Saturday, February 27, 2010

Would you care for some freshly grated bizarre experience on your pasta?

Last night, a dear friend and I celebrated my birthday with dinner at my favorite restaurant, a downtown bistro with a trendy-funky decor, with the plaster randomly removed from the walls to reveal original brick. The bistro-esque blackboard listing specials was gone. New ownership, I'd heard.

The waitstaff were all wearing double-breasted chef’s coats. A unique touch. Or maybe a touch that portends something odd. As a former waitress, I'm not unaware of the meager interpersonal skills of cooks.

All previous visits to this place have proved outstanding dining experiences. This place is my first recommendation to tourists and to visitors to my academic department. The service is attentive and the contemporary cuisine outstanding.

Last night, not so much.

After we were seated, an apparently agitated waiter (or perhaps a repurposed cook) appeared and asked for our drink order and if we would like an appetizer. We both ordered coffee and demurred on the appetizer.

The menu had changed; many of my favorite dishes were gone. Prices had, understandably, all notched up at least a dollar or two, but no longer was the crisp dinner salad with house-made viniagrette included in the price of the entrée. Effectively, prices had increased $5 or $6  per patron.

The pasta dishes, which on previous experiences were write-home-able, this evening were far off the mediocre mark. My entree was described to be rich with sautéed roma tomatoes and with grated parmesan cheese. Instead, two cold, raw, unripe quarters of beefsteak tomatoes were plopped atop a paltry portion of basil-spiked angelhair. No freshly grated parmesan cheese was offered. My date's order was described in the menu as an alfredo penne dish with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, and chicken. A generous man, he gave me one of two tiny slivers of mushroom on the plate and ate the other. I could not discern any spinach.

Appearing again, the waiter “apologized” brutishly, “Sorry I could not serve you bread with your meal. We are out of bread. Really sorry that that happened. Your meal is supposed to be served with bread, but we can't serve any."

The bistro’s signature bread, he explained is just now (at 7:30 p.m.) being kneaded.

I asked if the bread would then have to go through a rising and a baking. The baking, he explained, would take seven minutes in a convection oven. I asked, mainly just weigh in with a reply and maybe alleviate some of his stress, “If we linger a bit, perhaps we might have some bread.”

Several times throughout the meal, although we were still actively engaged in dining, fork in midair, he asked to remove our plates, twice reaching out to grasp my date's plate. Finally, the pungent bread finally arrived, and we both nibbled a slice with the last of our coffee. Four minutes later, he gallumphed up and asked if he could  remove the still-warm bread.

Then things got bizarre. What, you thought it was already bizarre?

We asked for the check. And waited.

The waiter stomped up and apologized in his agitated manner that their computer system was down and could we wait until it was back up and running for the check. Okay, we’ll linger a bit more. (Having some experience with the computerized ordering and check-generating software at my previous job, I thought about offering my assistance.)

And waited some more.

A young man who appeared to be a manager or maitre d’ or at least someone wearing street clothes instead of a chef’s coat materialized with a handful of other people’s credit cards. He made the same apologies. My friend offered to pay with cash with handwritten tab, and he agreed.

At about this time, a professional-looking couple in their 40s, who had arrived after us, got up to leave. Somehow, I sensed they had not paid. I even noted which way they walked out in case someone had to chase them down. No theatrics ensued, so I forgot about it.

A young couple who arrived after us left.

The manager walked by us four or five more times, ignoring our signal for the check.

I stood and climbed into my coat and wool scarf; my date, returning from the men’s room, into his  heavy jacket.


We estimated the amount of the check, left the cash, and got out of there.

Bizarre. I would like to know the story behind the story on this one.


Chile said...

Wow. Almost sounds like folks not associated with the restaurant took it over and served some food, hoping to make some cash. The bit about the handful of credit cards made me think twice.

Happy Birthday!

Waitress from Mensa said...

Chile, I learned afterward that this cafe is under new ownership. Just my impression, but it seems the new, possibly absentee, owner lacks experience in the restaurant business.

Anonymous said...

Wishing you a very Happy Birthday--although somewhat belated!

Absolutely loved the title of your last post..."Freshly grated bizarre experience on your pasta." (Can hardly wait to work that into a casual conversation...)

I do hope that the restaurant rebounds from this poor showing. It's such a tragedy when a favorite eatery goes out of business whenever there is a change in ownership or the service becomes very poor.