Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Worst Restaurant in Orange County

I had lined up this new restaurant to review for The Weekly. The menu looked eclectic. It was one of those modern gastropubs with an Asian spin. But its Yelp page was strange. There were a lot of one-star reviews. But the text that accompanied those reviews were positive. It turns out that the owner was actually encouraging friends to put them up as some sort of a protest against the site. The owner claimed that Yelp was suppressing the good reviews and asking for money.

The refusal to play the Yelp game sounded admirable, but ultimately, I found the strategy foolish. Past a cursory glance, who among us scrolling for a place to eat would dig into a restaurant's Yelp page to find out why it got so few stars?

But it wasn't a concern of mine. I wanted to try it no matter what.

Yet, as the events of the evening unfolded, I came to the realization that hidden in those self-inflicted one-star reviews might have been bad reviews that were actually earned and warranted.

We arrived at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. The place looked hip. The bar looked well-stocked. But no one, not even one customer, was there. The restaurant was empty.

On the menu, we found a pork belly lumpia that sounded interesting. When I asked our waitress how many came to an order, she said two. Since there were three of us, I asked whether it would be possible to have the kitchen fry up one more and just charge us for it. She went to check. When she came back, she informed me they couldn't do it; I'd have to get two orders.

I politely declined.

Shortly thereafter the first order of lumpia arrived. And then came the second.

"But I didn't want the second order," I protested.

"Oh! I thought you said you did," she said.

We excused the mistake and kept the two extra egg rolls but immediately regretted it. The lumpia, covered in a shell that was overfried and burnt, was so salty it made my head hurt. After that came one travesty after another. The noodle salad was strangely stiff, tasting like it was made with uncooked Top Ramen soaked in water.

Then came the clincher.

"Excuse me," I said to the waitress, "This chicken wing is undercooked. It looks burnt on the outside but it's still raw on the inside."

"It's cooked to temperature," she insisted, "Maybe it's just close to an artery. We all ate it before and it should be fine. It's safe."

There was no apology. No offer to take it back nor to take it off the bill.

And that was that: After 15 years of reviewing restaurants for OC Weekly and this blog, I had finally found the worst restaurant in Orange County.

At this point you might be wondering why I've not mentioned the name of the restaurant. I've decided not to reveal it, nor will I rip it apart for the sake of a good read on The Weekly. As my friends wisely said, "It would be like kicking them when they're down."

My friends are absolutely right. Looking around at that empty place, it'd be lucky if it survives the year. And when it does die, it will have done it to itself.

The Water Brewery - Costa Mesa


At 1:20 PM, Blogger Sheri said...

Oh, come on...give us a hint! What city at least?

At 7:52 PM, Blogger M2 said...

undercooked raw chicken's no joke. please share for our safety. thank you!

At 7:53 PM, Blogger M2 said...

undercooked raw chicken's no joke. please share for our safety. thank you!

At 3:05 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Sheri and M2,

Well, I can tell you where we ended up after. It was a fabulous place called Huntington Ramen.

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Karrie said...

Oh my gosh. I can't believe that happened. Could the waitress not see how raw it was?

At 8:54 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


That was the most unbelievable thing about the whole experience. We showed it to her, with our phone flashlights on it, and still that was her response!

At 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Putting cash monies on this joint being The Cure Kitchen + Bar in HB.

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post was refreshing!

One of the qualities that I have always liked about your writing is how you usually find some strengths even in restaurants of questionable quality and express it with an even, unforced tone to it.

So to me at least, if this latest post has described several negative experiences it must be pretty bad! The one-star Yelp reviews strategy was the icing on the cake: There's a difference between clever and clueless rebellion.

As a reader who finds your opinions reliable, my only disappointment is that now I'll have to wait for a future post to see if there's a new spot that I want to try out.

At 5:38 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon #1,

I can neither confirm nor deny...

Anon #2,

Thank you for your thoughtfully written comment! You're right about my approach. I'd rather praise a great place than punish a bad one. In fact, most of the time, if I come across a restaurant I don't like, I won't even bother writing a word. But this one was different. I had to get it off my chest!


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