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Petit Robert Bistro (South End) - I hate it

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I had dinner last night at the Petit Robert Bistro in the South End and it was the worst dining experience that I've ever had.

I ordered my favorite French dish, foie gras, for the appetizer. After it arrived, I cut it up into bite size pieces. Then I tasted it and noticed that the middle of the foie gras was still cold! I told the waitress that the foie gras was cold and undercooked. The waitress took away the plate. They reheated the foie gras and brought it back. The foie gras didn't taste good after reheating it. I think they should have cooked me a new piece of foie gras instead of reheating the old pieces!

My GF ordered the duck confit and it was overcooked, dry, and chewy. I complained to the waitress about the duck. Her reply was "oh" and didn't do anything about it.

The lamb entree and smoked salmon we ordered were just ok, nothing special.

Minor complaints: my GF sat on the long bench next to the window and it was not level. When she sat down, the other end of the bench went up. When some other customers sat down on the other end of the bench, her side went up like a see-saw. Also, the waitress cleared away the plates before my GF finished eating her bread. The service was pretty slow too.

That was my first and last trip to Petit Robert Bistro. I've gone to other French restaurants (my favorites are Radius and Pigalle) and they're head and shoulders above Petit Robert Bistro in terms of the food and the service.

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  1. I was at the new South End location of Petit Robert on Monday night. While the service was very slow, I attributed that to it being a new place and totally unprepared for the crowd they had. I thought the food was as good as their other location, which in my opinion is pretty good (not great). I wouldn't expect it to be on par with Pigalle and Radius given that the prices here are much less (not that this is any excuse for the bad experience you had). I ordered the romaine salad with roquefort dressing which was chopped romaine, a decent amount of cheese and lightly dressed with a vinaigrette . Then I had the skirt steak medium rare with a side of spinach. The steak was cooked as requested, the spinach was good if a bit salty and the fries that came with the meat were not hot (I didn't want them anyway so I didn't complain). My friend ordered the garden salad with goat cheese and the pate plate which I thought was pretty good, especially for the price tag which I think was $7 (try ordering the pate at Butcher Shop and you will pay a lot more). Total bill, including 2 glasses of wine was about $70.

    1. Oof, that sounded awful. Two thoughts:

      a) You went within the first couple of days of opening, always a prescription for trouble. Like super-busy holidays and Restaurant Weeks, this may not be representative of the place once it gets past its shakedown cruise. They clearly did a lightning-fast renovation of the Rouge space to open up this quickly.

      b) PRB clearly isn't aiming for Pigalle- or Radius-like refinement, nor charging upwards of $40 for entrees. Assuming it is cloning the Kenmore Square menu, it's closer to what actual bistro cooking is supposed to be, without a lot of labor-intensive technque, and with prices dialled down to match. I think the original location offers pretty good value on this score.

      If I were you, I'd reach out to management, re-iterate your post here, and see what they do. And then report back!

      4 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        a) The restaurant was not super-busy. We got there early and we were the first customers to get seated into the dining section of the restaurant. At the end of our meal, the dining section started to fill up and there were still empty tables available. They were certainly not busy when they cooked my foie gras. My guess is that they have an inexperienced chef who doesn't know how to cook foie gras yet.

        b) Even though Petit Robert Bistro isn't a refined restaurant like Radius or Pigalle, that doesn't mean that they should have lousy food and service. They undercooked and overcooked our food, which has nothing to do with prices or being refined. Also, their customer service was pretty bad because the service was slow and they were not responsive to my complaints. I've had better service at non-refined and lower-priced restaurants like a Bugaboo Creek.

        1. re: southender

          I was reacting to your comment "I've gone to other French restaurants (my favorites are Radius and Pigalle) and they're head and shoulders above Petit Robert Bistro in terms of the food and the service". My point is that they should be: they're big-ticket fine-dining restaurants, whereas Petit Robert calls itself a bistro, (in my opinion, rather more accurately than most places so doing).

