There’s a certain irony to being someone who feels constantly at fault. The negative opinion of myself that fuels shame and blame ends up making everything about me. Crappy things don’t just happen. I cause them. I must have done something wrong. Not wanting attention ends up creating attention. At a moment like this, I can see how exhausting and ridiculous that is, but in the moment, there’s no arguing with me.
So when I had a very mediocre meal at a place everyone else seems to love, I must have ordered wrong. The restaurant didn’t do anything wrong. My expectations were. The mistakes the kitchen made weren’t mistakes, they were me not understanding how the dish should work. By taking the blame for my meal, I reinforce that everyone is right about this place and that it’s impossible for the restaurant to be imperfect. I just have poor taste and an unrefined palate. I like being contrary, but I don’t like going against a juggernaut of positivity just for the sake of it.
I’m not being facetious. I do understand that it makes no sense, but this is my default. And this is how I attempt to soften my judgement or explain away the less-than-stellar meal that I had at Emily.
Their waits are notorious, and I immediately saw why: Emily is teeny tiny. My 45-minute wait on a Sunday at 6 o’clock was not down to mobs, but to square footage. When I did get seated at the bar, I was happy to see that, like at little sister restaurant Emmy Squared, wines by the glass or quartino are very affordable. I chatted extensively with the bartender about salad and pizza combinations, and as I felt his patience wane, I started to feel like the selfish, annoying customer who wanted too much info. But he was also the bartender who was in charge of the entire restaurant’s drinks while also having to take care of the roughly eight people seated at the bar.
I was excited for a salad from Emily after Emmy Squared’s bok choy, but the spinach salad (minus peanuts) was too saturated in a dressing that tasted wholly of oil to be enjoyable as anything than roughage. I was promised mint, but didn’t taste any. Of course I could have sent it back, but I already felt sheepish about requiring attention. And anyway, it was my fault for not going with the Bibb salad.
Back and forth on the pizza—and I was so looking forward to a delicious pizza—finally landed me on the Date Night because of the ricotta and ramp salsa verde. The look of the thin-crusted pizzas had me thinking mine was going to have a crispy crust. Not the case. While thin, it was very soft. Too soft, when I would have preferred some chew. I understand the soupy middles of true Neapolitan pizza, but I also understand that the cornicione shouldn’t be on the limp side. And yes, fine, not the best specimen coming out of the oven. I got unlucky. I got even unluckier with my attraction to the ramp salsa verde. My mistake was not asking how it was applied. The large dobs resulted in bites that were like eating a spoonful of salsa verde. I know I might be wrong, but I don’t think that’s how salsa verde should be eaten. I don’t usually eat any heavy-on-the-oil condiment by the spoonful, nor do I want an extra-heavy-on-the-oil condiment running roughshod on my pizza. The acidity and sweetness of tomatoes made the sauce hard to miss, but I could only see that there were mushrooms and ricotta. The pecorino was either missing or not present enough to register. The oil coated my tongue too much to be hit with any nuance from the salsa beyond pungency. But I ate it and did not complain. In all sincerity, I’m sure that I could have switched to something else without issue. The bartender was very busy, but he was also always warm and friendly.
By the time I was eating my pizza, I had struck up a nice conversation with the solo diner next to me, so the issues with my meal were annoying background noise in that moment. As much as Emily is known for its pizza, it might be more famous for its burger. I’m more of a pizza girl, so while it looked enticing, I didn’t stray from the pie section. But almost every other table had at least one burger on it, having me wonder if the “limited availability” listed on the menu was completely true. Choosing pizza over the burger might have been my other mistake. But, my neighbour relayed that his life was not changed by it, despite many people on social media claiming theirs’ were. There was not another burger for him to order, and I find it hard to believe that out of all the restaurants in Brooklyn, I would end up sitting next to someone who is also constantly at fault for imperfections.
I don’t think Emily is just one of those “good-for-here” places. That is, it’s a great restaurant for Clinton Hill but isn’t a great restaurant in the larger context of Brooklyn or New York City. Countless fans can’t be wrong. I know I either just hit the kitchen at a bad moment or the way they do things isn’t for me. I know that’s allowed, and it’s happened with other popular places (e.g., Franny’s), but this time it stings a bit more because my expectations were especially high. No one is to blame, even though I know it will be hard to shake the feeling that I ordered wrong and that my judgements are unfair. And yes, yes, I know there’s no such thing as ordering wrong.
If Clinton Hill was my neighbourhood, I would most definitely have another go at Emily. But, it’s not, and in the harshness of New York City, limited time, and limited finances, I will try a new place or return to those where I have been happier. To ease my conscience, one of those places can, thankfully, be Emmy Squared, enabling my “I’ll take my business elsewhere!” stance to also be tinged with irony.