Yesterday was another day in Philadelphia, but we paid a visit to the City Tavern. This restaurant is well known as a reproduction of a tavern that was rebuilt in the 70's after the original building burned down in the 1800's. Walking into the restaurant throws visitors back in time to colonial days. Floors are old wood, likely reclaimed and made to look as though we are truly colonists. Chairs and tables hearken back to that time as well. Waitress and waiter outfits are period pieces in themselves as well.
It all makes sense when the owner and chef of the restaurant are told to you, Chef Staib. Never heard of him, don't worry, either had I. Staib is well known for his PBS and other programs that focus on history and food. He cooks in these series of TV shows, while exploring the history associated with the United States. Much of his work throws back to colonial times. His program has won many Emmy's, all displayed in the glass cabinet at the entrance to the restaurant.
Talking with Staib, he is a likable man very ingrained in history. His passion for history is very apparent, and that comes out very quickly. The food on the other hand... it's not good. My fried tofu was fantastic, but was combined with a poorly seasoned vegetable and pasta dish. If this dish had even seen the sight of salt in the kitchen, it would have had more flavor.
This isn't to rag on Staib, I've seen similar problems with Chef Ramsey's restaurant in Atlantic City. Ramsey's restaurant in AC screwed up cooking a burger twice in a row, and I'm a person who subscribes to the philosophy of if it's remotely close to what you ordered, it's fine. Ramsey's staff messed up a burger for my dinning partner, we sent it back once, they messed it up a 2nd time, but it was close enough that we accepted the attempt and went on our way.
Ramsey's vegetarian options were almost non-existent. I can almost always find something to eat on a menu, even if it's a side of vegetables. This restaurant had maybe 2 sides, no mains that I could even think about eating. When the carrots I chose were delivered, they looked like someone had placed them under a broiler for about a week. There was no moisture in them at all.
So this poses a bigger question for me, why do celebrity chefs let their restaurants put out such lackluster food? Ramsey admits to letting one restaurant fail, and it being a learning experience for him. Yet I've had food from his establishments and I'd beg to differ on that point. Stories of Guy Fieri, a Food Network star, having restaurants reviewed as terrible are also wide spread.
It might have something to do with how much time is spent with their eyes on other projects. Sinking all of their time into TV programs, research to make the program happen, and babysitting it through the entire production process, it can only pull away from focus that might be better served on the restaurant. While the TV programs may be interesting, if you also tout your establishment for eating, you owe those customers at the very least a meal that they want to eat.
Balancing the TV world and food world seems to be a difficult task that many have failed on. Remembering that there are people who come across the country or further, stay in a city, all in an effort to eat food from a celebrity chef is an important point. Maybe putting some of the effort into the food is a good plan too. Or at the very least checking on the food from time to time to make sure it's at least satisfying patrons.