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Good Food!

Not the Same Cafe Med ... Gone a Bit Vanilla

Restaurant: Cafe Med
Cuisines: Mediterranean Cuisine
Location: 420 E. 3300 S., Salt Lake City (Map)
Price Range: $2.50–$24.99
Grade: C+ — See Foodie Report

Café Med has been one of my favorite restaurants. At one time, I went there at least once a month, usually after hitting the Century 16 for a movie. This was just such an occasion. I hadn't been there for three or so months, so I was excited to go back. Unfortunately, it turned out to be extremely disappointing.

Inside, the décor was changed, the booths moved from the right side to the back, and sheer fabric partitions arrayed around the room to break up the dining room and provide some privacy. There were still the Egyptian, Greek and Persian motifs in the drapes and busts and fountains, but the multitude of rainbow flags in the corners and in the outdoor dining patio were conspicuously absent. The people waiting tables were not ones I recognized (which there always seemed to be at least one person I recognized from a prior visit). They were also older than those I used to recognize. The first thing that went through my mind was that the restaurant must have been sold, or had new management.  I hoped that the menu had not changed.

I pleased to see that the menu had not changed, and the man who waited on us appeared old enough that he could have been the owner. And I'm not saying that he was the owner, but her certainly had an attitude like he owned the place. I always get the same thing there: the Greek Combo Plate.  But, since I was considering reviewing the restaurant, I wanted to try something new. So, when I told the waiter that I needed a couple minutes (he showed up after about 30 seconds wanting to take our order), he seemed very annoyed. Then he didn't come back for about 10 minutes. When he finally did, he didn't want to answer any questions about the menu. His answers were short, usually one or two words, and they were also wrong. I asked about something I had had before, asked if it was still prepared the same way, and he told me that it wasn't. I said that was too bad that they changed it, and he said that it had always been that way. Which, clearly, was untrue. Finally, I decided on the Chicken Souvlaki Sandwich, with Chicken and Lime Rice Soup and a House Salad with the Greek dressing. When I ordered, he snapped the menu out of my hand, and was gone without a word.

One of the things that I liked about Café Med was its lemonade. I always wondered what they did with it. If it was from a fountain, then there had to be some doctoring involved, because it was really sweet and tart enough to suck your face into your mouth. I loved it. Unfortunately, what I was served was different. I immediately thought it was Crystal Light. It was obviously sugar free, very weak, and tasted like a lemon-flavored Hawaiian Punch. Ick. My soup, when it came, was also extremely disappointing.

First words out of my mouth when my soup arrived: "You've changed the soup."

I had had this soup before, and could tell at first glance that it was different. For one thing, it was a different color. Then, as I spooned through it, I was surprised to see that there was not one piece of chicken in it, nor was there rice. There were a lot of vegetables, and possibly things that were rice crumbs.  The waiter must have saw the look on my face, because he came over and asked if something was wrong. I asked if I had misunderstood him when he told me the soup selections.
I hadn't. He said, "Is there something wrong with it?" I said, "Well … I'd like some chicken. And some rice would be nice." But, rather than just saying he would fix the problem, he told me to stir it around, with the unspoken demand: "Prove to me that there's no chicken or rice." My mouth fell open, but I did as instructed. He said that he would get me a new bowl, but his tone made it seem like it was a real imposition.  It took between five and 10 minutes for him to return. But, when he did come back, there were chunks of chicken in the soup that had been pulled off Souvlaki skewers, grill marks and all.  So it had become Leftover Chicken and Rice Soup.

My salad was just as disappointing. I assume that the House Salad is the same as what was on the side of the Greek Combo. And I know that I always got the Greek dressing.  And I love their Greek dressing. I just can't get enough of it. I might even consider bathing in it, it's so good. But, unfortunately, the dressing was different, too. I don't think that the vinegar had turned, I think it was a completely different type of vinegar. The flavor was completely changed, and absolutely not for the better. The salad also had sunflower seeds on it, and was devoid of any purple leaves or other Mediterranean salad mix. What, now it's Leftover Salad?

When I got my Chicken Souvlaki Sandwich, I thought that I was finally going to get something that was good. Unfortunately, I was proven wrong again. The chicken was grilled well, but it was almost completely unseasoned. I could detect no lemon, and even the off-yellow coloring of the usual chicken was absent. When the waiter came by again, I had to ask, Is there new ownership?" He said no. "New management?" He said no. Then he asked why I asked. I told him about
the lemonade and the lack of lemon in the chicken. He said that they had changed to Pepsi products, and the new lemonade was sugarless. I said, "I know. Crystal Light." He said he wasn't sure. I said, "Think of Hawaiian Punch with a little lemon flavoring. Oh, and take out the sugar." He shrugged, like it was of no concern to him. "But we changed five or six months ago." Again, not the truth. And that was as disappointing as that it seemed to be of no concern to him that the quality of food was so drastically diminished. Then, maybe he sensed that I was dissatisfied with his responses, so he said that the chicken might have been prepped by a
different cook, but that the recipe was the same. Whatever.  Leftover sandwich? No … more like Chicken We Weren't Planning On Serving Sandwich.

