All Aboard

Early Feburary of 2014 and I find myself sharing breakfast with Tim Smith and Doug Day. Station 400 is a cute place just north of downtown Sarasota, in an area they’ve re-named something-or-other. Rosemary? I dunno. It’s a boring marketing term they stole from New York City, where the names actually have a history and mean something.

It’s across from the fire station. That’s where you’ll find what could be the best breakfast place in SRQ…but is not.

If our tongues register only sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami, what are the restaurant reviewer’s starting points? Would they be taste, presentation, service and atmosphere? Cost, ambience, portion size and speed of service? Or should the dispassionate eater look at convenience, cleanliness, tablecloth design and whether or not a tip has been automatically added?

And what exactly is umami’s dining experience equivalent? How does the concept of a meaty mouth feel and pleasant aftertaste (one descriptor of umami) translate?

Writing about a sublime serving of sea urchin with cucumber foam is interesting. If I tell you that it was served on a yacht moored inside an atoll in the South Pacific, your reaction will be different than if I ate the same thing at the Tokyo fish market. Context matters, because it’s not just about the food. Who prepared it? Who sat next to me? Why am I eating sea urchin as opposed to geoduck? All of these factors alter our perception of the mealtime experience.

Which brings us to Station 400. I have eaten only the breakfast here, and never been disappointed. The food is of sound quality, well presented, decently proportioned. Likewise the service, all appropriately tidy and brushed for a Sarasotan cafe. My male dining companions both had no complaints, and, indeed, expressed much happiness…but still. I don’t like the coffee. The beans are poorly roasted, in my opinion, too much on the Starwhatever bitter end of the spectrum. The servers might have been graduates from the HAL 9000 school of  humor, all bytes but no backchat. And – call me persnickety, I’ll own it – the tables in the booths are too low.

In short, everything’s A-OK in accordance with Yelp!’s ratings system. But I’m missing the umami and  I’m not certain where to find it. The question is, does Station 400 know where it is?