Calamari Calamari/Bad Bad/Pio Pio - Disappointing Meal
How heartening to read Adam Stephanides post about not conforming to Chowhound party line. I had a bad experience last night at Pio Pio - mostly it was service but the food was not all we had hoped either.
Went at about 8:45 - drove in from Staten Island to give it a try making a stop in Brooklyn Heights to pick up friends who were halfway thru cooking their dinner when I called and said "We are going to a GREAT Peruvian restaurant in Jackson Heights with good food and cocktails, put your dinner away and come with for some fabulous grub!"
They trusted in me and came - thus making the disappointing meal even worse on my behalf!
Got a parking spot and table immediately - loved the interior, loved the vibe of parents and kids and grandparents as well as dates and groups of friends. Definitely a happy place. I can say that we had a lot of fun there but mostly by laughing at our own misfortune.
Waiter came over for drinks and was very accomodating when I asked what went into a pisco sour, what were the different beers - which heavier, which lighter, etc.
I even said to the table "excellent, we got a really nice sweet guy as a waiter" I like nice waiters - I like waiters who care.
I spoke too soon, I mistook nice for caring and attentive, he wasn't attentive again until he gave us the check two hours later. We barely saw him in between those two points and had to flag him down for anything - I hate having to flag waiters down. When he gave us the check two hours later it came with the glasses of water we asked for three times previous during the meal - at that point we thought maybe it was a mirage considering our dehydration. His caring when he gave us the check was to take one pisco sour off the bill - he didn't say it was because we got bad service but he told us to keep mum about it like it was the equivalent of a Los Alamos hard drive theft. I would have appreciated verbal acknowledgement of the bad service more.
Why bad -
1. We were not ready to order and he kept standing there and subtly mentally pushing us to order - and trust me it was no inordinate amount of time - I am a well-behaved customer and know what a long time is. We didn;t even have our drink order yet!
2. We ordered the seafood salad and calamari as appetizers - the seafood salad was a hunk of stuck together fried seafood of which 80% (and that is a kind estimate) was CALAMARI!!!! Could he not have told us this? Did he really think we wanted fried calamari for two plus fried calamari for 6 people when there were four of us at the table? It was quite obvious by our questions re: food that we had never been there before, with the smallest amount of thought about our order he could have done us a great service. (whan I jokingly made reference to the fact that he could have told us about the calamari calamari issue he said "oh yah - do you want the check? at which point I said No we didn't have our other orders yet! whereupon he said "oh yes?" I said "oh yes! and can I have another pisco sour please?" - see below for how this turns out)
3. Both the seafood salad (calamari) and calamari were incredibly over fried as were the green plaintains we had with the meal. Its always nice to have 7 servings of overfried calamari to share and especially when you pay 36.00 for it!
4. While eating the seafood salad the bus boy came to offer us silverware, which we already had and were eating with, we should have taken it because ater eating the seafood salad they took our dishes and silverware and we didn't see either again until ten minutes after our next round of food arrived.
5. The next round of food didn't arrive for a long long time - why? Because the waiter attempted to give us a check after our tooth breaking calamari fest - he thought we were done - that was the level of attention we had received or maybe because they took our silverware and plates and our drinks were empty and sad??? We needed drinks, we STILL needed water, we needed chicken we needed plaintains and we needed them to be good - the meal was not going well and they had given our chicken away at that point!!!
6. It seemed like forever since we hadn;t gotten a drink refill but probably about a half hour after the rock hard calamari overdose we got the other food - and finally another drink. Ten minutes after that we got silverware to eat our food with. The green plaintians, quickly cooling were rock hard - I don't mean normal hard, I mean rock hard. The sweet plaintains were good but nothing special, I have had the equal in many other places.
8. Other than the sauces which were outstanding, the base food was itself good to average. Unfortunately, the items on which I got sauce - tostones and seafood salad - were completely overdone so the sauce was not even enjoyed so much. I resigned myself to scraping up all the bits of onion and corn and herbs and tomato making up the sauce which covered the seafood salad and dipping my fork into the green plaintain sauce (soooooo good) but that is not a meal! The chickens flavor - I could detect that there was amazing flavor there but not sauce/basting enough in existence to truly enjoy. There was however MORE than enough salt. (and no water!!!!!) so overall I see the promise in the chicken when done right but it wasn't there last night. Avocado salad very good, very fresh but had the opposite problem of the other food in that there was no t an amazing dressing or sauce on an excellent base just a normal one. Because we were getting what we expected to be a big seafood salad YUMMY appetizer we only ordered one of teh chicken, salad and each type of plaintains - we didn't finish any of this stuff, if it was that good you better believe we would have.
