Our Own Little Kitchen Nightmare.

by Brian

Mikey and I started this blog mostly because we were bored and unemployed.  Now we’re neither.  In the interim we’ve managed to eat some good food, some not so good food, and meet a ton of really cool people.

Thanks to one of our readers, Michelle of ThePeevery.com, we might even get our 15 minutes of fame.  You see, Michelle is an avid yelper and is just generally pissed off about a lot of things (probably because she’s about to pop out a kid any day now).  One of the things that really got her going was her experience at Mama Rita’s in Newbury Park and the producers of a certain Gordon Ramsey fronted show found her review and invited her to come to Mama Rita’s Grand Re-opening.  She was gracious enough to invite Mikey and myself to the fun and it was all down hill from there. 

Mama Rita’s – Newbury Park in Dos Vientos’ lonely shopping center that is disguised as anything but.

I remember when Mama Rita’s was just a little hole in the wall in an industrial strip mall in Westlake.  I used to go there for lunch all the time.  I liked the simple, inexpensive, good food that they offered and the convenience of how close they were to my work.  When I found out that they were moving up in the world, I was crushed.  The thing about Mama Rita’s food is that it was never going to be considered gourmet and it also isn’t exactly authentic Mexican food either.  Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but that was pretty much contingent on the good prices and convenience.

The new Mama Rita’s is very nice looking.  It has to be.  It’s in a fairly wealthy neighborhood that expects the best.  Unfortunately, it seems that the money went into the space instead of the food.  Essentially, the same burrito that I was paying 6 bucks for, was now 12.  Not exactly what I would call a good deal.  So less than a year into their new location’s existence, Mama Rita’s was in trouble.  So much trouble that they needed Gordon Ramsey to come in and right the ship.

And that brings us to last night.  Our party arrived with a reservation for six and a hearty appetite.  We were anxious to see what changes Ramsey had brought to our local cantina and Mikey was beside himself with excitement to see the man who he idolizes above all other celebrity chefs.  They sat us right away and got our drink order to us in good time, but that was where the train went off the rails.  We were in for a long night.

We decided to order appetizers first.  I hadn’t eaten all day in anticipation, so I was hungrily munching away on chips and salsa while we waited for our nachos and an order of guacamole.  We were told that the emphasis of the new menu was on fresh local ingredients, but when our nachos arrived, they were severely lacking in one key ingredient: cheese.  There was barely any on the dish.  The chips on the outside were burned because they didn’t have any cheesy insulation to help them out.  They also forgot the beans, but it took us a little while to notice because the nachos were so sad.

The guacamole that we had ordered for $7 was probably less than what they served on the nachos.  They ended up comping the guac and when we shared it, we probably each got about 3 chips worth.  It tasted great, but I probably could have bought it for $1 at chipotle as far as the amount they gave us.

Round 2 of the nachos was better, but not by much.  Still no freaking cheese.  They had beans this time, and the chips were less burned, but the only reason we didn’t send these back is because we were really hungry at this point (about 45 minutes in).  I actually scored the one good chip on the plate, lovingly nicknamed “the nacho” and I gotta say, if they had all been like that it would have been an awesome dish.

By this time we had all turned to booze (except Michelle).  The mojitos and margaritas were strong and helped take the anger out of our wait.  It was kind of awkward having a TV crew around us watching us talk about what it would be like to actually have food.

After two hours of sitting and drinking and laughing, our dinner finally came.  We all got different things and there was a wide gap in quality between the best dish and worst.  I got the worst.  I ordered the mahi mahi, which was possibly the most dried out, pitiful excuse for fish that has ever been served in a restaurant.  All you could taste was the char off the grill and you had to take a big swig of margarita just to wash the bite down.  In contrast, the blackened shrimp tacos were fantastic.  They were spicy and succulent and the sauce was light.  I really appreciated the fact that our group was willing to share.

The other meals were in between the shrimp tacos and my mahi.  Mikey got the carne asada which was served with an amazing sauce.  You’ll have to tune in to the show to find out exactly what it was.  I don’t want to give away all the secrets.

We had a couple people order fajitas and our good friend Amy, of Parenting with Duct Tape, had the shrimp dish.  The consensus was that it was all very bland and that there wasn’t enough protein on the plate.  Both the shrimp fajita and the Amy’s dish only had four shrimp on the plate and they weren’t of the jumbo variety.  After the dinner last night, Mikey shared a great insight with me about the disappointing portion sizes.  He told me that people don’t like Claim Jumper because their food is the best.  They like Claim Jumper because they give you so much food that you feel like you’re being taken care of.  Having mediocre food and then not getting enough to fill your stomach is the ultimate slap in the face.  Paying $16 for the privilege makes you feel like a complete idiot.

