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No…Really? A Restaurant?

It’s Not Me, It’s You

This week our resident foodologist (we just made that term up) is breaking up with one of Cairo’s leading restaurants after a long love-hate relationship…

Ever start dating someone because they have a hot body only to discover that they are no good in bed? Or agree to go out with someone with buckets of money who turns out to be a cheapskate? Or someone who you’ve been told is loads of fun but when they are alone with you, all they do is bitch and moan and complain about everything?

It makes you feel cheated. Yes, okay, it was your own bad judgment, but you still feel that somehow they lied to you, or that they were hiding their true selves. Worse still, if you keep going back with all the evidence right before your eyes. In that case, you really are being an idiot.

This can happen with restaurants too and I’ve just been through a bad break up. I should have known better a long time ago. Lucille, baby, I’m done. I’m just not that into you. You look good, but when I’m inside you I just end up feeling disgusted with myself and all your lies only make it worse. I no longer trust you.

In the summer of 2007 journalist Scott Macleod wrote an article for Time Magazine praising Lucille’s food. The title of that piece was, “The World’s Best Hamburger Is In Egypt.” When I moved to Maadi a year ago, and saw that Lucille’s was available, I thought I owed it to myself to give her a try. That was my first mistake. I should have known better. And yet I kept making excuses and kept going back until now, finally, she has become so unattractive that I no longer want to know her. My bad. I owe myself an apology. For real.

The first time I went specifically for the burgers, about which I know a thing or two. I guess after reading Macleod’s over-the-top ode to Lucille’s, I had built up my expectations way too high. Maybe something changed since 2007. I have no idea. But I knew I was in trouble when I ordered mine medium and the waited and chef said they couldn’t do it that way because this would make me sick. What?! I went ahead anyway. It didn’t make me ill, but it was an insipid burger. Thin, flat, not enough meat to really sink your teeth into: it reminded me of one of those ready-made, pre-packaged patties that you get from the freezer at the supermarket.

Willfully fooling myself and ignoring all the evidence, I went back again. This time—and several times after that—I tried the breakfasts. The pancakes, which many rave about, were dry and uninspired, the beef bacon chewy, the breakfast scramble just a mess. Way too much stuff thrown in there, and I do mean thrown. The gravy on the biscuits reminded me of that gooey white paste we used to use in second grade to make paper maché masks. Truly awful. The hash browns were oily. The beef sausages and sunny-side up eggs were okay, but where’s the art in that? Why I kept returning when truly good breakfasts are readily available at Casper and Gambini’s or Blackstone Bistro, I’ll never know. Laziness? Stubbornness? Or is it just because breaking up is hard to do?

Still not having learned my lesson, in the following months I moved on to check out the southwestern/Tex-Mex menu they have, with items like chili con carne and cornbread, enchiladas, fajitas and tacos, many of which I tried, only to be consistently disappointed. If this place used to have spirit, it has lost it. You can’t ride on your rep from one good review five years ago and think that’s going to keep your business afloat.

What seems to keep them going is the hapless expatriates who don’t have cars to get to Zamalek where the real food is. Or teenagers who don’t have cars to drive down to Chili’s. Because this is about as good as Lucille’s gets, an accessible Chili’s-substitute for customers who I am forced to conclude really don’t care what they eat.

My most recent mishap was last Thursday. I know, I know, but you know how it is, you always hope that somehow they’re going to change and sometimes you stay in the relationship just out of force of habit. But this time I am done for sure.

My little hippie princess wanted nachos. I keep explaining to her that there are no good nachos in this whole damn country, but that kind of logic doesn’t work on a six-year-old who has the hots for nachos, tacos, burritos and all things Mexican (Next time I’m going to take her to Maria’s and that should solve the problem because she’ll never go back to the faux-Mexican fast food that sold everywhere else in town). Anyway, these nachos were truly bogus. The chef had spread out some of those triangular nacho chips, added a few (very few) slices of American cheese, like the kind you get wrapped in plastic in the supermarket, carelessly tossed on some rather tasteless tomatoes and about five slices of jalapeno peppers out of a jar, and microwaved the lot. To make matters worse, they didn’t have either the apple pie or the chocolate pie she asked for and she ended up having to settle for a dry, tasteless chocolate cake which I am convinced had chocolate frosting out of a can. I could be wrong about that, but if I am, that’s even worse, because that’s what it tasted like.

So yeah, I’m done. Lucille, darling. I know we’ve only been together for a year, and you mean more to me than life itself, but honestly, at this point I am suicidal.

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