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Left Bank San Mateo - not going back again!

  • k

Tonight I went to Left Bank in San Mateo with my wife and parents. We got there about 8 minutes before our reservation time of 7:15 pm and were told by the hostess that we had to wait a couple of minutes as we arrived early and they had not set up our table yet. We didn't think it was a big deal at the time.

After we sat down and placed our order, they didn't bring us any bread & butter. We waited for almost 8 more minutes (maybe longer) before my mom asked the waitress, to which she replied "the other person is bringing the bread out".

Then we waited almost 40 to 50 minutes before the main courses finally came out, although the appetizers arrived within 10 minutes of the 50. The wait for the main courses seemed much longer though.

My mom's bouillabaise (spelling) was on the salty side (I sampled the clams and they had a very fishy taste to it...overwhelming), and my wife's hanger steak was black/brown crisp on the outside and red on the inside. My hamburger steak which I was looking forward to ordering based on some of the CH reviews of the Menlo Park chain, was also black on the outside (tho it was medium well on inside even though I asked for medium rare) but the worst part as that the meat was dry. Were it not for ketchup and the tomatoes/onions it would have been a more difficult eating experience.

Our waitress however wasted no time in getting us the check...something they did right for once.

The food would have been a bit better had they not "rushed" to cook it. Service was rather terrible and the restaurant very poorly managed. How can food take THIS long to come out and not be done right?

Maybe the Menlo Park version is better? I've lost faith in this place period. :-(

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  1. In my opinion, the only Left Bank worth going to is the Larkspur location.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Maya

      I've only been once to the Larkspur location, and wouldn't go back. (I life in SF; my Marin friend needs to settle for mediocrity but I don't.) Nothing we ate was better than passable.

      1. re: goingoutagain

        I had a good steak frites and nice mussels there, but I agree that it's not a place I'd drive out of the city for. I love sitting outside there though.

    2. We take our kids to the Left Bank in Pleasant Hill pretty regularly, and we have generally okay experience. You've got to have the right expectations for Left Bank. To compare it to a fine French restaurant in the city would be silly. We approach it as a place convenient to the movie theaters, where our kids won't rebel and Mom & Dad just might get something good to eat. The service is the weakest link, and food prep can be hit or miss. When it's good, it's very good. The best thing about it are menu items that you don't see elsewhere, especially in a suburban family restaurant, and are worth taking a flyer on: salad Lyonnaise, a plate of mixed charcuterie served with cornichons, braised veal cheeks, salt cod brandade, hanger steak. No doubt KK could find a better reastaurant for "hamburger steak" with ketchup.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Schnauzer

        I'll second that review of Left Bank Pleasant Hill. I've found it fine for children and especially nice for convincing suburban relatives to eat somewhere where the food doesn't make me mad. The service is friendly and very informal, which suits the location. It's very reasonably priced, too. I'm forever craving the salad Lyonnaise with the frisee lettuce, and their cocktails are fun. All the down-home-style French options I've tasted there have been good or very good.


        1. re: Schnauzer

          We have always had excellent food and good service at Pleasant Hill.

        2. We went to their Menlo Park location some years ago and had terrible service, good food and then an impolite remark from the general manager...

          Recently a visit to the Santana Row outpost in San Jose--very good wine list, good food and decent service. The server became a bit too friendly and we had to hear about her offsrping...but the food was expertly prepared and the pricing was most fair.

          Based upon the review by "KK," though, I'm not sure I wouldn't mind a somewhat salty tang to Bouillabaisse. This "stew" should be fishy tasting, though, so I am not sure if everyone experienced in French cuisine would find these "problems" to actually be flaws in the preparation.

          The description of the hanger steak doesn't sound flawed to me...shouldn't it be seared on the outside and relatively rare so as not to be tougher than shoe leather?
          If the hamburger steak was over-cooked, why didn't you alert the server and send it back???

          Please be more vocal when dining out and have the cuisine prepared as you would like it!

          1. I have had some great experiences at Left Bank in Menlo Park and San Jose and I agree with Schnauzer's comments that they have a more interesting menu that what you see on most suburban restaurants.

            The San Mateo location has been open less than two weeks. KK, I would suggest that you give them time to iron out the wrinkles and try it again in a month or so. There is little to choose from in this part of the Peninsula and I would wager that for the San Mateo market, Left Bank will become a strong dining alternative. The restaurant is beautiful. The GM is the former Farallon GM and the Chef was the Chef at Meadowood and Sous-Chef at Boulevard. I would think that with the investment that has been made in the team and the decor that this group will get it together soon.

            Link: http://www.leftbank.com/locations/san...

            1 Reply
            1. re: Norm

              I completely agree with Norm. It took Menlo Park quite awhile to get itself together and now the service is generally good and the food is fine. I also agree with others who said that you should not compare Left Bank to fancy French bistros in the city or wine country. For the suburbs it's great. I have been to all the branches except Larkspur. I will wait a bit before trying San Mateo but we may go there soon for a glass of wine in the bar to check it out. I too feel it will eventually be a great addition to the San Mateo dining scene.

            2. I had a chance to read everyone's replies.

              First of all my wife ordered the hanger steak and requested it be done medium. Apologies for missing this bit of detail out. However "medium" does not mean very very red on the inside, black and crisp on the outside. And no, that is not the way it is supposed to be.

              One can only deduce that from the blackness on the outside and red on the inside of the steak that the cooks rushed to get this out, as they were late in doing so. The flame was too high. It is as simple as that.