Trying to salvage the meal, I decided to order dessert. (Something I very, very rarely do. I'm just not a dessert person.) He listed several things that they had, then I asked, "I thought I saw something called … Chocolate Confusion on the menu. Or something like that." He said, "Oh, yeah. We have that." So now I'm also more familiar with the menu than he is.  When it came out, it looked nice, but it just missed the mark. There was something in the chocolate sauce drizzled over it that I couldn't quite identify, but it just didn't fit well with the chocolate. It was certainly a liquor, although I couldn't quite place it, and I was done asking our waiter any questions. I don't like having someone blow so much smoke and I don't like attitude. The crust might have been crushed Oreos, although that wasn't exactly clear, also, because there were other muddled flavors: could be browned coconut, could be allspice — only the Shadow knows. And there was a layer of something that reminded me of Mascarpone cheese in texture (like in Tiramisu), but all the other flavors prevented any type of identification by taste. Maybe I could taste the refrigerator. Ugh. Worse, it cost $2 more than my main course!

Instead of saving the day, it just became the dismal end to a very disappointing meal. I had not achieved that "life is good" feeling from my full stomach … and I wasn't interested in achieving it, either. I hate being disappointed.

I decided that I would go back again, one last time, to see if they could redeem themselves. And I would order the meal I had eaten there dozens of times. If they botched that … well, Café Med would permanently be off my short list of favorite restaurants..

On my second visit, I decided to go back to my standby, to see if they were really changing things for the worse.  Unfortunately, it appears that they are. Although the meal was a great deal better than what I had the first time, it was still less than it used to be, in terms of richness of flavors and overall goodness.

When I was seated, it was in a booth, where they appeared to be patching rips or covering jagged edges on the table and bench with colored tape. I know that finances are tight right now, but at least trim off the edges that are poking up, or at least put down the tape without it sticking to itself and standing up on its own.

When the waiter brought over a menu, he asked if I wanted something to drink and if I needed a few minutes to look over the menu. I said, "No," meaning that I didn't need the time, but he turned and left, apparently, thinking that I had said that I didn't need anything to drink other than water.  How annoying. So I sat there for a few minutes, the menu closed, waiting for him to come back. Finally, he did, and I ordered the Greek Combo Plate, which has two Souvlaki sticks (you choose what type of meat), gyro meat, lemon rice and a pita bread, and a side salad. For the Souvlaki, I went with chicken for both (they used to have some of  the best Chicken Souvlaki around), and I went with their raspberry vinaigrette on the salad. Last time I had it, that dressing was to die for.

He then left, and I realized that I still hadn't ordered a drink, but I let it go. That one was on me. And he brought back the salad rather quickly.

First words out of my mouth: Yeah, look at that dressing. They bring it in a little soufflé cup on the side, and I could smell the raspberry before he even sat it down. When I poured it over the salad, it was thick with honey mixed in, just like it used to be, and I was excited. When I took the first bite, I was just tickled to find that it, at least, was still as good as it used to be. The honey and raspberry created layers of flavor, which is accentuated by the sharpness of the vinegar. The only thing it lacks is that it needs a little salt. I very rarely salt anything, but I always have to when I get that salad dressing at Café Med.

About the time I was finished with my salad, the plate came out. It's an oval platter, and it is just brimming over with food. Again, I was excited to see that it looked just as good as I remembered it. The chicken was stained yellow with seasoning, then grilled well on skewers, there were four quarters of good pita bread, lots of lemon rice, and gyro meat with a dollop of cucumber dressing right on top of it. I promptly slid the chicken off one of the kabobs, and went to work.

First words out of my mouth on that first bite: Hmm. It's not as lemony as it used to be.

That was certainly disappointing. Then I ate a bite with the rice, and the lemon seemed to be diminished even more. So I took a bite of the rice alone, and that had even less lemon flavor than the chicken. Bummer.

It was good. Don't get me wrong. It is good, grilled chicken, and the rice has nice flavor. But it used to have a sharpness from the lemon citrus that really made it jump. This, however, was more of an Americanized Greek, which was really disappointing.

The gyro meat, however, was excellent. And that cucumber sauce just makes the perfect compliment to it. Not only did I make sure every bit of the meat was coated with it, but I mopped up every drop with the rice, as well.

It was the first time I could remember where the star of the Greek Combo Plate was the gyro meat. It had always been the chicken for me before. Too bad.

The guy who waited on me was also strangely absent. After dropping off the plate, he never came back. He walked by several times, waiting on other people (and the place was busy), but I finally had to wave him down to ask for my check. Little odd to have to be the one prompting to give them money.

Overall, a good meal. But it's just not as good as it used to be.  I don't know the reason behind it, but what had once been one of my favorite restaurants has certainly fallen down a peg. Maybe they're cutting back due to financial issues. Maybe they've decided to go a little less authentic, to appeal to a wider audience. I don't know. What I do know, is that it's just not the same old Café Med that I had come to know and love. They have traded in some of the authenticity that made them distinct for some plain, bland vanilla.  I hate being disappointed. Foodie Report

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