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Dec 10, 2000 07:53 PM

It Ain't EZ at AZ

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Had a long-awaited meal at the much-hyped AZ last week. Here's the story, top to bottom.

My friend John suggested that my wife and me join him and his wife at AZ. He called in October for reservations, couldn't get any in the immediate future, found they accepted reservations up to 30 days in advance. So he called on November 1st in the morning for reservations for Friday, December 1st. Got a 6:30 seating time, told that other times were already gone.

We got to AZ at around 6:30 on Friday, the 1st, where we were greeted nicely, checked our coats and other items. From there we were led onto the snazzy new blue elevator and whisked up to the second floor, where we were seated in a booth, which seemed OK right then. The room is very nicely done, very attractive, and the tables are nicely spaced.

As soon as we were seated and given menus and the wine list, a captain came over and asked if we needed help with the wine list, which is at least twice as voluminous as "War and Peace". Replied that we'd take some water and wanted to spend a few minutes to check out the wine list.

Then the waiter came over and mentioned the specials. He also told us that if we wanted the tasting menu, everyone at the table would have to order it. Seemed reasonable enough, so we went for the tasting menu and ordered a bottle of 1997 Ferrari Carano Chard at around $70, which we felt was a little high, but not bad, since retail for this wine is around $30, maybe a little more.

Meal began right away. Here is how we spent the next two hours:

Me: "So, John, how was your week?" John: "Well...", only to be interrupted by a waiter (we seemed to have a minimum of two for each course).

Waiter: "I'm sorry, I have to lean over you to serve..." (The waiters who served the meal had to lean over John and me — as we were sitting on the outer edge of the booth — to take away the debris of the just-finished course, set up for the next course and then serve it. They apologized each time, even after I suggested they skip the apologies.)

Me: "Well, let me tell you about my week..." Waiter: "I'm sorry, I have to lean over you..."

At this point, John and I bob heads to try to keep eye contact and continue our conversation through the waiter's outstretched arms. Waiter leaves.

Me, to my companions: ", as I was saying..." Captain, walking over to us and interrupting: "How is everything? Can I get you anything?" Us: "Everything is good, don't need anything."

Captains walks away, waiter approaches: "Excuse me, I'm sorry, but I have to lean over..." Scenario with waiters leaning over table ensues again.

Waiters finish, begin walking away, wine guy comes over, interrupts: "So, how is the wine? Can I help you with anything?"

Us: "Wine is fine, don't need anything..."

Sommelier walks away, busboys descend on the table: "Sorry, we have to lean over you..." Scenario ensues where they lean over the table several times to remove used dishes, etc.

They leave, someone else approaches...

It was unbelievable, but I didn't want to cause a scene by screaming at them all to leave us alone for just a few minutes so we could actually have a conversation. After all, they were PLYING us with service...

The food was good enough, but it really didn't knock us out the way I had expected. Maybe it was the number of little things that intruded throughout the meal or maybe Patricia Yeo just wasn't on her game that night, but I kept looking for those fusion taste sensations that I've found in places like Tabla, but I didn't get them.

The pace of the meal was precise, in a military-like way. I had the feeling that if I dawdled over a particular dish, I would be getting a visit from the commandant to explain myself. (Actually, I am probably being somewhat unfair here, in that I don't think my companions felt quite that way, but that IS how I felt.) We sat down at about 6:30 or 6:40, and we were on our way out right around 9:00, surely a testament to their devotion to precision.

We ultimately ordered two more bottles of wine (around $60 each), both red, and several bottles of sparkling water throughout the meal. The bill, including tax and tip, came to around $750. While I don't feel ripped off, I certainly think it was a very expensive couple of hours that ultimately wasn't worth it.

Admittedly, it was only one visit and I could be completely wrong in my impressions, but I see no reason to go back, so these are my thoughts. The main impression that remains with me about AZ is their determination to turn your table over.

I also think they should warn those who are seated in booths that if they risk the tasting menu that most of the meal will be spent in watching the table attendants (servers, captains, sommelier, buspersons) work in the most intrusive way.

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    yvonne johnson

    Maybe not a relaxing meal for you but a hoot for the rest of us! Can this be made into a soap (like Chef from the UK)? You've got the script! And I always had my reservations about a restaurant that depended on an elevator.

