Sunday, February 15, 2009

O is for "Oh Dear"

I had been wanting to dine at Ortolan for some time, perhaps a year or so. This desire was only further cemented after reading about Weezermonkey's experience at the restaurant. So it seemed to be a logical choice for a nice Valentine's Day dinner.

Based on everything I had read about this restaurant, I had been planning on naming this post "O is for Outstanding." Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to say that.

Things seemed fine initially. We were seated promptly, in the portion of the restaurant that serves as the front patio area when the weather is nicer. Due to the dimness of the interior lighting in that section plus the backlighting from the streetlamps that created many odd shadows, pictures were impossible.

The set menu for the evening sounded fantastic:

Amuse Bouche
Alaska Crab with Cherry Tomato Parfait, Cucumber Chutney and Balsamic Reduction
Ravioli of Langoustine with Consommé of Black Truffle
Steamed Turbot with Zucchini Flower, Venere Black Rice and Ratatouille
Roast Lamb Filet with Cappelletti of Lamb Confit, Crispy Red Bell Pepper and Baby Artichoke
Pre-Dessert of Strawberry Parfait with Rose Caviar
Chocolate Ganache with Passion Fruit, Kumquat and Mandarin Sauce
Petit Fours

The food, in fact, was outstanding. Everything tasted great, particularly the turbot. Each dish was presented beautifully and creatively. The wine pairings were perfect.

What follows, however, is a tale of how awful service can ruin even the most beautiful of meals.

We knew that dining anywhere on Valentine's Day is a bit of a gamble, with much larger than usual crowds at most places. We were prepared to have minor issues arise. That is why we chose Ortolan. We figured a restaurant of its caliber would be well equipped to deal with such a busy evening, without sacrificing its commitment to service. We were wrong.

After being seated at our table, at least ten to fifteen minutes passed before we were acknowledged by any of the servers assigned to our area. When someone did finally come by to find out if we would like wine with our meal, he neglected to offer Eddie the choice of any other drinks. And when Eddie later asked one of the assisting servers whether a full bar was available, that person did not know. He said he would check on it, but never came back. It wasn't until my first-course wine pairing was delivered (by someone else) that Eddie was able to find out that a full bar was available and put in a drink order.

The pacing between courses was horribly uneven. From where I was seated I could also look out across the rest of the dining room. I saw that we were not the only ones experiencing this problem. The primary servers were unsure of which course each table was on. As a result, there were a number of times when the assistant servers seemed to wander around aimlessly, trying to find the right table to deliver the dish to. I could also hear some of the complaints from the patrons seated near us.

Eddie and I seemed to have the misfortune of sitting at the forgotten location. We had a lengthy delay between course three and four. That delay, however, was nothing in comparison to the almost thirty minute delay we had between the final entree and the pre-dessert. Our server's shock at seeing that we were still waiting for our pre-dessert confirmed our suspicion. We had been forgotten. And then instead of the pre-dessert, the assistant brought out the primary dessert. We had to correct him and ask for the correct course. Then when it was time for the primary dessert, there was another delay of almost twenty minutes. By this point, diners who had been seated well after we had started our meal were already receiving their check.

There were some other service related issues as well. Eddie asked three different people, over the span of two courses, to please refill his water glass. His glass didn't get refilled until I flagged down a fourth person, during our marathon wait for dessert. Some of the capaletti in our lamb dish were not fully cooked through. The ladies' restroom was out of toilet paper and apparently had been for a while. Thank goodness there was a box of Kleenex in there. And finally, I did not receive a rose when we left for the evening, as it appeared most of the other ladies did upon departure. (Our table also had a view of the front door)

The primary server tried to make things better by giving me an extra pouring of champagne with dessert. A better offering would have been to allow us to tip at our discretion rather than the mandated 20% gratuity for the evening.

At the risk of sounding like a spoiled bitch, I don't think anyone should leave a $400 meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant feeling disappointed. But that is exactly how we felt on the drive home.

When we began our evening we talked about how we'd like to come back and explore the regular menu. Now, I just don't know . . . . .

ETA: I just opened the small box we were sent home with. They contained chocolates, not the petit fours as listed on the menu. They were good chocolates, but I had really been looking forward to having petit fours. Grr.


Dunc said...

Oh Dear indeed - that doesn't sound like an enjoyable experience at all, even if the food itsef was delicious. Sorry to hear (read) that :-(

WeezerMonkey said...

O is for OH NO!!! :( So sad to hear you had such a terrible experience. We went on a weekday, and, as you know, service was impeccable, from the hostess to the server to the busboys to Chef Eme himself!

Boooooooooo. :(

A Feminist Gold Digger said...

OMG. I would be fucking PISSED after shelling out that kind of money for dinner. O is for Oh Fuck!

Aline said...

Boo to sucky dinner!!

valerie said...

Oh No! Sorry to hear your Valentine's dinner was less than enjoyable. For that amount of money...every aspect should be stellar!!

JD 2 B said...

That's awful =(

Grace said...

Wow, 30 minute wait for dessert, along with the other issues? I can't blame you for being disappointed.

Insomniac said...

Ugh. There's nothing worse than having to sit through a slow tasting menu. It totaly wrecks the experience. Bummer.

tam pham said...

boooooo...i'm sorry you didn't have a fabulous time!

10yearstogether said...

Wow. Just Wow. I'm so disappointed and I feel bad that you didn't have a good experience when you had high expectations going in. That sounds like terrible service indeed. There must be something you can do by calling perhaps? Ugh, I'm sorry. But I must say, you're a better person than me. I think DH would have just made us leave after a certain point.

Kimberly said...

Yikes, I would be equally pissed off. That totally sucks. :-(

amber said...

ugh. i'm really sorry you had such a crappy experience. i hate it when crappy service screws up an otherwise lovely meal. blah!