Monday, July 25, 2011

Sorry, We Don't Have That

The other night, Kathy & I decided to try a new restaurant at the edge of the Ouaga 2000 (the ritzy area of Ouaga) called Restaurant Weebi (which means “woman” in a language of Niger).  This is a converted villa with outdoor seating and the bedrooms inside converted into private dining rooms.  The one downstairs is air-conditioned, but the two upstairs only have ceiling fans.  We decided to eat in the air-conditioned room.

The menu looked impressive, featuring pizzas (we saw the large brick oven for this purpose at the far end of the courtyard), African dishes like poulet bicyclette, poulet rabilé, tô and leaf sauce, rice and peanut sauce, etc., and regular dishes of steak, veal, chicken, and fish.  After some time of looking through it and trying to make our choices, Kathy ordered the escalope de veau (veal) and I ordered a pizza.  The waitress returned several minutes later.  “Sorry,” she said, “but the veal dish is not available.”  So Kathy ordered blanc de poulet (white chicken meat).  Several minutes later, the waitress was back again.  “Sorry, but we don’t have that either.”

“What DO you have?” I asked.  She said, “Steak, chicken, and fish.”

“Okay,” I replied, “then my wife will have the filet de boeuf with mushrooms and sauce.”  The waitress thought for a moment.  “I don’t think we have that either,” she finally intoned.

I looked at her.  “How would you like to go and get the chef?” I said.  “I’d like him to come and tell us exactly what on the menu is actually available!”

This appears to be an unfortunate characteristic of many Burkinabè restaurants, certainly when they first open, but often extending for some time past their opening date.  They offer an extensive menu that looks impressive... until you try to order something.  Then you find out that they don’t actually have everything listed on the menu.  And if you ask why, they’ll say that they plan to offer these things as clientele and interest in them builds up.

I don’t know about Burkinabè customers (maybe they're used to this and just want the regular old dishes anyway, so the fact that the more exotic ones aren’t available is no big deal), but this is not the way to gain expatriate customers like us who are usually looking for something different than the usual old dishes (which we can get in virtually any restaurant in Ouaga).  This was the third time in just over a month that we’ve run into this in new restaurants we’ve tried out.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was pretty excited to find poutine on the menu in a new restaurant near the airport.  So I ordered it, my saliva glands already starting to work in anticipation of what promised to be a tasty meal on a nice evening out with Kathy.  Actually, this new restaurant had been constructed on the grounds of a former one called La Quebecoise, which had also served poutine (the only place in Ouaga to do so).  Imagine my disappointment when the waitress returned a few minutes later to inform me that the poutine was not available (although the restaurant had already been open for a number of months by this point).  I wondered how hard it could be to cook up some fries (which were already on the menu), and put some cheese and gravy on them?  In fact, I ended up choosing a couple more items on the menu that weren’t available yet until I finally hit one that was.

Back at the Restaurant Weebi, the chef finally came and although he was not terribly helpful (he appeared almost as clueless as the waitress), we eventually came to an agreement on something Kathy was prepared to eat and he was prepared to cook.  In the meantime, we tried to enjoy being alone and talking together in a nice, air-conditioned room with interesting pictures on the walls and a comfortable vinyl sofa, chairs, and coffee table in addition to the dining room table and chairs on which we were sitting.  And we did enjoy ourselves to some extent, although my pizza was rather dry because it was lacking in tomato sauce (there was some, but it looked like it had been spray-painted on) and Kathy’s meat was rather tough.  Until we got the bill and realized that we’d been charged an extra 5,000 FCFA (about $12) just for the use of the air-conditioned room!

Chalk one up for experience, but I don’t think we’ll be going there again.