Obviously, this was not the way Mama Rita’s wanted to re-open to the neighborhood.  I actually felt bad for the owner and the waitstaff, who were clearly trying to hold the place together.  The service was attentive and really apologetic and I think that things will get better as the cooks adjust to the new menu.  I really wanted to like this reincarnation of the restaurant, but I just don’t know if it’s in the cards.  Things have gotten to the point that I don’t even know if Gordon Ramsey is enough to save them.

If you do decide to check out Mama Rita’s, make sure to get the blackened shrimp tacos.  They are the best thing on the menu, by far.  Also, make sure that you block out a couple hours on your schedule because you won’t be going anywhere for a while.  Binge drinking is highly recommended and helps the time to pass a bit more mercifully.


Filed under Newbury Park, On TV, Ventura County

15 responses to “Our Own Little Kitchen Nightmare.

  1. I have decided I will give them one more shot to see if they do get it together but they should be warned; if they get a third strike they are going on my Boycott List on Yelp. I’ll wait until after I have the baby so that I can drink. It seemed to be helping everyone else.

  2. do you have any idea how lucky you were to be in the company of peeved michelle? perhaps you do now, having supped with her. she’s pretty much an expert on everything.

    nice site!

  3. Brian- I am so sorry about the experience you hade during the taping of Kitchen Nightmares. I wanted to respond and clarify some of the things adesssed in your article. First, the nights during the filming we were serving Gordon’s recipies, which is what you ate, with the exception of the shrimp, which is MY recipie that Gordon put on the menu. He sprung this new menu on my cooks and they were expected to cook these new recipies with no notice, cameras and mics in their faces, a full house of customers and Gordon screaming at them and me while he made his “show”. The point was for us to fall on our face and we did!! The quality of the drinks was never something Gordon tried to change or even address. Since Gordon has been gone we have launched a new menu removing many of his dishes that have not been well recieved by the public,which are most of the ones you mentioned. Portion size has gone back to how we used to do it (Gordon was pushing smaller size portions of EVERYTHING including the guacamole which he said our previous size was “outrageous”!! HIS food is what we were serving during the taping!!! Now we have a new menu and the cooks now know how to cook the items of his that made the cut. I would really like you to come back and see the difference. Any experience at Mama Rita’s during the filming of a reality television show should not warrant a review that you have put out. My Westlake location was a wonderful location and it was not my choice to close it. I actually fought hard to stay there but it was given to the caterer I shared the space with, based on her relationship with our landlord. Please give Mama Rita’s another shot. I am working hard to improve my Resturaunt and build a great reputatioin in the community.
    Thank You. Laura Papenfus-Owner

  4. Based on your response, Laura, I am willing to give your resturant another try. I was there with Brian that night and had visited previously.

    One thing you did not address is the wait time for your food. Even before the show it was horrendous. The time it took to get your food made it virtually impossible to bring the kids.

    I would love to see you succeed.

    • I believe we have addressed the wait time for the food also with us reducing the size of the menu also helps to fix that issue. On Tuesday nights we have Kids Eat Free so I recommend coming and taking advantage of a fun family night. Being a Mom myself I understand the importance of not keeping the kids waiting. Please ask for me the next time you come in, I would love the opportunity to meet you. Thank you for the reply and I will be keeping a VERY close eye on the ticket times!!! 🙂 Laura

      • Leah G

        Hi Laura,

        I’m sorry but I have to disagree about the wait time. My husband and I have dined at Mama Rita’s at least once a month since the Gordon Ramsey taping – in hopes that we would see it improve – but have yet to see this happen. We find that we are seated immediately and served chips/salsa as soon as we take are seats but it can be eons before we see our waiter, let alone drinks and food.

        At our last visit, our waiter didn’t appear until we’d been sitting in our booth roughly 10 minutes. After taking our orders, he didn’t
        return with drinks (2 sodas) for another 10 minutes. And the food took so long to come out that we’d already filled up on chips (because we were starving) and really weren’t interested in the meals we ordered.

        We see lots of people scrambling to and fro but little seems to come from it. We really don’t get it. And everyone we’ve talked to about Mama Rita’s has had the same to say: “food is great, restaurant setup is great, but the service is horrible.”

