That 70s Show: Oleanders

07/01/2015 8:47 AM |

160 N. 12th Street, Williamsburg


“It was pretty average,” I said to my companions as we exited Oleanders, the newest inhabitant of the subterranean level of the McCarren Hotel. “At least, the food was. But I generally don’t like to be too harsh in these reviews, because I don’t want anyone to feel too bad. But, yeah. It was mediocre. Like, aggressively mediocre.”

“Aggressively mediocre is just a nice way of saying shitty,” came one reply. “It was dark and oppressive. Everything about the decor was terrible; from those giant plastic Tiffany lamps that were not really Tiffany lamps to the fake digital fireplace to the ridiculous framed photographs of animals in hunting suits to figuring out how to get to the bathroom, which was practically a mile away from the actual bar and felt like it was at the end of a literal maze—it was all awful. And even my lemonade! Even my lemonade was way too sweet—but fake-sweet, like Crystal Light.”

He continued: “Do you want me to write this review? Because I’ll do it.”

“Well, no. I’m going to do it. And I think you’re being a bit harsh. I think the vibe is supposed to be dark and oppressive, like being inside a rec room in New Rochelle circa 1978, or something. One where a low-budget porno is being shot, maybe. But I guess that doesn’t really explain why the bathroom had to be so far away.”

“Yeah,” said my other friend, ” And I don’t really get why they’d want to surround us with photos of the cast of The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Plus, it is terrible that there’s only the one bathroom, and that everyone from the bar and restaurant needs to use it with all the wet, gross people from the pool.”

I couldn’t really argue with that, except to say: “But the drinks were pretty good.”

And they were. They are. A piña colada was creamy and rich, hitting just the right notes of both sour and sweet. The Long Island Iced Tea tasted just like the Long Island Iced Teas I drank back when I was 15, when my only objective was to get as drunk as possible without tasting anything that resembled alcohol. I’d drink it again, I guess, but not inside Oleanders proper, rather, I’d order one while hanging out by the McCarren Hotel pool, far from the framed images of anthropomorphized woodland creatures.

“Ok, maybe the drinks are fine, but the food wasn’t good either. They brought us the wrong dish! Because they were out of what we ordered! And the bartender didn’t even ask if we wanted to substitute it for something else! He just brought us what he thought we’d like! And it tasted bland and terrible!”

This is true. We’d ordered a bunch of appetizers—shrimp cocktail, Burgundy snails, cottage fries with malt aioli, and deviled crab, which they didn’t have, so we were given King Crab Louie in its stead—and the only thing I’d be willing to eat again would be the cottage fries. The crisp, well-salted coins of fried potatoes were an excellent delivery system for the garlicky mayonnaise. In contrast, the shrimp was rubbery, the snails tasted like overcooked mushrooms, and while the King Crab was perfectly tender, there wasn’t enough of it, and the buttermilk-poppy seed dressing was watery and basically devoid of flavor.

“I hated eating that salad so much! Especially since we didn’t even order it!”

And the thing is, it’s easy to see in retrospect that the bartender thought he was doing us a favor by ordering something for us in place of what we’d requested. But he hadn’t asked if it was the replacement we’d wanted. And so while everyone who worked there was consistently helpful and friendly—even winking at us when checking in on how we were doing, it still wound up feeling like a pretty major off-note, the kind that could have been remedied by another drink, if we hadn’t already lost our enthusiasm to a degree that all the Long Island Iced Teas and Alabama Slammers (available as a shot) in the world couldn’t make better. 

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