So It Goes with Don Pablo’s

Gary and I rarely eat out.

This includes fast food. I brown bag to work and on days I don’t work I just don’t bother with a bag. Money is scarce at the moment and it usually doesn’t seem right to pay for something to eat when there is some other something in the cabinet that can be boiled, baked, fried, heated or otherwise cooked.

But we try to make exceptions for special occasions, and our 17 year anniversary (March 9, 1996 — dig up an old issue of Nuvo and see a picture of our wedding along with my column about it!) seemed like a good time for such an exception.

We had eaten at Don Pablo’s before. It had been quite a while, with the word quite adding quite a lot of time to that while. But we had eaten there before and the experience of that before was surprisingly exceptional.

Literally surprising.

For during that already rare-for-us venturing to eat out, we originally had been traveling to another Mexican place, found their menu lacking, left without ordering, and stopped at Don Pablo’s on the nearly disappointing return drive home.

The selection, the food, the service!  An all around good experience that time around.

That time of apparently Long Ago, as the Short Ago offered us all around blech.

New menus were the first red flag, where I could not locate the entree I remembered ordering before. I found a form of nachos and ordered that for our appetizer and, for lack of being able to lock on anything striking, ordered the same thing as Gary.

The Cantalina Nachos being thrown on the table was a second flag. I felt like I had been handed a baton and should have proceded to pass the plate on to another table as quickly as I could. Instead of going with that chagrined notion, though, I thought I might at least move it more towards the center of the table.

The hotness of the plate foiled me, though — burned me actually — so I used a napkin to safely move it off of its edge perch. That is, used a napkin after I had one after I had asked for one. Evidently being giving napkins and being giving food are viewed as vastly separate tasks with no rhyme or reason to the sequencing of their occurrences.

I will say the main server herself did do a decent enough job. She refilled things and delivered other things and in general did what was expected. The food being delivered though was not what we expected and threw up the second flag.

Gary had ordered the same thing he had gotten last time — veggie fajitas. Only it wasn’t quite the same thing, as somewhere between Long Ago and Short Ago they had overhauled their mixture of veggies.

There were a lot of them. That could be said.

But also what could be said, among their changes, was that they had all but eliminated the expected mixture of bell peppers and seemed to have slipped in a whole gourd of squash in its place along with zucchini. I like all three, but peppers go in there better and also I couldn’t help thinking the mixture was driven by (their, i.e. company) cost more than (our, i.e. consumer) taste.

And this was really the truly game changing flag (and you can see how it clearly is by all those dirty little “ly” words in my sentence.)

I get so annoyed with companies cutting their costs while pretending they are not cutting quality. The general business model anymore doesn’t seem to be simply “can you do it as well for less” but rather “can you get away with doing it for less?”

That is, how far can you cut your cost and still herd the masses through your doors?

How much can you lower standards and still earn profits enough to keep that all so vital-to-the-economy CEO standard of living intact?

Olive Garden also used to be in our few choice places to eat. But last time we went, it was clear they had switched cheese on us, going for a subgrade line that congealed on the pasta like a fungus rather than melted.

So many other places have fallen off our list for the same reason: cutting their cost at the sacrifice of quality. And yeah, I know, it’s expensive to run a business. But it is also expensive to support one.

And so here’s one more I no longer will.