No matter where we dined in Florida, I invariably ordered a fish dish. Tuesday the 23rd, the day that we drove to Weeki Wachee to find it closed, we ate at Tio Pepe (where they treat you like royalty...)near Clearwater after spending a few hours at the Salvador Dali museum. Tip Pepe was recommended by a colleague who once lived near Clearwater. She suggested that I try the sangria and paella. I called ahead to inquire about the dress code, and the man with whom I spoke assured me that it was casual. But then the hostess directed us to the left side of the restaurant, where we later learned, all the undesirables are seated out of sight. The other occupied table, in what appeared to be a banquet room, was far enough away that the couple didn't bother us, but their complaints easily reached our ears.
Ian told me that as we walked to our table, he heard the waiter tell that table, "Hogwash." Then the lady asked, "What did you say?" Again, the waiter replied, "Hogwash." Apparently, when he served her glass of wine, a few drops of it spilled onto the table. The woman complained to him that he would need to refill her glass, as he had spilled over half the glass. The couple was old. At most restaurants that Ian and I eat at, we are by far, the youngest diners. They complained to each other, and again to the waiter, and then to the hostess, and then to the manager. They come here all the time, you know, and the soup was not up to par, and there was some confusion over the salad bowl. The waiters toss your salad at the table in a large silver bowl. Then they dish portions out in smaller bowls for each customer. This woman thought they should have two Large bowls, though and she bitched about that. Growing frustrated, the waiter informed her that the salad was all that she could eat, and that he would be happy to bring out more. There was a problem with the soup. And then at one point, we heard them philosophize over the customer always being right.
Ian got a filet (steak) and I ordered the black grouper: With mussels, shrimp, in Chef Rheinsmith's White cheese. It was good, but I can't remember finding a single shrimp in the dish. I hate it when I forget what items comprise my meal. Instead, they substituted a shellfish that I could not identify; but I have little knowledge of shellfish, so the substitution was not unusual or rare,as I commonly see the same shellfish stacked into towers at all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. The problem was that my two mussel shells were empty, and there were no mussels on the plate. Though I was offended, I decided to chuck it up to some laugh that the gastro-gods were making at my expense.
I didn't sample the sangria, which is supposed to be divine, because they sell it by the pitcher, and I could not drink that much wine alone; Ian prefers hard likker. I failed to order the paella, because it didn't appeal to me, but seemingly, it was the best choice I could have made.
Our water had the sniffles, and he wasn't very good, either. I figured that they put the problem waiters in the "out-of-sight" area that we were seated in. While he built a table for a large party adjacent to us, he complained to the hostess about the seven children in the party. Ian and I gave each other a look. We couldn't wait. The brood arrived soon after. They were loud and obnoxious, and over acting with their shivering, as the room was quite frigid. As they were seated, the hostess asked the adult if he'd like menus for the kids, because there was nothing that would appeal to children on the menu. They got menus just the same. They grew louder. As the father noted the robust prices of the entrees and the lack of any kind of food that a child would eat, he closed his menu and said, "How about we go to Burger King?"
We were pleased, as was our waiter. We ordered dessert. I got an amaretto cheesecake that was drenched in raspberry. This chocolate/raspberry combination is not something that I understand. I hate it. It's overdone both in the frequency that one encounters it on menus and also in that the hand that applies it to desserts is usually too heavy. I don't eat key lime pie out, though it was featured on their dessert menu. I prefer mine. I rarely find a key lime pie "out" that compares. So the cheesecake was saturated with raspberry; it pooled around its base, thus making the crust, which I never quite encountered and now wonder whether it existed at all, soupy. The waiter apologized for the delay in serving us with our desserts, citing the new bake chef as the problem. Reader, I believe that he plated the desserts himself. My plate was slathered with what may have been whipped cream, but most likely was cool whip. The cheesecake sank into that and then those liberal raspberry fans had their way with the poor thing. Amaretto isn't a favorite of mine. I chose this dessert upon the waiter's recommendation. When will I learn?
Sadly, it was a disappointing experience, though the decor was pleasing. Should I return, I'll be sure to dress appropriately and order both sangria and paella. I'm sure that folks seated on the Right side of Tio Pepe's aren't served empty mussel shells. Or maybe that's like throwing a bone into pinto beans for seasoning?