Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fresno Eats Out Your Town

Felicitations intrepid readers!  Eating Out Fresno has been on the road, deviously dodging the banality of Valentines Day.

I felt after the scathing review of Irene's eggs benedict, that I needed to look again at my source material.  Afterall, sometimes you have a randomly over exuberant reaction to a breakfast.  Like when you were a kid and stayed over at a friend's house.  For breakfast his mom gave you both bowls of Smurf Berries cereal.  And it was amazing!  I never knew until then what Blue tasted like.  And of course, I bugged and begged my mother to get some of this magical breakfast manna, only to discover the next morning that Blue tastes like playdough that had been teabagged by a coked out and flop-sweat covered Cookie Monster.

On to the experiment!  To keep the conditions as similar as possible, I replicated the environment of the previous experience by  drinking 12 beers before bed, getting less than 5 hours sleep, farting around for an hour by assaulting a pussy cat, then taking a nice and leisurely drive down from the Los Gatos Hills.

We arrived and parked.  Gilley's was naturally, busy with the Sunday breakfast crowd.  But we were seated before I could even finish having a smoke while we waited.  So far, so good.  I definately remember this as being the most coveted type of breakfast joint.  The one that is cozy, tight and efficient.  When you look at your waitress, you know that this is what she does.  Period.  This isn't where she is cooling her heels waiting for Hollywood to come calling or for her next play to make it big on Broadway.  She is the rarest of the rare.  She knows the menu firsthand and can read you well enough to make a sound recommendation that you'll most likely love rather that be satisfied with.  She can joke with you with a familiarity that refreshing and sometimes shocking.  Maybe 45 seconds tops of banter that makes you feel welcome and attended to.  An indispensible aspect of a superior dining experience.

With my steaming mug of life-juice I perused the menu, almost afraid that my beloved avocado benedict would have been rotated off.  But another beloved aspect of the perfect coffee shop is that their specials do change, but not often.  Maybe with the seasons of the food or with waning popularity of a dish.  If you love it, it will be there for you.  And when things seems to be a little routine, a new gem will pop onto the menu.  That wonderful mix of the unchangingly familiar and a little hint of chaotic newness.  Sometimes even a regular gets to make a sound suggestion for a dish that will almost always bear their name even 20 years later.  As delicious as some of the options look, I'm here on a voyage of self exploration.  So avocado eggs benedict and hash browns again for me!

We had a fairly diverse selection of orders amongst us.  Chicken and apple sausage skillet, omlet, ground beef scramble, a regular eggs benedict and my order.  The timing is good.  It's the kind of timing that speaks of a kitchen that knows what they're doing and are able to smoothly integrate their actions into a unified culinary gestalt.  The grill cook knows if the fry guy is struggling by instinct and is able to help him get back into the rhythm of bringing all of the parts of the dishes together at the right time, at the same time and done right the first time.  Exhibited by our five plates all coming out simulatenously and each one piping hot.  Nothing sat waiting around for anyone.  The fry station was ready to pull at the same time that the eggs were done poaching and the muffins were toasted, etc, etc.  And our very busy server was right there, with a loyal compatriot ready to ferry out our food as soon as it hit ceramic.  A hard assed drill seargent would be hard pressed to find fault in their effciency and esprit de corps.

So here we are at the magic moment.  The eyes are happy!  The sauce is gorgeous.  A pastel yellow blanket draping down from the poached eggs.  It's hard to describe properly how the hollandaise looked to me.  Can the color alone of a sauce look fluffy?  I don't know, but thats what I would call that shade of yellow.  Also, I was informed by our rightly prooud waitress that they make their hollandaise from scratch.  It is smooth, unbroken by spices or herbs or crumbs.  Almost like the sugar crust of a creme brulee thats just too beautiful to crack with your spoon.

The hell with that!  I'm stabbing into this baby!  Afterall, my main complaint above Irene's tacky bottled hollandaise, was the pathetic state of their poached eggs.  These had fluffy but well set whites.  I was happy with them, but using a standard of absolute perfection, they were maybe 5-10 seconds overdone.  Wah.  I then popped open the yolks to see what Santa left me.  Sure enough, hot golden yolk began to well out of the fork wound.  Once again on the nit-picking side, maybe 5 seconds over perfect.  There was a little solidifying around the edge of the yolk.  Double wah.  There was only one actual cosmetic gripe on my part.  The avocados at some point been allowed to oxidize a little bit.  One of the downsides of pre-prepping some ingredients.  And it might have grossed out a different person.  But I've been eating avocados since before Howard Hughes died naked, unshaven and surronded by milk bottles of his own urine of a massive codeine overdose.  A little cosmetic oxidation isn't going to affect the flavor.