          As I said, your experience sounded pretty awful. I quite agree that bad food and indifferent service are a problem at any restaurant, from Bugaboo Creek on up. So I guess we agree that your experience was bad by the standard of all restaurants, not just high-end French-influenced ones.

          I disagree with Gabatta's unqualified pan: I've had several very solid experiences at PRB-1, certainly never noted a cleanliness problem. PRB is clearly just one of those polarizing places on this board. I'm probably going to give PRB-2 a few weeks to settle down before I give it a shot.

          1. re: southender

            I would be really interested in how the foie dish was described. Your assumptions that the chef doesnt know how to cook foie is very strong. traditionally a seared peice of foie gras is served still cold in the center. often foie is overcooked to cater to our american tastebuds which arent accustomed to cold foie.

            what was the dish called???

            1. re: vegchefboston

              that is how I think of foie gras being prepared.

        2. The Kenmore location is terrible in everyway (food, service, cleanliness), therefore it is not surprising that the new location would live up to the same standards.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Gabatta

            I must disagree, based on our experience last month. Food, service and cleanliness were very good for our table of 5 with a 6:30 reservation on a Thursday night. The only negative was, tho' flavorful, the rabbit was a little dry for 1 of our party. Staff couldn't have been more welcoming, knowledgeable, timely & helpful. I agree w/Slim on b).

            1. re: Gabatta

              I disagree, as well. I've been to the Kenmore PRB several times (most recently, about a month ago), and have only had good-to-great experiences there. The food was always delicious from start to finish and the waitstaff couldn't be more pleasant. While the cuisine certainly isn't up to high-end levels, I've always walked out of there feeling like I got a good meal for my money.

              I didn't know they already opened the South End location, but judging from the comments thus made, I'll probably give it a few weeks to work out the kinks.

              1. re: Gabatta

                Let me add to the chorus of disagreement. The Kenmore PRB is a wonderful restaurant, and a refreshing bargain for this city. The beef bourgignone with the fresh crusty bread for dipping is heaven for a stew fan!

              2. A friend and I went to Petit Robert Bistro in the South End last night, and I must say, our meals were wonderful. My friend got the pork loin and I got the lamb and both were very tasty. Our waiter was very accommodating and polite, the hostess was very nice, and we had a wonderful experience. I wonder if it was first week opening kinks that might have led to the bad experience that was talked about earlier.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BackBayGirl

                  I doubt it's a "first week opening kinks" problem. In a recent post in the Dining Alone in Boston thread, another Chowhound complained to the manager that their beef dish was too chewy. The manager replied that "sometimes this can happen" and walked off. Their customer service is just lousy and they don't care if the diners are satisfied with their food or not.

                2. While I have not been to the new SE location, I too would attribute your poor experience to participating in RW before a proper shake-down. Yes, they were probably over ambitious. I have always enjoyed my visits to the original MR and the PMR.

                  It stinks that you had bad experience, but in my opinion PMR prices are reasonable enough that you might give it a second chance in a few months, once all of the kinks are worked out

                  1. I hate to argue semantics but as a chef at a French restaurant I must correct you. Foie gras is not a "French dish." It is (I assume you know since you seem to like it so much) the French name for fattened goose or duck liver, which can be prepared in many, many different ways and is now commonly used in dozens of world cuisines aside from French cooking.

                    Even so, in French cuisine it is often served chilled (as a terrine) or only very quickly heated because it is usually over 85 per cent fat, and sauteeing it for too long will cause it to disintegrate completely.

                    I haven't tried this restaurant but I've heard that they have a seared foie gras dish that comes with rhubarb and a cinnamon sauce. It sounds like the type of foie dish where the liver should be hot on the seared sides and at least room temp through the middle, as opposed to cold like you described.

