said...

Another time I went to a Mexican restaurant that was was truly deplorable. Everybody inside was speaking Spanish and I thought, "Pues, es una buena indicaciĆ³n de la autenticidad." So I go in and the guy asks me, "¿Le gusta usted de tener sus tamales calientes?" And I go, "Si, me gusto." And he goes, "¿Si?" And I go, "Si." and he goes, "Ooookaaay." Then he comes back with a plate of tamales and I take one bite and my face burns off. My tongue was ruined. Immediately injuries formed all over my mouth. The staff laughed their asses off. It ruined the meal. I never recovered. I kept trying to finish it by mixing one tiny dot of sauce with a fork full of tamale but it was hopeless. Then the waiter apologized for taking fun at my expense. He said he knew better. Later the place closed because of its deplorableness but not because of its inhumanly hotness.

Cedarford said...

Back on more pedestrian American restaurants, Taco Bell and Jack in the Box have long had reputations for major gastrointestinal distress. And wasn't it a KFC in NYC that had the charming U-tube video of dozens of prancing, frollicking rats?

Like other posters, I have been around the world and fortunately, I almost never get sick off the local crap. Once, my brother in law, some oil company people, me, and some Mexican officials did a bass and trout fishing trip in the Sierra Madres. Great local food, tasty beer and water. The whole party got amoebic dysentary, INCLUDING THE MEXICANS, all except me.

Of course, when I was I kid, someone had a big bag of French's potato sticks. I had a handful. Then he dumped the bag into a bowl and a big brown lump with a tiny foot with claws on it came out, with a two-inch stump of deep-fried tail. I threw up on the spot, threw up at home thinking it was deep-fried rat. Threw up again at school, and a few more times at home.
Unfortunately "health authorities" determined that was just what it was - 1/3rd of a deep-fried rat. Never eaten any potato sticks since, under any circumstances. One of the kids had lawyer parents who sued and netted over twenty thousand dollars for their "permanently traumatized, psychologically scarred" kid. My folks didn't sue. A sore point.

blake said...

Jack In The Box periodically kills children. I believe in the '80s they killed some kids and got rid of the clown. Then in the '90s, they killed some more and brought Jack back.

DrMaturin said...

I was driving with my Dad from Laredo, Texas to Guadalajara in the late 70's. Dad was hungry so we stopped at a Jack in the Box in Saltillo. He ordered a burger with lettuce and tomato. Having lived in Mexico for a year I said "Not a good idea. Really not a good idea." He said "Oh, it's safe. It's an American chain. Nothing to worry about." Needless to say, Dad was sick for a week. Neither of us ever darkened the door of a Jack in the Box again, on either side of the border.

mrs whatsit said...

I remembered another one! This story doesn't really fit because it isn't about the meal or even, really, about the restaurant. But it INVOLVED a restaurant and it's memorable, so I'm telling it anyway. A few years ago we traveled with our kids and some other families to a team competition at the University of Maryland in College Park. One evening, a group of us were eating at a casual restaurant on the main street that had outdoor tables on a kind of half-enclosed front porch or veranda. On the other side of the street was a handsome landscape structure running along the outside wall of a bank building. It was a built-up earthwork with stone walls, planted with shrubs and flowers. We were enjoying the lovely evening and our informal meal when suddenly one of the men in our party noticed something moving amongst the shrubbery. "Rats!" he shouted, pointing across the street. Sure enough, that landscape structure was absolutely swarming with rats. They were big old fat cat-sized rats, scrambling in and out of the shrubbery and sitting up on their haunches to stare across the street at us and, probably more to the point, at our hamburgers and french fries.

Those rats were not the least bit shy and didn't even duck out of sight when pedestrians strolled past on the sidewalk, close enough to touch them. Those of us who weren't completely unnerved went across the street to get a closer look at that landscape structure. It was positively honeycombed with tunnels. The rats were so securely established that they must have been there for months. This structure was part of a prosperous-looking bank building, right by the sidewalk on the main street of the town, only a block or two from the University. Why that bank hadn't pulled down the whole structure, if it couldn't get rid of the rats some other way, I cannot imagine. Ever since, whenever I hear the name "College Park," I think, "Rats!"

chuckR said...

You people do realize, don't you, that food starts with dirt and fermented poop -if its the expensive 'organic' kind - or petrochemicals if its not. You are aware, are you not, that there are standards for allowable rodent and insect contamination in grain? And that those standards aren't zero occurences?

Cedarford, you had the opportunity to eat some denatured protein and some roughage and puked instead. Man up, OK?

Here's one I suppressed from memory, but tmink's entry brought it queasily back. I was relaxing with some coworkers in a Tokyo yakitori joint and their boss ordered some whale. The younger workers were upset, possibly for my US sensitivities. It looked just like bacon - uncooked. But that's not what I sooner forget permanently. It is nato. If you want to visualize it, stir cooked soybeans into rubber cement and artfully wrap it in a styrofoam pouch tied up with a dried seaweed ribbon. I suspect that concoction would taste better than the actual 'food product'. I should have known better when the younger guys wouldn't touch it. Others have described it as smelling like vomit and tasting worse. Despite having a strong stomach, for weeks the recollection of just two bites of the stuff would make me queasy.

David said...

Yes, but it was in Ethiopia.

I had been eating nothing but grains cooked on an alcohol stove for more than a week on a long trip through rural Ethiopia.

Then we went to a restaurant in a small town and had "meat."

Result: back to grains, no more meat, no more restaurants in Ethiopia.

MadisonMan said...

This might gross people out.

Back in the 1940s, my Mom and her brother and Mom stopped at a town out west for lunch. They all got dreadfully ill. Fast forward to the 1970s and my brother and parents and I are in this same town for lunch. And we all got sick. I still remember having to run down the hall in the hotel we stayed at to barf. And I was really thirsty, so I kept drinking cans of grape crush (I was a teenager) after puking, then I'd go back to bed and soon be running back down the hall, and the Grape Crush will come right back up. It was still cool. Then I'd have another can.

Moral of the story: Don't have lukewarm restaurant soup. I've never had Grape Crush since, either.

Omnibus Driver said...

Yup. This one. Just the thought of it still squicks me out.

Nicole said...

Yes, but it didn't last forever, just a few years.

ak said...

The band-aid story just makes me want to curl into a little ball.

In the days before coffee shops on every corner, I used to occasionally get coffee from , er, a hamburger place that features a clown with a Scottish surname. It was right next to the office and had pretty good coffee. One day, I opened the lid of the cup to add cream and something bobbed up to the surface. Something pink and soft and ... I don't know what. I threw it away immediately and ran. Not only did I never return to the restaurant, I didn't get coffee to go from anywhere for awhile.

I have a story similar to the one about washing the dishes in the bathroom sink. My aunt was once checking into a hotel room while the maid was still cleaning the bathroom. While my aunt was hanging up clothes, she was half-watching what the maid was doing. She saw the woman wipe the toilet seat with a dirty rag, then use the same rag to wipe out the drinking glasses on the sink. After which she capped them with those cute little white papers. No one in my family ever drinks from hotel glasses anymore. But I think horrific hotel stories could be a whole separate category.