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Mar 27, 2001 11:53 AM

Dinner from Hell

  • a

A week ago I had a cousin drop into town, so four of us walked out to NB looking for something open. A lot of the Italian places close on Monday, but we noticed a new place about 6 weeks old was open, and I had a great dinner there a couple weeks earlier. We were asked to sit at the bar while they prepared a table. At the bar, we had a hard time getting drinks. My sister was terribly thirsty and asked right away for water. The bartender seemed to be really distracted and took our order but didn't bring anything. The bar was dirty. She could not get an opener for the glass of wine I ordered it took 15 minutes to get anything and only when I told her my sister was dying of thirst. Then she didn't bring another drink until we ordered it again. The manager who told us to wait was zooming around the room, and I could not catch the eye of the GM who knows me my sight, he too seemed to be racing around. I asked the bartender what was going on but she didn't answer.

The manager came to seat a party next to us, that I though had come after. Since we had been waiting 20 minutes while two empty 4 tops were right behind us I grabbed her and asked when we would be seated, pointing to the tables. She said she thought we were waiting for a table outside. No we just were really hungry and wanted to eat. It crossed my mind that we should consider going elsewhere, my cousin had to drive to a hotel in Fremont, my sister to San Jose, I was not feeling well and my daughter was tired. But they were ready to seat us so we sat. Then we found that we did not seem to have a waiter. We tried to flag down the passing manager but she was too fast. I asked an outside waiter what was going on, but it was his first day. The GM came over and we asked for a waiter, but he took the first part of our order, the appetizers. He said they were not prepared for so much business on a Monday. We asked for but did not get water.

We eventually were served by three or so different people, but never had anyone checking on us. We had to stand to flag down anyone, for a drink refill. The fourth time I asked for water I got the same answer, 'as soon as I can get to it'... that was the only time I got upset and told him it was 4 times were were asking. My cousin noted that the staff was in survivial mode. The place was now clearly a disaster area. Many of our dishes were brought room temperature, including the polenta. During the main course we noticed we had no bread and had to ask.

It seemed so outrageous, but no one really seemed to notice how badly we were being treated. My sister went to the toilet and there was no TP or paper towels, she came back and we laughed at the absurdity, but I had to stand in the middle of the restaurant in order to flag down the manager to get some.

We tried to remain in good humor, because there was nothing to do about it. We were stuck there about 2 1/2 hours, my daughter was falling asleep, my leg was aching and needed to be elevated. We did not order dessert, we just wanted to get out of there. Finally about 10:30, it slowed enought that one of the waiters came and told us how bad his night was, that he was working like this since 5:30. I said that I had never been treated like this in a restaurant and that it was a terrible experience. He just smiled and shrugged. No one really got it that we had an awful time, which was frustrating. I felt bad my that my cousin had this as his SF restaurant experience.

I insisted we leave no tip as that was the only way we could signal our displeasure. The others wanted to leave something, but really! Now I still feel frustrated about the entire experience. This was a place I really wanted to like, but I guess I'll never go again. I think we spent about $130. We would have spent more if we had a chance to order. I think, especially for those prices, you can't get away with stuff like this. No apology came at all. The chef/owner was not there. I think he should know about it. I wish they had just been honest and said they could not seat us. What do you think?

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  1. I think you should tell us the name of this place.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Jim H.

      I am particularly not mentioning the name, as it is a very new chef-owned place, that I had a great dinner at previously. The chef comped us a fab appetizer, and we were happy and looking forward to returning.

      I have already had an email asking for the name, presumably so they could avoid it, yet I still feel it was a one-off night.

      Shame on them for an unfortunate night? I had hoped for feedback.

      1. re: Anne

        What is the point in posting about a place you won't name? What does anyone learn fron it?

        Sounds suspiciously like the place that went into Tavolino, but I can't remember its name right now!

        1. re: "Fine"

          The old tavolinos-a corner on Columbus Ave.

          1. re: "Fine"

            I don't know what sort of feedback you are looking for, but it seems to me that by the time you finally got a table and figured out that you didn't have a waiter, you should have realized that things weren't going to get any better and found someplace else to eat. Pasta Pomodoro would have been much better than what you experienced and much much less expensive.

            1. re: baygelldawg

              Yes, I call it the "Beaten Customer Syndrom."

              You let a "name chef" and "a decent previous meal" cloud your judgement, so you end up just sitting there and taking it. And, you won't even name the place, yet you will write out this long and painful description of your evening for the rest of us instead.

              First of all, get over it. No one should sit and put up with such crap, and then pay for it. "Name" chef or not.

              Hello? Get up and leave. Find a manager on the way out and calmly explain your situation and then split. How many other great places are just around the corner?

              Sorry, restaurants are "service" businesses. If you just sit there and take it, nothing changes(except the amount of money in your bank account). Stiffing only makes it worse, because it's just another wrong on top of many others.

              Stop playing the victim. Name the place and send them a letter describing your evening. By doing nothing, someone else may end up experiencing the same thing. Do yourself, and them, a favor.