    4 Replies
    1. re: yvonne johnson

      Oh no! I just made reservations at AZ for tomorrow night -- romantic-birthday-dinner-that-I-really-can't-afford reservations. Should I save my cash? Any other suggestions for late-night flatiron dinner?

      1. re: Yael

        Relax. AZ is fine--even pretty good, with a very decent wine list and accessible food in a pleasant, slightly self-consciously hip room--definitely up to an Occasion.

        If you don't bother the Sex in the City types, they won't bother you.

        1. re: Yael
          yvonne johnson

          From a chowhounder's point of view, I'd appreciate another report on AZ! (Mind you it's your money.) Tell us how you get on if you go.

          That said, I did like Pop the other night (post on this board a few days ago). So that would be my suggestion for that neck of the woods.

          1. re: Yael

            If you do go to AZ, please post your thoughts and experiences.

            Also, if you get the booth, skip the tasting menu. Or, if you want the tasting menu, don't sit in the booth.

            Good luck.

        2. Well, this isn't directly in response to your witty report on AZ, but this is about my dinner there on Saturday, and since you have the most recent review, I thought that I'd just tag keeping with the theme of confusion....
          I also had to make reservations 6 weeks in advance (for 12/9) to get a Saturday night reservation, then they got the month wrong(11/9). When we increased the reservation to a table of 5, we had to fax in an agreement to pay $25 a person if we were a no-show unless the reservation was canceled 24 hours in advance, no problem except that it took 4 days of phone calls to finally receive the form. When we faxed the form back, we got another message that the form had never been received, then another message that the form had been found.
          The dinner menu is $57. Some of the combinations sounded interesting, so the waiter offered to get us a sample plate of the duck spring rolls, fois gras dumplings (small ravioli), and taro gnocchi. Unfortunately, later he returned and said that although the kitchen had originally agreed, they had changed their mind and would only offer the duck spring roll, 3 pieces per roll. The waiter recommended that we order 2 rolls so we could each have a piece. Fine, except that 3 of us had ordered the main dish of duck schnitzel which came with a side of the spring rolls. He apologized for his oversight about the spring rolls and took them off the bill. The only appetizer that I can fully recall wasn't even mine, a soup of squash and chestnuts with 3 fois gras ravioli. It was OK, but the person didn't really like it saying that the flavor wasn't that good. My appetizer was the miso chilean sea bass on a salad of 3 thin cucumber slices, onion, and radish with so much vinegar that 3 of us left the salad on the plate. The sea bass was good. The 3rd appetizer was of rouget(a small red snapper type of fish) in a thai curry sauce, but the curry sauce was so mild as to be non-existent. 3 of us ordered the duck schnitzel, highly recommended by the waiter. It was a flat breast, coated in panko, nicely crisp and brown, but no other sides or flavors to break up the monotony. The coriander crusted tuna with oxtail promised more than it delivered. The oxtail was tough and overcooked and salty and didn't particularly blend well with the tuna. Someone had the pike and she liked it (it had mild seasoning). For dessert, 2 people had the ice cream sundaes (coconut, macademia nut,and praline) but one person had hard ice crystals throughout the ice cream. The chocolate tasting plate was OK, with a warm chocolate cake, a "blah" chocolate ice cream, and a chocolate creme brule (OK). For 5 people, 2 bottles of sparkling Saratoga water (blah tasting water-we only ordered 1 but they served us 2 bottles), 1 coffee, the price was about $75 per person. Decor was nice (it should be great in the spring when they can open up the roof), service was nice (we didn't feel rushed, but then we had to leave by 7:45 to catch a show, so we actually rushed our waiter for the check - we sat down at 5:30), and the food was OK, not spectacular. Luckily we didn't have the problems that yvonne had. So, AZ is an OK place for a dinner near the Joyce theater (Chelsea area), but for asian fusion we like Sono for good japanese-french fusion food. (AZ and Sono have totally different food but both are "asian fusion"). One last note, the coat check room was confused and separated items that had been checked in together. The separated items were untagged, so there would not have been any way to prove ownership, and I almost couldn't get a small bag of gifts that I had checked in because it was not with my coat. When I requested the bag, the girl looked at me and said "What bag?" like I was lying. When I insisted that I had checked in the bag with my coat she went to look for the bag, then when she found it, she asked me to tell her what was in the bag (not so bad, except the manner that she used implied that she did not believe that the bag was mine). A minor inconvenience, but another example that some of the service people are still confused.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Claire Li


            realistically people do get confused. im sure that everyone does from time to time. if you want the service to be steered in a particular way....then tell the captain..they arent mind readers, they are working--one person likes this, one person likes that. its simple

            1. re: bryan

              If it were all that simple at AZ, bryan, no one would be posting to this thread.