        We really like your restaurant, Laura, and we hope these issues get resolved. But we are frustrated and have decided we’re done putting ourselves through the painful dining experience till then.

  5. I updated my review on Yelp after that night’s taping and I definitely understood that the show contributed to our wait time but, for us as well, service was an issue prior to the show. I said that I was willing to give the place one more shot to see what happened with the menu in the end. Kids eat free night would be a good night to do it.

  6. naugahyde

    cool, the owner is here bagging on Gordon and his ideas like she had never watched the show. That “40 flavor combinations” guy did the same thing, I’m just sayin’…

    I’m a Casa Vega guy, but many of my friends have eaten there, some more than once (they’re regulars even) but if it’s not working…

    I just wanted to say that I got a kick out of that, thanks. I just found this site, and I really enjoy reading about my local haunts. If you are ever looking for places to go, drop me a line and I’ll be glad to share the greatest secret restaurants in the conejo and simi valleys.

  7. Pingback: Mama Rita’s Revenge « EatMeCalifornia

  8. So you’re the “burnt chips and no cheese” guy, eh? I’d hit it.

  9. Michael

    Hi Laura,
    I’m curious.., while I understand the depths of reality TV, and it’s expected to have it’s drama.., you seem to be saying that the issues you faced were of Gordon’s doing? The rotten food in the freezer, the mounds of frozen food?
    I’m from Chicago, and on the west side of the city, in Pilsen.., you can find authentic Mexican places from joints to fine dining. Most are fantastic!
    The ones that last, last for a reason….
    I guess my point is, Gordon seems to hit the mark of most places as to cleanliness and preparation at every level. I’ve hit many of them here, and could tell you what’s frozen or not.., what’s clean or not.
    While you seem to be “a fighter”, and I believe that.., it also seems that you are making excuses for inexperienced chef’s you employed, and the re-heating of food made months ago is apparent to anyone who eats out regularly.
    I’m sorry to see you have closed since I was sincerely rooting for you. I have worked in the industry, and have many contacts still, and it always hit’s home to watch another struggle.
    I hope you are successful with the catering side, and give the dining experience another go someday.., I believe there is a niche for “good” Mexican food that doesn’t need to be preheated. I’m sure Cali, just like Pilsen, has many Mexican restaurants, but I’m still loyal to the ones that impress me on specific levels. Cleanliness, service, and of course, fresh savory meals. Oh, and a beautiful smile helps.**
    I don’t agree with being loaded with tons of food, when properly cooked portions will carry the day. Mounds of food usually means one is hiding something. Presented from start to finish with excellent flavors will take me through numerous courses.
    Laura.., don’t give up, and you seem to have the spirit to make it happen. Much success to you and your family.
    I’ll have to check out your catering side next time I’m in town.
    Kind Regards,

  10. Stan

    Anybody wholest RAmsay through the doors is as good as dead. In the 2 episodes or more Ive seen, he’s NEVER liked a single dish brought to him at the start of the show. His show claims not to be scripted,but every show has the exact routine-He comes in,hates everything on the menu(never liked ANYTHING? how can that be? he lies!),becomes hated as he terrorizes the owners and staff,..then the SAME changes..simpler menu,his recipes,change of decor,…then the required he becomes “beloved”..he leaves with words of wisdom. And 99% of what he helped folds,and folds fast.

    • Stan

      Anybody who lets him throught the door…I meant 20 episodes…bad typer.
      I guess what I hate most is..he’s a cooking Maury, taking advantage of desperate people to enrich himself.

  11. Ron

    They fold because they all revert back to what made them fail. All of them say Gordon killed there business when they had no business in the first place. That’s the reason they call him to begin with. Nobody likes to view themselves as a failure so it’s easy to blame someone else. Portion sizes were not to hurt the guests but to save a failing restraunt money. This seems like something the owner can’t grasp. Blaming the menu instead of chefs that dint know how to cook is laughable. You employ chefs if they can’t cook a new menu than you hired bad chefs. Simple math. Anyone can microwave pre made shit. When you cook badly it doesn’t matter what the menu is. Imthink Gordon does just fine with his food. If you refuse to hire capable people you will fail.

  12. jon

    Gordon ramsey does tell his viewers when dishes are ok or outstanding, it,does,happen on occasion. I mean the dude knows his stuff. But on this his,mistake was that people who eat mexican want large portions!!!!!!!!!

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