              Sorry for the rant.

              1. re: John Galt

                No problem with your rant. I just realized I did recommend the place in an earlier, so I certainly owe it to post a retraction. It is Pinocchio.

                We did not want to leave, so chose not to. We were so tired and hungry and it was getting late, so we did not have the heart to start over at another place. It is easy to say in retrospect that we should have left, but at the time, we had no idea things would keep getting worse.

                1. re: Anne H.

                  Thank you for letting us know about your experience. Sometimes places do have off nights; sometimes they are so new that kinks need to be worked out. However, your experience sounds like it was extreme. It's impossible to know that your service is actually going to get worse. i think when you enter a restaurant, sit down, and order something, you've already psychologically committed yourself. Often, we don't expect that we are either going to be ignored or treated poorly. Sometimes, when you know that you could be waiting 30 minutes plus if you go somewhere else, you just decide to ride it out. I think we've all been there so I certainly sympathize with your plight. It's extremely unfortunate that your experience had to get so bad. Have you written or called the restaurant? They should be told, in case they don't know already. It's not acceptable that you waste your time, effort, money, nor any kind of energy on something so poor but they need to know that they have to improve. I hope that you'll consider informing the management.

          2. re: Anne

            With all due respect, this review is useless without the name of the joint.

            We will all be fair if we visit-maybe it was a very off night.

            On the other hand, maybe the place just plain sucks.

            We may never know. . .

            Peace and Grub Anne

            1. re: JustinRush

              Here's a post I made to aol on Pinocchio on 3/15/01, FYI:

              This went in where Tavolino was on Columbus/Vallejo in North Beach.

              Had a real schizophrenic meal here: a prize-winning fresh anchovy dish as gorgeous as it was delicious. The little fish standing in a circle around a perfectly cubed, tasty and interesting interpretation of a tapenade. 8.50

              Everything else was disappointing in one way or another, and careless as well. The kitchen seemed to think that nothing could stand on its own (excepting the above-mentioned anchovy dish) and dumped cheese relentlessly on top whether it made sense or not. Tripe cooked to death in a bland tomato sauce with a few penne.13.50 A too-mild, too goopy version of bread soup. 6.25 A wonderful-sounding pasta dish, Penne Mollica, with anchovies, lemon essence, and radicchio among its promised ingredients, which tasted of little more than cheese and had a gluey texture.10.95 A disaster of an octopus which showed inattentiveness in both the original and last-minute prep: charred yet undercooked in parts and lukewarm when brought to the table. 9.95 The house was nice enough to remove the charge as well as comp corkage. (15, if memory serves me)

              The menu was so appealing, that one dish so spectacular, I would almost be willing to try again. All I could come up with by way of partial explanantion was a lack of seriousness in some parts of the operation.

              There was a special of genuine red snapper (21, I think)--rarely seen on the West Coast. The waiter brought over a whole fish to show us and later I noticed several displayed on ice and being spritzed with (I assume) water by a staff member. I sure hope these were sold by lunch the next day!

              It was not very busy (while the touristy Stinking Rose was jammed); perhaps more customers will sharpen the staff. Who knows?

              (BTW, according to "Scoop" in the SF Chron Food section on 3/21, the original chef of this new venture left suddenly.)

            2. re: Anne

              You'd like feedback? Name names, or don't waste our time. The point of this board is to steer people to good restaurants, help them avoid bad ones, and alert them to questionable ones.

              Your post does none of the above.

          3. b
            Brandon Nelson

            C'mon Anne

            The most important element of Chowhound is the integrity of the posts. When an eatery does well, we all grant kudos. When they fail, and you were failed, they deserve the barbs. Your "what do you think" question reminds me of a favorite quote "poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part". Criticism is as valuable as praise here. Name the restaraunt. You do us all diservice, including the eatery itself, if you don't.


            1. Sorry. sorry, wasn't trying to be coy. I see there was really no point to my posting. It was Pinoccio, and the first meal I had there the service was great. Usually I will speak to the GM in a reataurant if there is some large problem--I find you will usually walk away happy, but here there was no one to speak to.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Sorry, Sorry

                Hey don't worry about it too much Anne.
                Now that the cats out of the bag and we know what restaurant you were refering to, your review went from being pointless to being quite informative and useful. So, a little late, but, thanks for the tip!!

                Peave and Grub to you

              2. Sounds like a typical night in a frenzied restaurant in SF on a weekend night. I think a 10% tip would signal to the waiter that you were unsatisfied. And if a pen was handy, you should write something to the effect (nothing offensive but curt). Leaving nothing would have either made you looked cheap and unetiquetted. The owner/chef is too busy to bother with this kind of thing from the sound of the style of the restaurant you were dining at. You may choose to write a letter to the General Manager and bring it to his/her attention. It was mighty unprofessional of waiter to just douse you with details of his evening. But then again, maybe it was the casualness of the restaurant you chose to dine at.