Lupa service bummer revisted?
Last Fri. (11/10) I had dinner at Lupa. The reservations were for 9:45, which was late, but didn't bother me since I rarely eat before 10:00 on weekends anyway. The place was packed, as I had expected it to be, but we ended up waiting for over an hour and were seated in the front room (I was under the impression that people with reservations sat in the back) at the same time as walk-ins who'd arrived a good 45 min. after we did.
Since this was my first time dining at Lupa, I was wondering if this was standard or out of the ordinary. When we asked the waiter as to how one goes about getting seated in the back, he said that it had nothing to do with reservations, that it's arbitrary, and tried to convince us that the front room was the more desirable space by saying that "older people" sometimes prefer the back, but that the front was really better. With a bar full of people spilling into the front dining area, I found this hard to believe.
Despite the long wait, I wasn't disappointed by the food. Everything was amazing as I'd hoped it would be. I did the tasting menu and had the citrus-cured sardines, bucatini all'amatriciana, a seafood stew, the oxtail and tartufo for dessert. I thought the sardines and the oxtail were knockouts. I did get a little nervous when the waiter brought out two plates of saltimbocca (one of which my dining partner had ordered). I'm the type who hates to make fusses about wrong orders, but I really wanted that oxtail! I was a little galled when he came back with the veal and made it seem like it would take too much time to cook the oxtail. I'm usually a pushover in these situations, but after waiting until 11:00 to eat, there was no way I was not going to get my oxtail.
Anyway, enough rambling. The food was memorable enough to make me want to go back, but I don't know if it will be any time soon, and definitely not on a weekend.
I eat at Lupa about once every two months and the food and service has consistantly improved. The one thing I always stress when making a reservation is to be seated in the back. Each time I have made the request it has been granted. The waiters line about the back being for the elderly is nonsense. The bar is very popular and if you sit in the front you always have people standing over you.
I do have a minor complaint about my last meal there, which was about two weeks ago. My favorite starter, the citrus cured sardines were a bit over salted, the first time I have encountered this. The other complaint is with the oxtail. I have had it twice before at Lupa and loved it each time. The last time I had it however, the chef added raisins. Now rasins with a slow cooked, rich meat dish is very good, yet they need to be fully softened. Usually you would poach them before adding to a dish or be certain that they cook long enough for them to soften in the dish. The raisins in my oxtail were hard and dense as if added at the last minute. It was very obtrusive to the otherwise very tender oxtail. By the time I was finished I had a plate of lonely, tough little raisins. Perhaps it was an off night.
On my last visit to Lupa I asked the manager about the seating policy. Initially they used the back room for reservations but this system was not flexible enough. Now they attempt to take reservations for about a third of the tables in the restaurant.
I don't think you can be too upset about the table you got unless you specified that you wanted a table in the back room when you made the reservation.
On the other hand, I think that it is unacceptable that you had to wait for over an hour even though you had a reservation. I probably would have left.
I agree. I can't justify getting too upset since I didn't specifically request a seat in the back dining room. I guess my question is why make a reservation at all if it has no bearing on when or where you'll be seated.
p.s. The (fully-softened) raisins were the best part of the oxtail dish. I love that rich meaty/sweet taste combo.
I went to dinner at Lupa last night (Friday: weekend night) and had an excellent meal. Interestingly, we were exactly those "walk-ins" you didn't appreciate for getting seated as quickly as you were. However, we arrived at 9:30 and in less than an hour three of us were seated in the back room -- so yes, it seems arbitrary, and I agree the front room's too crowded with people at the bar. (I was, again, one of those people who kept annoyingly bumping into the poor seated people at the tables.)
So to me it was good, not at all a drawback, that Lupa honors its walk-ins as much as its reservations. Not that I wouldn't be irritated at waiting, but after all it's a weekend night, so unless it's an intimate place you want, you'll always risk that on weekends. (Or unless you reserve a table before 8.)
But about the food, it was marvelous. I had pork, which was succulent, rosy, and sweet-and-spicy without that overheavy porkiness that usually defines pork for me. The sauteed dates were soft and tender, really perfect. My friends had fettucine and oxtail. The former was rich and slightly salty, delicious even for something so plain. The latter was utterly intense and deeply flavored, kind of like brisket, and with some sauce I can't pinpoint, but, to be crude, it seemed like wine-infused barbecue sauce with some sort of earthy, tangy sweetness. (I've never had oxtail before, so excuse me, everyone, if these comparisons seem weird.) The chocolate-crusted hazelnut tarfufo with hazelnut chips sprinkled on the top was one of the best desserts I've had in years. Only after much cajoling did I let my friends have tiny tastes.
Overall, in my experience if you want to appreciate Lupa you've got to go with a pretty mellow anything goes attitude and let the people there take care of you. (I should mention the waiter was attentive and good-humored, and told us what he really thought of each dish like a normal person, not a waiter, when we asked. And the sommelier, Warren, was charming. He asked what we wanted, and after figuring out what we preferred as a group and then narrowing it down to two wines I told him I thought I needed a bold wine, big enough to pack a friendly wallop but had the feeling what I really wanted was a rich, smooth wine that had a mellow, if decisive, boldness, he gave us exactly that, a beautiful looking and tasting raspberrish red. Unfortunately I drank too much of it, after two sidecars (brandy drink), to remember even which grape it was.) And the sommelier seemed to like us so much, because we were so off-the-cuff and asked so many questions, that at the end he kissed and hugged me goodbye and gave my friends giant handshakes. Lupa's a friendly place. O.k., so I had a great time and am enthused. And I've been down on Mario Batalli thanks to a mediocre experience at Esca. But Lupa just took the lead on my favorite places list. Try it again.