Friday, October 15, 2010

Escape the Great Escape

If Steve McQueen were still alive, he'd also try to escape this restaurant.

It's been busy weeks for both me and Ricky at work, and I am leaving in a few hours for my trip to Rhinebeck. So Ricky, being the dear that he is, said we should go out to dinner last night before I run the million errands I needed to to get ready for this trip. We decided we'd be brave and check out The Great Escape in Salem, the new Italian restaurant that's built in the old Salem jail.

Much like the Boston's Liberty Hotel, Salem has turned their old jail into luxury condos and a bar/restaurant that still has a lot of the old architecture and feel of the old building. I've seen pictures of the Liberty Hotel, and had heard stories from friends of the opulence there, so initially, I thought that it would be similar in Salem. However, thanks to some friends in the know, I had also heard that the team running the show also owns a low end Italian restaurant on Rt. 1... so then I began to get concerned.

Let's just get this over with: The Great Escape is NOT The Liberty Hotel. At all.

One of the biggest problems The Great Escape suffers from, in my opinion, is identity crisis. When the "coming soon" flyers were up, as you can see below, it advertised casual American cuisine. Somehow, this turned into "high end Italian". And while this is what they're trying to accomplish with the menu, the restaurant itself doesn't seem to match that with looks. Much of the original iron for jail cells is still there, and between the walls are large pictures of old jail items, and comically cheesy and bad posters with sayings like "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime". I feel like the designers couldn't commit to a look, so instead of making a decision, they just did a little of both.

On TGE's Facebook page (it doesn't seem to have a website yet) a photographer posted photos of the jail how it looked before the renovations. These images are quite textured, graphic, and haunting. If they had just blown up these images and used that as decor, it would be far better than the aforementioned posters. Or even (as there's also a poster of the movie it borrows its title from) old movie posters of movies that take place in jail. I thought of easily 4-5 movies, and even that would go better with the food. Or if you do want a bit of cheesy fun with the idea of jail, don't have high end Italian food.

The menu also has a failure to commit. While very limited (other than 2-3 salad options, there were scarce options for vegetarians or those looking for lighter fare) it seems that they named maybe a third of the items after jail-ish things. I say jail-ish, because while there were menu items like "Al Capone" and "Alcatraz" there were also some called "Al Pacino" and "Jack Bauer". Not only was it disconcerting having only a few menu items with this theme, the idea of high end Italian food just doesn't go with that camp. If you're going to have fun names for your dishes, have them all have fun names. It's just weird.

Service was mediocre at best, but seeing as they just opened less than a month ago, I'll let that pass. The waiter was nice enough, though he did forget our bread (which were small rolls and left us unimpressed). Once he realized we were none too pleased with that, I think he began to hover a bit too much to try and save the meal.

And onto the meal... Ricky got a chicken dish with prosciutto and cheese with roasted potatoes, and I made the mistake of getting the scallops cooked in dijon over risotto. Ricky's meal was fine. It was tasty enough, filling, but nothing special. We both agreed that it was not well made enough to be in a "high end Italian restaurant" and severely overpriced at $18. Then again, the whole menu appears to be overpriced by the quality of the food.

And now my mistake order. I say mistake because this was, unequivocally, the worst meal I've ever had out in a restaurant. And, from the looks of Yelp, I am not alone. The description sounded intriguing: risotto, spinach, cheese, and scallops seared in a dijon sauce. What I got was a white mess that had the same consistency of hot breakfast cereal. The risotto was undercooked, and spinach underwhelming, and the scallops were just off. What was worse, the dijon mustard sauce overtook EVERYTHING. And when I say sauce, I'm being nice. It was more like Grey Poupon smeared over everything. The dairy flavors with Grey Poupon was just bad. I couldn't finish my meal. Ricky offered to switch meals with me, and agreed that it was a bad dish. It did not sit well in our stomachs the rest of the night.

We opted not to get coffee or desserts, but instead to just get out of there as soon as possible. I was sad that such a cool venue is being wasted with TGE. I also think it needs to seriously reconsider its menu and decor if it wants to survive in a town with such far superior dining options. First, make a decision with the decor and menu naming. Second, expand for patrons who don't eat meat or instead want a sandwich. (What? No jailbait burger or Capone chicken parm? Come on!) Third, fire the chef and make your food better. We both agreed that unless any of these things happened, it seemed highly unlikely we'd be returning.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Landry. You saved me some $$$, and more importantly, an unnecessary trip to Salem.

Renee Gannon said...

Have you tried The Green Land Cafe?

Landry said...

I have. I thought it was quite good, but they also needed kinks to be worked out. I do want to review it soon, though.

adrienne said...

I knew it! What a total waste of space. When the Salem jail project began & there was talk about Aquitane (current locations in the south end & western suburbs) putting a restaurant in the space, I was psyched. Not only for a place to work, but also for Salem & Northshore diners to enjoy a quality meal.
I met the GM of the Great Escape. Definitely NOT a passionate industry professional.
I hate to wish anyone bad luck, but...