Monday, June 9, 2008

Palm Springs restaurant- Zin Bistro

Original Zin- Zin Bistro breaks a culinary commandment

The downfall of mankind is usually associated with an apple. But was it a golden delicious or mackintosh? Perhaps Eve mistook one variety for another and by assumption, condemned our fate.

My own expectations had landed me in a similar situation (on a much smaller scale) at Zin Bistro (198 S. Palm Canyon Dr), where my choice was not what it seemed and inevitably led to my dining demise.

My mother and I discovered Zin Bistro’s oversized, open-air windows a bit too late (having just finished a mediocre meal of pizza and wine), but promised we would return the next evening to sample the glowing delicacies of their autumn menu. The main reason for our return: tempura squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese in a light, tomato sauce.

The “Zin” stood for Zinfandel and their numerous wine awards were scattered behind the hostess stand. We chose a back booth to cut out some of the window breeze and landed in a mauve, cushioned booth across from the kitchen. Our waiter appeared and accommodatingly took our appetizer order along with the drinks. I chose cream of mushroom soup, blending silky earthiness with truffle oil, while my mother ordered her squash blossoms.

Squash blossoms arrived like miniature parcels waiting to be unwrapped, but after the first bite my mom said, “Something’s not right. Does this taste like blue cheese to you,” (as much as my mom loved goat cheese, she hated blue cheese.)

My bite included pungent veins of blue, revealing that indeed this was not what we were expecting. Chevre is the creamy, tangy version usually served when ordering "goat cheese" off a menu. Our waiter noticed our distress and after chatting with the chef, he assured us it was goat cheese. And I said, “This is chevre?”

“Yes,” he mumbled, as he let us try another bite and I pulled out another chunk of blue. After the second audible disagreement with the chef, our waiter asked if we would prefer something else as he cleared the uneaten plate. We didn’t.

For entrees, we both had macadamia encrusted mahi-mahi with sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes. Lackluster to say the least, I chided myself for not going with my first instinct, the braised rabbit, but unfortunately I wouldn’t never make it back for seconds.

At the end of the meal, the manager came over to ask us what the problem was with the squash blossoms we hadn't eaten (before she took them off the check.) We explained that we had expected chevre because:
1) In all the years of ordering goat cheese at restaurants, it has consistently been chevre (unless specified.)
2) It has become the generic, universal terminology for “goat cheese.”
3) The waiter told us it was chevre.

Her curt demeanor and pinched face made it was clear that she did not come over to satisfy, but to justify. Her answer was, “There are hundreds of goat cheeses, just as there are hundreds of cow cheeses. This was Humboldt Fog.”

Definition: The Hulk of goat cheeses, Humboldt Fog had enough muscle to wrangle palates into a headlock (similar in pungency and texture to blue cheese with bits of chunky mold.)

Meaning: It's potent profile gave all the more reason to note this on the menu.

We answered that yes, we were aware of different types of goat cheese, but when a precedent has been set, you can’t turn the tables at your discretion. If I ordered a cheese pizza, I'd assume it would be with mozzarella. Would I send it back if instead it was topped with cheddar? Absolutely- rules can't be changed mid-game. The manager’s attitude sat worse than the squash blossoms and made an unmemorable meal instantly memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

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