The evening was to be more than just a meal. We selected a restaurant where we felt we could relax, have a good time and linger over a perfect dinner. What better location for a farewell dinner than a sparkling new restaurant at Greenway Plaza that promised "fun 'n' foodrinkery"?
Plants and bright colors throughout spell California pizazz -- a perfect send-off for our Los Angeles-bound friends.
We were ready to delight in H.T. McDoogal's, the Campbell's Soup Company's entry into polished corporate-financed dining. No question about the restaurant's eye-appealing touches. The entrance beckons you inside to a separate bar area, raw bar room and expansive dining room.
Our party of two adults and five children came ready to enjoy the conviviality. But just being seated became an exercise in endurance, even though there was only one other occupied table in the restaurant.
To ease our stomach pangs while trying to solve the the menu's categorical confusions, we quickly ordered drinks and appetizers.
Unfortunately, drinks came immediately and appetizers barely preceded entrees. Arriving late, they were less important than they would have been 25 minutes earlier. The order of potato skins ($2.25), once a menu rarity but now more standard fare, was finely fried shells, perfect for dunking in sour cream.
The McNachos ($3.95) were an uninteresting combination of bland ingredients. No plain tortilla chips were available for those trying to escape the beef, bean and cheese tortilla covering. The disappointing tomato topping was everywhere.
We needed to remind the waiter that the appetizers required small plates. The McNachos are hardly a bite-sized finger food.
The menu itself is a colorful, friendly commentary on a variety of dishes. Sketches, bright colors and descriptive phrases highlight the egg, sandwich, salad and complete dinner choices.
Daily specials supplement the printed menu. The soup was a cream of mushroom, and the instant choice of my son. But the thinly creamed soup with an essence of mushroom disappointed him, as it would any devotee.
He fared much better with the plain burger ($3.95), the "too good to add anything" selection. A full platter of food arrived complete with respectable steak fries and tomato and lettuce.
Another winner for McDoogal's was the raw bar where crab legs, shrimp, clams and oysters were attractively displayed and available by the piece. The waiter created a cracked claw platter complete with lemon and orange slices. He even added a few extras since he felt the evening's offerings were tiny.
Each of the "Main Events" sounds good in itself, but most are accompanied by some sauce. I selected the hot tips ($8.50), which were perfectly prepared medium-rare slices of tenderloin but smothered under a fair bordelaise sauce. The accompanying vegetable, overcooked green beans, was an unnecessary disappointment from a restaurant that considers freshness its main ingredient.
Sauce invasion and seasoning overkill totally ruined a crepe florentine ($5.25). We asked that the crepe be served plain, without the listed hollandaise sauce. It arrived without the hollandaise sauce, but covered with a cheese sauce -- probably to hide its immersion in Pernod. The waiter, flustered about the crepe sauce, had done well earlier with two special requests.
The 4-year-old wanted just plain yogurt, no fancy fruits or toppings. No problem. The request for a dinner salad that combined ingredients from the two listed on the menu also posed no problem. The 10-year-old, sore-jawed with orthodontia, was thrilled with his dinner of lettuce, bacon bits, and blue cheese dressing.
His mother, ready for her new California lifestyle, chose the Hollywood Bowl ($5.95) amd immediately understood about California overkill.
A nine-inch glass bowl, filled primarily with iceberg lettuce, was plopped in front of her. She found occasional cheese and meat slices, but no avocado slices, the ingredient that had prompted her to order this salad. Even after a separate dinner plate was filled, there was enough salad for the rest of us to share. It was an almost obscene display of dull greens.
We had such great hopes for our send-off meal. Maybe had we not explored, but selected only the most unimaginative dishes, all would have been successful. As my friend said, "Just another pretty face."
We decided to postpone dessert. The many selections -- primarily ice cream concoctions -- sounded neither unusual nor necessary.
Our bill for two adults and three children was $47.14, including tax.