                    What we would do to help with this problem is to pull the pieces of foie gras out of refrigeration as soon as a diner orders the dish to allow the foie to "come to temp" before searing it in a super-hot pan. When we are very busy, sometimes there is the temptation to sear it before it has time to warm up. This is a mistake I would never want to make because it not only shows a lack of respect for the diner, it shows a lack of respect for the food as well as the wine or spirit with which it is paired. If this is what occurred during your experience, then I share in your disappointment.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: beurrefondue

                      Thanks for the insight. I didn't know that the foie gras is normally brought to room temperature before cooking. The foie gras I had was pretty cold in the middle so I assume they took it straight out of the fridge and cooked it soon thereafter.

                    2. For what it's worth, I think that the Petit Robert Bistro in Kenmore Square is one of the best bargains in Boston. Is it the greatest French in Boston? No. But it's quite good and quite inexpensive. One of my absolute favorites for a casual night out.

                      1. I recently went to the Petit Robert Bistro in Kenmore Square and had one of the best dining experiences that I've had in a long while. My date and I started with a nice bowl of Lobster Bisque, which was delicious and by no means overseasoned (thank god!). For entrees, I had the skirt steak, which was cooked how I ordered it, Medium Rare, unlike so many places whose "Medium-rare" is what Medium is supposed to be. My date had a red snapper special, which was out of this world. As I mentioned with the bisque, the seasoning was right on, and nothing was overseasoned or too salty, which unfortunately cannot be said for many other restaurants I've dined at. For dessert, I had the Gateau Petit Robert, and my date had the warm apple tarte tatin. I must say, I am not a fan of desserts that aren't thick, richy, and chocolately, but the apple tarte tatin was delicious! We also ordered a bottle of Chardonnay (only $25! & I've seen this same bottle at other restaurants for upwards of $40), and our bill came out to around $90 before tip. Service was very attentive without being overbearing, and the warm, cozy atmosphere was very enjoyable.
                        Definitely an AMAZING value!

                        1. I didn't like it for another reason. I thought the food was very good. The lobster bisque was delicious and the pates were good. But it was my first time eating pate, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. It was my first time eating any French food, too, so maybe I cannot really comment on the food. I just know that I liked the food, but that the service was unfriendly and snobby. One waitress rolled her eyes at us when we asked for ketchup for our French fries. It made me not want to eat there again.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: cmendes

                            I'd describe my treatment by the PRB waitstaff as "brusque and businesslike". The attitude they project is, "I'm too busy to smooch your butt right now", which is just fine by me, as long as they hit their marks otherwise. I really loathe that Brian-from-Chotchkies flair routine, anyway.

                            But sneering at a request for ketchup with frites seems absurd. If you were in France, this might be deemed an insult to the chef, but in the US? Brasserie Jo has the good sense to ask their patrons if they want ketchup with their (excellent) frites up front, sans eyeroll.

                            As a server, I used to try to talk customers out of well-done steaks (you can't make it less cooked, and line cooks save the absolute worst cuts for well-done orders), but would not comment in any way on most other diners' choices with which I disagreed. It's just bad service: the job is to guide the customers through the menus, get their orders right and in and out of the kitchen ASAP, and ideally, extract as much of the patrons' money as possible. You educate only when they ask, and/or when you think it will make their meal more enjoyable.

                            Mocking a patron's culturally-ingrained food preferences is not only not in the job description, but a fine way to crimp tips and future business -- in a word, idiotic. PRB-2 may be hot right now, but they'll miss customers like you later on, and the ones you steer away with this story.

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              Not only did the girl roll her eyes when we asked for ketchup, but we asked how to eat the pate, because my boyfriend and I are both from central America and don't have very much experience with French food. So when we asked her that, she looked at us like we were idiots and said "you eat it with bread". I guess it's not really what she said, but the way that she said it and looked at us that was insulting. I just didn't like their attitude. The hostess was nice, and the waitress was like you said "businesslike", not friendly, but not rude either. But the girl who brought us our food was actually rude. It's too bad because I thought the food was actually tasty. Oh well, there are other French restaurants in Boston, I guess.

