The Depressing Room

Wilma was on the way when we walked into The Press Room, a newish eatery on the butt end of Lincoln Road. The sky was ominously gray and full of foreboding.

The restaurant takes its name from the collage of antique presses on the wall of its brick-faced, back-of-the-room sports bar. The rest of the place is a modestly upscale restaurant, and it's attractive — rich royal blue walls, classy slip-covered chairs, and a gorgeous pressed-copper ceiling. There's even a grand piano near the entrance. I was initially impressed.

The staff was also great — friendly, solicitous, expressive.

Then there's the food. We would have to talk about the food. Slimy-textured crabcakes, supermarket-quality salad, boring faux-barbecue chicken, steak so tough it resists cutting even with a huge serrated knife. Maybe next time I'll try a chainsaw. It was depressing.

It was also hard to suppress amazement at the way the fare's presented. In a town where even the funkiest neighborhood dive feels the need to stack food like poker chips and splotch plates with multicolored sauces, The Press Room's presentations are stark to the point of barren.

Those crabcakes I mentioned are served on a white rectangular plate, amid a pool of pinkish chipotle-inflamed tartar sauce, with tiny dots of puréed chipotle at the corners. Not a sprig or drop or scattering of color to be found. The steak is similarly garnished and equally color-free — a piece of meat and mound of fries — unless you count a little ramekin of blood-red ketchup. The same visual monotony continued with the chicken. It got to the point where a scoop of middling-quality vanilla ice cream atop a round of very un-bread-pudding-like chocolate bread pudding actually seemed like the height of culinary daring.

But how do they taste?

Not very good.

Okay, the crabcakes weren't all bad. Decent flavor, pleasantly piquant sauce. But the ratio of binder (too much) to crustacean (too little) gave them an unpleasantly slimy texture beneath their barely browned exteriors. The chopped salad was a meager cut above typical fast-food fare. It was big all right, lots of chopped iceberg lettuce, a blizzard of shredded cheddar, and sliced Vidalia onions under ripe tomatoes and canned black olives, all dressed with a sweetish, forgettablish vinaigrette.

Barbecue chicken breast isn't likely to scare any of the pit masters in Memphis. It may be a free-range teat slathered with chipotle-infused barbecue sauce, but it's not very tender and not very tasty. And "North Carolina" potato salad. Is it a Southern thing? I don't get it.

I also wished I hadn't ordered the New York strip, which was an insult to both the steer and the Big Apple. Saying it was tough doesn't do justice to a piece of meat that was so leathery it actually ripped the steak knife out of my hand and sent it clattering to the floor. Too bad the steak didn't follow. It came with mediocre fries that were heavily dusted with sea salt and far too much oregano.

But there's still the bread pudding, right? How bad can that be?

Let's just say it could have been worse. On the other hand, it could have had the taste and texture of real bread pudding — day-old bread bound by a rich custard. This one tasted like a lead brownie. At least the ice cream was cold, and I was thankful for that.

I've since tried to repress any memory of the rest of the meal I had here.

 
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