unbelievably awful experience at il buco last night (long)
let me preface this by saying that i've been to il buco before and it was great and i'm willing to admit that last night was an anomoly, but i was so disappointed by last nights experience that i will never return.
i made a reservation on opentable a few weeks ago becuase i knew i would be proposing to my girlfriend yesterday and i knew we both had loved the restaurant in the past. in the comments section, i noted that i would be proposing that afternoon. i confirmed via telephone, twice, and the reservationist said not to worry that she would make sure the dinner would be special. well it wasn't.
we arrived at 8:30 for our 8:30 reservation. even though they knew this was a special night, they seated us at a shared table. we asked to move to our own table and they obliged, even if it took a little prodding.
our server appeared and we ordered two glasses of sofia mini sparkling wine for $13 each. little did we know that the wine comes out of a can. maybe that's normal for this brand, but it was a little strange having the hostess (not the waiter) open a can of wine at the table, pour it into a glass and leave us with the not-empty-yet cans (with straw attached).
after a very very long wait, the server came back and we ordered three appetizers (olives, seared tuna, and duck confit fritters), one pasta (mushroom risotto) and one entree (the roasted suckling pig).
after no more than 2 minutes, the appetizers started to appear. it was like we were in a marathon. the olives were good, large but had a nice herb flavor. the seared tuna was ok. the sear wasn't hot and the inside was freezing cold, like they had seared frozen tuna. very disappointing. the duck fritters were pretty good but had too much of a cornmeal taste. the quince/mustard dipping sauce was very good.
our server never once asked how our appetizers were, never once came over to see if we needed anything, and never even offered us more water to drink.
our entrees arrived before our appetizers were cleared. the risotto was very very very salty and not creamy like normal risotta. the mushrooms were undercooked. the suckling pig was more like a pork chop with a piece of fried skin on top. the pork was actually pretty good but a little fatty. the olive oil mashed potatoes were very good; the escarole was forgetable.
the waiter stopped by to see if we needed anything. i said i wanted a recommendation for a glass of red wine to go with my pork. he said he'd be right back but never reappeared. the hostess eventually came over, when i was halfway done with my dinner and offered a glass of monica that was very bitter and didnt blend at all with the pork. i didnt get the glass of wine until i was about 3/4 done with dinner even though i had asked as soon as the entrees arrived.
then our waiter disappeared. it wasn't that busy so i dont know what the problem was. about 20 minutes after we were done, another hostess arrived and asked us if we wanted anything else. i told her that our waiter had abandoned us, and her response was that he had other things to do. we ordered two teas which came out in about 2 minutes even though the teabags themselves said the tea should steep for 5-6 minutes. we skipped dessert because we were getting frustrated at this point.
we couldnt find the waiter again, at which point i asked the hostess for our bill. i graciously left a 10% tip even though our server didn't deserve a penny.
as we walked out, i told the manager how disappointed i was. she said that they accomodated us by moving us to a new table. big freaking deal. i know i shouldnt have expected a free dessert or anything, or maybe a glass of champagne, but the restaurant was very aware of why we chose il buco as the place to celebrate such a special day. instead they either chose to ignore it or are just plain stupid. either way, they have lost 2 customers.
I simply don't understand the hype of this place. I've been twice and have never been completely satisfied. The first time was okay...that was 5 years ago.
This past fall we went back and the service was abyssmal and the food was only passable and certainly not worth the price paid.
I certainly won't ever go back and wouldn't ever recommend it.
Major server problems and deep-seated management issues at Il Buco go back many years. You've just got to go in expecting it. Or be beautiful and beautifully dressed. Or get to know the staff.
They've had some great chefs over the years (and a few real klinkers, too), and it's a fun and transportive place to eat with an interesting wine list. But service is never good, and one must expect to be knotted up in outrage every few meals there. I stopped going, myself (though I liked it well enough to put in my first book, if I recall correctly).
Sorry to hear about Il Buco. It amazes me when restaurants make such stupid decisions: if you received great service last night, you'd be telling everyone you know to go to Il Buco. Instead, everyone will be staying away.
A similar thing happened to me last year (at another restaurant) when I proposed to my now-fiancee. It turned out that a bad manager screwed everything up. I wrote a nasty letter to all the higher ups at the restaurant. In return, I received a very nice apology and a very large gift certificate to another restaurant in the chain.
I would suggest you do the same. And perhaps cc it to New York press types (Frank Bruni, New York Mag, David Rosengarten). If the restaurant has any credibility (and any sense), they'll give you a complementary dinner with star treatment. Even if you don't use it, you can give to it a friend (in a revenge sort of way, costing the restaurant extra profit).
And in a cosmic sort of way, perhaps last night wasn't the worst thing to happen to you. As many people said to me, marriages are about helping to guide each other through life's hardships. You started out engaged life with a bit of a hardship, but you did it together. And you'll have many great meals in your future (with good service to boot).
I made reservations weeks in advance on OpenTable and had an exceptional time at Il Buco about 6 months ago. It was packed upon arrival so I enjoyed a quick glass of vino next door at the latin restaurant. Upon returning were seated upstairs (not in the wine cellar) at a shared table with Padma Lakshmi and an older gentleman. Excellent prompt, friendly service on both food and wine. The assortment of appetizers, entrees and desserts were all memorable. I would return . . .