May 19, 2006
Rib-eye riddle

Restaurateurs and chefs walk a dicey line between artistic expression and consumer satisfaction, as Larry Liberty of Carmichael found at the steakhouse Bandera the other evening.

He ordered the rib-eye steak, which comes with sliced vine-ripened tomatoes finished with Danish blue cheese, a garlicky vinaigrette and fresh basil.

Liberty, however, asked the server to substitute mashed potatoes for the tomatoes. The server apologetically explained that the restaurant couldn’t do that.

This discussion led to another discussion with an assistant manager, and eventually ended up in the hands of general manager Damon Burney.

Long before this point, I suspect, most restaurants would have conceded the issue to Liberty and made the substitution without resorting to an artistic snit.

Bandera, however, is very proud of its combination of rib-eye and tomatoes, and adamantly refused to remove them from Liberty’s plate.

“That’s one of the very few dishes where we won’t substitute,” says Burney. “Taking those tomatoes off the plate would be like taking an incredible ingredient out of a dish. That steak with those tomatoes is an amazing pairing. We feel that strong about it.”

The restaurant, however, will serve mashed potatoes as well as the tomatoes with the steak, which is what it did with Liberty, albeit on another plate, without charge.

“I have told about 1,000 people this story. I tell you so you can experience it yourself and tell me and your readers whether you agree or not,” wrote Liberty in an email.

For what it’s worth, I think the story had a reasonable and happy ending for all concerned. The restaurant stuck to its standards, the customer got the dish his way, more or less. Frankly, I admire chefs who make the effort to express their creativity, and when they feel they’ve come up with a dynamite dish I’d rather try to appreciate their vision than impose my own tastes on the matter. That’s perhaps the primary incentive to eat out.

By the way, Liberty found the rib-eye “fantastic.”

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