I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
I have admitted to occasionally assessing a restaurant moments after entering. I’m still open for correction if the food or service sends me to the stars like David Bowie’s Major Tom, though most of the time, I’m sent crashing back through the atmosphere like Peter Schilling’s Major Tom.
Wow…even I thought that was obscure.
Walking into the Papaya Grove was like listening to a whoopee cushion deflate quietly. To understand that requires me to step back a few minutes and describe the hotel the restaurant is located in. Esther’s Inn, like the Connaught, predates my life in this city, though like many other hotels, its ownership has changed more hands than a circle jerk. Although close to the highway, Esther’s view is marred predominantly by a Burger King and an impressively-sized tire retailer. Thankfully, they still have their tall and gaudy billboard marked with a palm tree in silhouette, unchanged since 1970, when it still looked like shit. Seriously, this sign wouldn’t be more outdated if it was a neon tree with broken tubes for leaves, leaving only a colossal phallus greeting potential customers. Even the hotel is conveniently shielded with regionally appropriate pines to screen people from the fact the exterior hasn’t been updated since patriation (Google it). The one copper lining is that Esther’s is one of the few hotels in town that doesn’t look like a roadside motor lodge. You drive up a hill to a covered entrance where your luggage is unloaded (by you or someone you pay) into carts and wheeled into a modest and pleasant lobby. You’re then promptly broadsided by that unmistakable mix of chlorine and humidity making you swear you just walked into a waterpark. Still, it’s cheaper than most of its nearby competitors and does feature an impressive, though slightly tacky, garden of fountains, bridges, tikis and ferns. Most places wouldn’t even bother with a fake bonsai, and if forced to chose, like if Mr. Blonde was dangling a straight razor over my ear, I’d go with Esther’s over than the overly priced Treasure Cove Hotel.
Walking past the lobby, you notice the scenic garden before the Papaya Grove, so you can’t help but feel disappointed when forced to turn your head. You assume the possibility of dining amongst the ferns and fountains, which although loony, would be a welcome departure…that is until you realize every odious dining habit you try to keep hidden would be in full view of dozens of patrons peering down from the second storey. Still, it was discouraging to find the Papaya Grove a shielded and effortless spread of old tables in dire need of repainting. At least they had free internet. I was told they offered an impressive buffet, though not today given the barren table, forcing us to scan the positively spartan menu, more like borderline barren. There were more options at the end of Mass Effect 3 (still bitter). You think I’m nitpicking; the lunch menu offered four burgers and four pizzas. The dinner menu’s pasta was limited to three. I wondered why the lunch menu and the dinner menu offered a completely different selection of burgers.
My friend started with the house soup, while I opted for the French onion. Our main meal were both sandwiches, his a shrimp croissant, mine a Cajun chicken wrap, which tasted more like a Caesar wrap, but I like those equally. The French onion was—what’s a good metaphor—shit. The top layer wasn’t cheese but oil, glistening the surface like a vinaigrette. Instead of a proper single piece crouton underneath, I’m treated a scattering of dried salad toppings which come close to cracking a molar on more than one occasion. The fact that the wrap went down well was a trivial consolidation. A good wrap is like a good Kia.
Like the hotel, Papaya Grove isn’t terribly expensive, but it’s not terribly exciting either. I would have liked to have seen stuff on fire, like an open grill with whole pigs pirouetting on a spit in view of all the tables. Get me a chafing dish and flambé some bananas. The front page of the website shows a blue sky blending to a matching ocean, with the menu flanked by palm trees. Throwing pineapples on a burger does not make you fucking Hawaiian.
…And there went my fork, right off the edge and down into a fern. That’s never being found. If someone from Esther’s reads this. It’s located by the table right next to your empty buffet.