              Point here, at least to me, is that AZ seems to invite confusion. They are getting terrific press but my experience indicated they might not deserve it.

              1. re: George Lynch

                only on chowhound can people complain about service being too good. i'm constantly amazed at how people latch onto the tiniest things as if restaurants are plotting against them. I dont know, maybe my expectations are low, but i never seem to have as many crappy dining experiences as everyone who posts here.

                1. re: matt

                  Well, we all have our opinions. And mine is that when we are paying over $180 a head for dinner and the service is such that we cannot sustain a conversation, or even finish a sentence, then the service is not "too good", it is inept.

                  Maybe your expectations are, in fact, lower, or maybe you are mellow enough that things that bother others don't bother you. My take on Chowhound is that the complaints that are posted are not at all picky. They are mostly valid observations by experienced restaurant-goers.

                  If you pay more than $500 for a meal for a party of four (our bill at AZ was over $700 with tip), you have the right to criticize flaws and perhaps even an obligation to let others know what happened to you and how you felt about it. I'm not talking about the occasional mishap; I'm talking about the restaurant not having it together in some area(s).

                  I am a lot more forgiving about all kinds of lapses in less formal, less expensive restaurants. But a restaurant that is at the highest end is, in effect, declaring, "We are the best, so we charge these prices." If my experience indicates otherwise, I am going to post it.

                  1. re: George Lynch

                    I have eaten at AZ four times. The first few times, earlier last year, were fantastic. Food--perfect, atmosphere, of course, dramatic, and service--unfaultable. But I took a bunch of people I wanted to impress there late last year with my girlfriend, and it was a disaster. My lamb shank was cold in the middle, and almost every other dish was so/so at the best. Service was of the non-existent variety, except for the time the waiter pulled the menu away from my girlfriend before she had a chance to make her selection, and uttered under his breath that he did that so that she wouldn't change her mind again. Very rude! And I told him, and I told the manager the night. The manager just listened. Didn't say sorry or anything. Not even free desert. I vowed to never go back again, unless someone told me it was great again. And based on these posts, I can see my experience was quite typical. All of this would be kind of acceptable at a cheaper restaurant, but this is not a cheap restaurant. Hope Billy "grumpy" Grimes pays them a visit soon! He'll put them in their place!

          2. While your meal does sound a bit irritating, I've had the opposite experience (waving my arms, frantically trying to get someone—ANYONE—to take my order, or bring me some water, as I slowly waste away) so often that I don't think I'd mind a little too much attention.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Dan

              Yes, I know what you mean, but too much attention isn't really any better, at least IMHO.

              I think that when some service element usurps the meal itself, there's a problem, whether it's too much or too little service or an inept or surly waiter. It seems to me that one of the real pleasures of eating out is to be able to relax and enjoy the meal (except, perhaps, for business meals).

              If service problems interrupt my concentration on the meal or deny me the relaxation element, then I don't want to go back. I am continually amazed that so many restaurant owners/managers don't seem to grasp this basic fact of restaurant life.

              1. re: George Lynch

                You are absolutely right! Inobtrusive, seamless service is one thing I remember about fine restaurant experiences - from Lutece, as a 21 year old, where a fresh roll always magically appeared where the old one had been to Montrachet 10 yrs ago, where I was able to share a long, lovely, seemingly uninterrupted evening with a friend (though our every need was attended to carefully all the while) to the sane and normal service that is such a pleasure in Italy.

                At the other end of the spectrum (maybe Fawlty Towers is the actual other end of the spectrum) we have wondered from time to time whether the city's upscale Indian restaurants send their waiters to weird restaurant training, they san be so quirky and moody. And the "choice of 12 knives" or pens or whatever at Ducasse (maybe they've now got rid of those filips) falls into the same annoying category of overly intrusive service.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Geez, I had forgotten about Fawlty Towers. I guess in comparison to Basil Fawlty, we didn't have it so bad.

                  I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments, though. The very best service is the service you didn't even notice or think you needed.