7. After that it took about another 45 minutes to get out of there - we had another drink which was again forgotten and had to be ordered from a busboy twice (although I usually hate doing that but my waiter was rarely close by and when he was he wasn't looking over at us). We didn't have dessert but I wish we had stopped at the bakery on the corner of 85th which looked very tasty.
8. All of these things happened by the front door three feet from of an everchanging gaggle of waiters and busboys - I should have just started bitching and grabbed their attentino but I wasn't in the mood to be the complainer and we just made a joke of everything amongst ourselves and enjoyed piscos, sangria and beer when we could get it. I liked that the sangria had a bit more alcoholic kick then I am used to getting in sangria, a little more syrupy than normal. Beer was perfect for the food but a little too light for me.
OVERALL - we had bad service and average food. I do see the potential in the place and had our fried foods been properly fried and not doubled in quantity without warning (and really a $26 dollar seafood salad that is 80% calamari COME ON! if you are out of other seafood DONT MAKE IT) and had our chicken been more plentifully sauced/herbed maybe we could have overlooked the service but in combination with not getting drinks, silverware and water in a timely fashion, being pressured to order and given no warning regarding our double order, being given our check betweeen courses thus having a long wait for the second half of our meal ! Not a good experience....definitely not worth a drive from Staten Island. Total bill $ 120 including tip - $38 drinks, $58 food, $9.00 tax and a $15 tip which I considered quite generous for the service we got.
Coincidentally, I had Pio Pio takeout last night from the Woodhaven Blvd branch. (just chicken & tostones)
While I was there, a first-time couple tried to navigate the menu on the wall and attempted to order while asking lots of questions. It was a disaster.
A few things I re-learned from the experience:
1. Restaurants that serve primarily non-English speaking clientle operate by a different set of rules, and they expect you to know them. I think it comes from the fact that their particular ethnic community makes up a large percentage of their customers, and are all repeats. Plus they speak a different language and know what is in every dish.
2. Don't go to these places at peak hours unless you know these rules, and even then then crowds will try your patience.
3. It's generally a good idea to sample the place yourself before subjecting non-foodie friends to your trials and errors.
Bummer about your experience. I've only ever had great luck at the Northern Blvd branch, with the food and the service. I do find the chicken guys at the Woodhaven branch a little full of themselves, tho. But they do make a great chicken. Occassionally I have gotten a too-salty bird, but rarely. Guess you had all the stars against you that day. I'd say try again if you can convince yourself to do so after this trauma.
Wayne - our order was not a DISASTER. The service was.
Let me clarify, your post bothered me because it suggested a few mistakes on our part - there were NONE.
We did not ask a million questions while ordering. We asked a few before ordering about five minutes later - they were - how many people per chicken? can I get plaintains instead of fries if I get the chicken combo?
what goes into a pisco sour? which beers do you have? (Question we should have asked - what seafood exactly is in the seafood salad?)
We had the menu in English and Spanish and one of our friends speaks and read Spanish so the menu was not a problem, besides, both of our friends have very good Latin American travel and eats experience. We knew what everything was. I have EXTENSIVE ethnic eats experience in this country and outside of it and the rules are always different everywhere - even in this country. I know that. We all knew that. The crowd made me happy (read my post). And I don't even mind waiting for my food when its really busy (I might add we got a table immediately as did most people who came in while we were there so it wasn't that busy) (and quirte a few people around us got their entrees before us too EVEN if they came in after us due to the mix-up). I was a waitress for years so I am VERY patient with waits. I do mind however, when the staff thinks they have served us before we get our food and then we have to wait again because it has been given to someone else! I really don't think that flies by anyones rules.
At the end of your post you were nice so I forgive you for thinking I am some kind of rube. AS you said the stars WERE against us, as happens sometimes, and I have heard enough good things on these boards to trust that our experience is not the norm, and the poor service was not malicious which is why I couldn't hold it against them too much - plus the Pisco sours were DAMN GOOD!
It sounds like a dinner from hell. At least you kept your sense of humor. For my 2 cents, we also went for the first time a week ago Friday. We couldn't even get the seafood salad (they said it was only on the weekends) so I thought the menu was rather limited. We had another kind of seafood salad to start, which was great, and lots of chicken and avocado and salad. The chicken was tasty and beautifully done. The fries were outrageous, and I don't like french fries (I know, that's unAmerican, but I usually like to have my carb calories in either bread or pasta). We ended up with lots of leftovers, and by chance, also ended up getting extra green sauce to take home (!) Maybe the secret to these places is to try the off hours; we were there around 6:00 on a Friday and it was busy, but the staff seemed to handle it well. However, next time I may just send my husband for take-out; I feel we've already had much of the limited menu, and it isn't worth the schlep from our house just for good chicken.