The Customer is Always Replaceable

This is a repost from a blog posting I wrote in 2008. I don’t go to Taco Hell now either, but I like the rant so I’m reposting.

The Customer is Always Right. I used to see this sign in businesses. The theory behind it is a pleasant one, although I usually only saw it invoked as a means for bullies to treat customer service representatives like crap. But today, it seems the idea has gone completely out the window. It’s like stores don’t give a shit anymore if we don’t patronize their businesses; 800 people will be standing in line behind us if we don’t like the service that we get. It’s this way with stores, restaurants, customer call centers, you name it. I don’t eat out much. For one thing, it’s expensive as hell. For another, I heard Portland has had an outbreak of Hepatitis A and that it is often spread by restaurants. Since I had to get a shot in the butt in 1990 for an e-coli outbreak, and the thought of eating someone else’s poo is just more than I can manage, I avoid restaurants.

But sometimes you’re across town and starving as hell and ready to run people over your blood sugar is so low and you’re willing to eat all the things you wouldn’t normally touch from a mile away because you’re that hungry. That was me today. I recognized intellectually that I felt like a wretch and I didn’t care because I needed food.  So I went to Taco Hell. Yeah, I know it’s gross. But it’s cheap and they have this burrito with rice in it and I don’t get cheese so I went. The service was horrendous. The charming “customer service” representative who took my order informed me that the burrito I like “cannot be grilled.”

Huh? I told her when I’ve patronized the Taco Hell by my house they always grill it for me. Well, she sneered, that’s another franchise. Uh, okay. Small problem. When I’m hungry, I don’t care how big a bitch I am, at least when I’m that hungry. And I was that hungry. But I’m working hard on living in the moment and I did not want to be the bully customer who makes a worker feel like shit. I sat there in my car waiting to pull up to the window and thinking how irrelevant all this is and what a waste of my energy, but I was still getting annoyed. So I decided to be calm, but I still wanted to know why can’t they just grill my fucking burrito?

I pulled up and asked the kind lady how come they couldn’t grill my burrito. She said it is just a store policy. I said that isn’t an answer, it doesn’t tell me why the policy is in place. She said she didn’t know. Across the way a man who was probably a higher up manager because he wasn’t wearing the fancy Taco Hell outfit but instead had on a cheap shirt and tie came over and asked the problem. I started to say there wasn’t a problem, I just wanted to know why my burrito couldn’t be grilled. He said they are not allowed to grill them, company policy. I said that I get them grilled at the Taco Hell by my house. He said they aren’t supposed to. Then the girl helping said something to him and he turned to me and said it was a health issue. Huh? I said how in the world is it a health issue? He said it’s like giving them a cup and asking them to fill it. It has my germs on it. I was VERY confused at this point. My lack of blood sugar addled brain couldn’t quite muster what was going on. I said how in the world can it be a health issue to grill a freaking burrito? It’s in the restaurant, you put on all the ingredients. I never touch it. He just walked away.

At this point, I didn’t give a shit if my burrito was grilled or not. I just wanted to eat. I sat and waited until the girl handed me the bag. I asked for my water and drove off. I pulled to the side of the parking lot to eat it and it was grilled. Weird.

The main thing I kept thinking about after all this was that had I threatened to take my business elsewhere, they would have said fine, go ahead. We don’t need your two dollars. Companies have gotten so big that the customer isn’t right anymore. Everyone puts up and shuts up about crappy customer service because there is nowhere else to go where it will be any better. This is another byproduct of our one-size-fits-all one dimensional corporate society. Hate waiting on the phone on hold for 20 minutes when you call the phone company? Fine, go somewhere else. And while you’re at it we’ll charge you $200 because you’re in a lopsided bullshit contract.  Hate the piece of crap you bought at the Dollar Store? Too bad for you. No refunds.  Who cares if the state law allows you to return a defective item to a store with no refunds. You planning to sue us over a dollar? Don’t want to wait in line at a store with no employees? Fine, leave. Better yet, stand in line for 10 minutes, then leave. See if we care. Want your burrito grilled and we won’t do it?  Go fuck yourself. We don’t pay our workers enough to care. We don’t hire enough workers so they’re all pissed off all the time. Go somewhere else. Again, see if we care. That’s capitalism. It leaves no one alive.