                            2. re: cmendes

                              Sounds about par for the course for this place. I have traveled around the world many times and previously worked in the industry for a decade. I have never seen service as rude as at PRB. Dennis in particular at the original is just terrible. The food is OK, but I will never give this place another dime of my $. I know many who feel the same way.

                            3. Awful Experience - almost ruined my best friends birthday!
                              Last night my group of 10 had reservations at the Petit Robert in the south end and when i got there a little early to drop off the cake the manager and a random waitress were extremely rude and unprofessional even rolling their eyes at me when i stated that I have brought in cakes to many other Boston establishments, i then offered to pay a plating fee which they then said was illegal in the state of Massachusetts which is a blatant lie considering I walked over to Douzo and had a great time celebrating my best friends birthday with our cake!

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Boston Me

                                No excuse for your rude servers, but it's usually a good idea to call ahead with something like that, especially in a fine dining setting, with a celebratory dinner on the line. There are restaurants that don't allow it, and I've had to pay hefty plating fees at others ($10/head at Mistral, as I recall -- they really don't like losing that dessert revenue).

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  "they really don't like losing that dessert revenue"

                                  It sounds like PRB lost more then dessert revenue!

                                  "I walked over to Douzo and had a great time celebrating my best friends birthday with our cake!"

                                  1. re: csammy

                                    Thanks, I read the post. I was referring to Mistral's desire to protect its dessert revenue, hence its high plating fee. PRB just sounds like they couldn't be bothered to accommodate the customer. As I said, "No excuse for your rude servers." My point was that when a celebration is on the line, I'm not inclined to leave such details to chance, especially since all it takes is a phone call.

                                2. re: Boston Me

                                  In PRB's defense:
                                  I've worked in more than a few Boston restaurants, and we have one of the more convoluted health codes. In a strict interpretation, a restaurant may not accept into its kitchen anything not made in a commercial bakery. Say for instance the cake is baked in a kitchen with a cat in it - by allowing the cake into the kitchen the health code could be violated.

                                  In practice, because it's so difficult to understand, interpretation of the code in Boston does appear to be slightly variable and up to the interpretation of the restaurant.

                                3. I'm sort of new to this site, but I couldn't believe that people were responding to complaints that were two years old. Isn't there any cut off date? I like the So. End location better than the one in Kenmore Sq. which is nearer to where I live, but by the time I walk to the So. End, I'm usually hungry. I think the food is mostly fine. I'm not crazy about the way they do the crust on the quiches, and the thin fries tend to cool off rapidly. The last time I was there was back in Novermber and it was a cold day, but they had the heaters on the patio and I asked to be seated outdoors. I placed my order, had a glass of wine and the warm bread and sat there for half an hour. They had totally forgotten I was out there and in the mean time I changed my mind about the entree, but my original order had already been started. I wasn't really too upset, but I think the second glass of wine should have been comped. I still think it's an asset to the So. End.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: ghostcat

                                    This probably belongs on the Site Talk board, biut...

                                    I myself try not to dredge up really old posts, but when someone else does, I feel it's okay to respond as though they've started a new thread. There is some value in making comments about a place in an existing (ideally recent-ish) thread rather than starting a new one every time; it makes it easier for searchers to get a bunch of different viewpoints about a place in fewer threads.

                                    But the mystery of why some people choose to revive years-old discussions is kind of a running joke here.

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      I hate to continue to gripe about something that has passed but PRB really upset me by their rudeness but I did in fact call ahead of time to check on whether or not it was ok to bring in the cake but I mistakenly called the Kenmore location and the cake was made from a commercial bakery, it was bought from Rosie's bakery. I just dont think PRB had any excuse for the way that they treated us that night.

                                  2. Seems to me many South End places are overpriced and oversold.