And it didn't!  Despite their visual faults, the fruit was nicely ripe and still a little toothy.  And just like with the kitchen and the waitresses, the whole team was working together to create a dynamite flavor.  Everything came together in a crunchy, creamy, buttery, chewy and lighty smokey bite.  Each flavor stood out on it's own and blended together.  The ham that stands in the for usual Canadian bacon is a far better choice in my egotistical opinion.  Absolutely just as stellar as my memory told it would be.

So in light of that data, we're about ready to close out the experiment.  The prices at both were comparable.  Right around $10.  Their ambience is rather different, one being an honest to Jeebus coffee shop, the other a former cafe turned schizophrenic ice cream/sandwich shoppe/bistro/breakfast cafe.  Still, I think you can smoke outside, although the lack of ashtrays makes me dubious.  Comparing the wait staffs is no contest.  Still, I don't have anything bad to say about Irene's waitresses.  I got nothing but polite and attentive service from them.  However, it's like comparing a Jr. BMX champ to Matt Hoffman doing a rocket assisted 720 backflip jump onto an aircraft carrier from a landing jet fighter.  The ladies at Irene's plan to be doing a good job somewhere else in a year.  And good luck to them on their future endeavors.  But an experienced professional waitress, happy where she works and appreciative of her customers is a treasure.  If your entree is $5 or $50, it will get to your table cooked and assembled properly.  She will bitch at the kitchen long before your feelings have to get involved.  Those ladies are always tipped well by me.  And any other thinking person who likes to eat.  Thats why on their good days they can make $40/hr.  Because it's more than slinging slop for slobs.  Not that we're not all slobs bellying up to the trough to shovel poorly or ignorantly chosen grub into our ungrateful maws.  But she is a professional and is able to overlook that common truth in her vocation.  To her, feeding jackasses is no more offputting than pouring a glass of water.  Because she's gansta like that.

So, in conclusion to our experiment we see that all of the data points at the kitchen at Irene's being shit.  Cooking with it, on it, cooked by it.  In my mind's eye I picture 5 of those turd demons from Dogma with aprons and chef's hats squatting over plates and like evil magical peanut butter factories, the components of your dish slithering out of their benighted bowels.  Over or undercooked.  Extra of what you asked to be left out, none of what you asked for double.  Wrong meat, just enough of whatever you're allergic to, so that you must ruin your evening to dash home for the epipen.  Roaring and sputtering at purile potty humor and failed sexual innuendo.  Creatures that honestly believe that Waiting should be a mandatory training film and that Dane Cook's wit shall one day sunder the heavens, lifting them up and away from the drudgery of their jobs to a place where every day is a Raiders tailgate party.  These are the type of assholes that should have fire taken away from them.  There should be a brand of the back of their right hand, liken to the mark of the beast, so that all will know: This person is only allowed to operate a microwave and only if it is for their own consumption.  You would be shocked how many people work in kitchens and can't cook their way out of a lipton soup box.  But the worst danger are the ones who believe that they can.  Pity their friends and family, for they must eat hot wings that taste like burning diesel.  At both ends.

So dear friends, as we come to a close.  It is my wish for you all to find your own Gilley's.  An eatery, ANY eatery staffed by professionals.  Cheap or expensive or in between.  If you eat where people like their jobs, you will love your food.  It might be busy, but pros know how to get 'em in and get 'em out and keep them happy the whole way through.

Instead of wishing you good eating out, I shall wish you all professional eating out.  And I promise, I will soon get off my fat ass and find something nice to say about yummying down at some actual local Fresno locations.


PS-  I almost forgot about Gilley's tomatillo salsa!  Man oh man was that stuff tasty.  And bizarre.  It's almost got the consistancy of hummus, it's bright BRIGHT green, and it tastes really strongly of cumin.  I think there might be a little mint snuck in with the cilantro as well.  It's got a nice mellow heat.  You get a nice mellow mouth burn that is almost self extinguishing.  A little tangy too.  I could easily see myself slathering some home made tacos in that and nothing else.  Well, maybe a little queso fresco.  It's so good that they even sell jars of it to go.  Next trip I'm bringin me a jar home.