I know this is a cynical bitchy rant. I shouldn’t complain without offering some solution. But I don’t know what the solution is. I go out of my way to avoid patronizing monster corporations, but sometimes it’s inevitable.  Sometimes it’s just being so damn hungry I’ll eat a rat in the gutter or Taco Hell. Those are the times those places get my business. I never go to Walmart or McDonald’s ever, and I mean never. They could be the last businesses on earth and I wouldn’t go there. Maybe there isn’t a solution unless enough people say enough, and judging by the lines in SkankDonald’s and Taco Hell or the mass of cars in the SkankMart parking lot, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime I guess I’ll rant on my blog.

Koji in Downtown Portland

My friend locked her keys in a job site house in Multnomah Village.  Her spares were at home in Happy Valley.  Her husband did not have his mobile phone and was waiting for her in downtown Portland.  To make another key would cost $300 because of the kind of car she has.  She could not find anyone to help her so she called me.  I drove from my house in NE Portland to her house in Happy Valley, then to Multnomah Village to bring her the spare key.  In return, she took me to dinner at Koji in downtown Portland, on SW Broadway, between SW Salmon and SW Main.

I have eaten at Koji on NE Weidler.  I liked the meal well enough, although I thought it was expensive.  I ate it during moving when I had not had a regular hot meal for a few days.  It was delicious.  The meal in downtown Koji was delicious also.  However the salmon was really tough.  For the price of that meal, it should have been prepared better.

A long time ago I worked in a fish market.  I cut up giant Halibuts that weighed three times as much as I did, using a mallet and a square knife.  I filleted Salmon.  I cut steaks from Red Snapper.  I gutted trout.  I also learned to cook fish, and the one thing I learned above all else when cooking fish is to cook it hot and cook it fast, otherwise it gets tough.  You can’t cook fish like steak or poultry.  Its meat isn’t as dense.  If you leave it in the oven to bake like you would land meat, it will be tough.

The salmon at Koji was like this.  It had been cooked too long.  Either they cooked it earlier in the evening and left it under a heat lamp, or they cooked it too long before bringing it to me.  It wasn’t very warm, so I suspect the former is true.  In either case, there is no excuse.  For the price of that meal and the way that restaurant bills itself, it should know how to prepare salmon.

The rest of the food doesn’t stand out one way or another to me.  It was fine, I think. The miso soup was hearty, as miso soups go.  My baby liked the rice I gave her.

Oh, one funny thing happened.  The server came over and asked if I wanted anything for the baby.  I told her she would just have milk.  The server said “Oh, we don’t have milk.”  “Well, I do!” I told her.  It was funny.  I will give Koji this, the servers were very attentive.  It may have helped that we were the only customers in the place, but that doesn’t negate that they did a good job.

Unfortunately, I don’t recommend Koji.  Because the same type of food can be found elsewhere in Portland, including downtown, and also because I have had salmon at other Japanese restaurants just up the street from the downtown Koji whose prices are not as high.  The other Koji location on NE Weidler was better than the downtown location, but again, there is another Japanese restaurant only a few blocks away where the food is just as good and it costs less.

Cameo Cafe

I love the Cameo Cafe (8111 NE Sandy Boulevard).  It’s kitschy, small, and in a sort of odd location, but the food is delicious and the prices can’t be beat.  They always use fresh ingredients.  They are only open during the day until 3, so breakfast seems to be the main thing for them, but they also have a delicious lunch menu.

Their specialty is a bread called Strong Bread.  I’m not sure why it’s called that.  Next time I go in I will ask.  It is covered in poppyseeds, and buttery yummy.  It is hard to resist.  If you’re on a bread-free diet, don’t go there or at least make sure they don’t bring this bread to your table or you’ll be off your diet.

They have a salmon salad covered in fresh veggies and spinach.  The salmon is generous and always cooked to perfection.  I haven’t been to many restaurants, especially one like this that looks like a truck stop diner, that cooks salmon so well (see the next review I’m planning to do on Koji, for a place that can’t cook salmon).

The decor is odd, but it is unique and fun–sort of garage sale meets diner.  For instance, there is a carousel about a foot and a half tall, with lights on it, that sits in the corner, spinning away as you eat.  There are photos of Miss Oregon all over the doors.  There are fake plants in various locations. The chairs are these metal things with heart-shaped backs.  There is a long dining counter and tables along the wall.  There is outside seating on the patio and a chicken coop near the front entrance by the street with cute chickens inside.