              Second, I finished my hamburger steak as best as I could even though it was on the dry side. If you had read my post carefully it took 40+ minutes to get the main courses out. If I had requested that they take it back, how long do you think it will take to get another dish let alone a replacement burger? Maybe it will turn out like the hanger steak? Who knows...I was not in the mood to wait around again and neither was my family.

              Third, I'd like to reiterate that the hamburger steak was mentioned as something one or two of the hounds had ordered and thought it was good. Yes surely I shouldn't have ordered it and would have been happier going to Bulls head in San Francisco or some other fancy burger place. But then again this is a really simple dish...if they can't get this one right how can they do well on the others? I surely was not expecting top notch French haute cuisine, but from a few press reviews/hype and seeing that it was packed on Thursday night driving by the area, how could you not think it had at least some level of standard and quality?

              I did not know this location was only 2 weeks old...I thought it had been around a bit longer. I guess every restaurant has the grand opening bug to a degree that it takes a while for them to get their act together. LB San Mateo definitely has a long way ahead of them...

              1. j
                Judith Hurley

                Left Bank is highly over-rated. I was disappointed more than once in the one at Santana Row. Apparently the manager read this board and emailed me to offer me a gift certificate which I certainly never asked for, and actually never received! Much talk about their "mission," but let's face it -- it's a chain restaurant that provides highly standardized food for the kind of people who would panic if they ever ran into an actual bistro menu.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Judith Hurley

                  When we're faced with "an actual bistro menu," what's French for "hamburger steak with ketchup?"

                  1. re: Tim
                    Judith Hurley

                    If ketchup is a must, maybe stick to the Left Bank. That's if you can locate a server to bring you some.

                  2. re: Judith Hurley

                    I think many of us who like Left Bank like it for what it is, but also can enjoy places like Bistro Jeanty without panicking. :-)

                  3. Left Bank is just a pseudo-French bistro in the way that Olive Garden is pseudo-Italian and Red Lobster is pseudo-seafood.

                    You can find Left Banks scattered all over the suburbs now including that shopping mall in San Jose. Don't kid yourself into expecting quality.

                    1. Four years later...

                      Our last meal at Left Bank San Mateo (June 14) was absolute garbage. I hate to say it, as we've been enjoying basic brasserie-style meals at the Menlo Park and San Mateo locations since 2000, but this was beyond the pale. We watched the open kitchen staff re-heat our god-knows-when fried calamari in the salamander (rubber). We got a couple entrees. My bouillabaise was a revolting Campbell's-cream-of-tomato with rotten fish and rubber shrimp. I'd have been ill if I'd have pried into the half-opened mussels. The young waiter was happy to whisk it away, at least. Guess he'd had some practice.

                      It was replaced with a crappy, ham-handed "Lyonnaise" salad of poached egg, rock-hard croutons, and oversized arms of escarole.

                      Avoid this joint, it's gone down the wrong road. I think they're getting lazy with all the Franklin Templeton and Truman Show Apartments foot traffic.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: orezscu

                        I am very surprised. We have had nothing but good experiences there, including the waiter advising to order a double martini and save money!

                      2. Left Bank in its hey day in Larkspur (several years ago) was a wonderful restaurant. They since created a French formula chain concept out of it. The locations everywhere are best described as the French Olive Garden. It is nothing like the original. Even the Larkspur locatoin is a shell of its former self.

                        1. I agree that only the Larkspur location is worth visiting. All others have absolutely horrible service, with the San Mateo location probably being the worst. The location is very convenient for me but it's so bad that I refuse to even consider the idea of going there for a meal.

                          It's too bad because Roland Passot can do so much better. And the restaurants really have to improve on their customer service. It's shameful.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: VirgoBlue

                            I think Roland Passot stays pretty focused on La Folie, and that's a good thing, even if it's bad for the Left Banks.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              He's a wonderful chef and I agree, his food at La Folie is superb. But he shouldn't attach his name to a chain of restaurants that execute their dishes and service so poorly.

                              1. re: VirgoBlue

                                They seem to do a good business. Maybe he's just giving the suburban market what it wants.

                          2. I had a similar experience at the Left Bank in Santana Row. We had reservations but they were booked and tables were slow to clear we were sat about 45 minutes late (not a big deal since the weather was nice and we went window shopping), but once we were sat down the service was awful, and by awful, mean non-existant. We got our drinks but after waiting for 15 minutes nobody had even asked us if we were ready to order, meanwhile we saw the table next to us place their orders and get their appetizers. I'm assuming this is because the wait staff is assigned to sections, and if a table isn't in their section, tough luck. We did ask for a manager and the floor manager came by, who said he would get someone to take our orders right away. Another 5 minutes went by, which seemed like an eternity when the wait staff was walking by your table...it almost became a joke with us trying to see if "this will be the person". We asked the floor manager for the store manager's contact info and he came back with a stack of business cards and said "the number is on one of those cards there", which of course, it wasnt. Bottom line is that after having to wait being seated for 45 minutes, waiting to place our orders, everyone was pretty hungry so we stuck it out. And have never gone back since. In terms of french bistros, this place is bush league and very unprofessional.

                            1. I had almost forgotten that I wrote this original post, and hard to believe it has been almost 4 years since these guys first opened.

                              And from what it looks like, nothing has changed, even if I did order a hamburger steak which did not reflect what an actual French bistro should have. I see a parallel between here and Straits Cafe, so many locations, and nothing really outstanding.

                              I'm much more happier getting the simple down to earth fare at Laurel St Cafe for their French style buckwheat crepes and somewhat watery bouillabase, but without the snobbery.

                              I guess 4 years ago I was expecting Le Charm (like the one in SF) and got Le Shaft like many others.