The service has always been splendid when I’ve been there.  All the servers chip in to help.  The service is definitely a big reason I like going to this place.  If they had terrible service, it wouldn’t be as fun. The place is too small for grousy servers.

I recommend Cameo Cafe.  It’s got personality.  It’s not the biggest place in the world, so it isn’t the place to go if you’ve got a big party, but fun for a few.

The Tin Shed (NE 14th and Alberta)

This blog needs something. It’s crapped out in the last year. Gone from a trickle to a drip. Part of it is that I don’t really feel like working out my own bs here anymore. I thought I did. I started doing that again a while back, but it felt weird. The other big reason is that I have an infant and work and having an infant is s full-time job in and of itself without the addition of a job outside the home. Plus, sad but true, I must not be such a full blown artist devoted to my writing because given the opportunity to sleep, I choose sleep, every time. Today I specifically set my alarm to get up earlier to write, so I suppose there might be hope for me yet, but it’s dicey. I have even toyed with the idea of shutting this blog down, but then where would everyone go to bitch about Pure Med Spa, Brite Smile, et al?

So in an effort to breathe new life into the thing, I’m going to use it to post my non-foody opinion about restaurants in Portland and nearby.  I eat out way too much, why not use it for something more than a hit on my pocketbook? It can be creative inspiration.  Then someday if I ever get enough reviews, I’ll make them into a pamphlet for no one to read.  I plan to change the look of the blog too, when I can find the time, but for now, this is it.

First review:  The Tin Shed, NE 14th and Alberta, in Portland.

The Tin Shed is my daughter’s favorite restaurant, namely because patrons can bring their dogs if they decide to sit on the outside porch. I give The Tin Shed high marks for service.  Nearly every time I have gone there the service has been impeccable. I say nearly because once I went there and had a server who visited our table maybe once after taking the initial order, but that was an anomaly.

Last night I ate there with my two daughters (age 9 months and 11 years), my mom, my three-year-old niece, and my dog.  The service was fantastic. I’m not sure if this is a regular feature of the restaurant, but it seems like I always get a primary server, and then everyone else really helps out. This was definitely the case last night.  We never had to want for drink refills or anything. The server brought the children their food as soon as it was ready, which was great considering the three-year-old wanted to climb on the table and baby was starting to grab everything in sight.

Immediately upon being seated, the server brought our dog a bowl of water. She spilled it minutes later, but the service was still canine thoughtful.

Oregon had 100 degree weather for about five minutes, then as is often the case here, it got cold again (I think it is about 60 degrees out right now). We were seated out on the patio because of the dog (doggie customers must sit at patio seating), and the wind started to blow. We asked management to turn on the heater above our table. They did so, which led to patrons at other tables asking for their heaters to be turned on. The patio toasted up nicely. The server also pointed us to a closet filled with blankets we could use. Now that’s cool (or warm, as the case may be). We were all snuggled up at our table in blankets under a heater in July. Good, old climate change.

The food was delicious. I particularly like a dish called Baby Beluga. There isn’t any beluga in it.  It’s rice, avocados, spinach, raisins, and a few other vegetables, with a yellow curry sauce. I get the sauce on the side because it has a pretty good spice kick and I’m a wimp, but on the side, I can tolerate it just fine in smaller amounts.

The children each ordered noodles with butter and Parmesan. The Parmesan was the real stuff, not that powdery, disgusting crap.  The noodles were swirly, which the children loved. Good stuff. Mom had the stack sandwich. My daughter’s dad has gotten that before and both he and my mom give it rave reviews.

I only have one small complaint. Our table was next to the entrance, and up on a curb. I tripped on the curb sitting at the table, and my mom actually tripped and fell backwards about five feet into the planter behind her.  If she had been holding my baby, both of them could really have been hurt.  The host said there was supposed to be a planter there.  I suggest they return it there pretty immediately, or they might have a lawsuit on their hands. It’s really quite dangerous.

Actually, I take it back.  I have another complaint, although it did not apply last night.  Any time I have eaten indoors, the music has been too loud. When music is so loud that conversation is difficult, it’s too loud. Restaurant lately seem to like to play music really loudly. I personally hate this. I find it extremely distracting. I never like it. If I wanted to go to a disco, I would go to a disco. I do not like to shout to my dinner companions, and if I’m eating alone, I like to read, and I don’t like reading in a disco. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I can’t stand it, and it is one reason I have passed up The Tin Shed on occasion.  Other than that and the unsafe curb table, I really like the place and recommend it.