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Sep 5, 2006 04:45 AM

Sour taste at Caffe Umbra's extended Restaurant Week

Yeah, I'm a lukewarm fan of Restaurant Week when I'm not an outright hater, and frankly forgot about Caffe Umbra's tradition of offering an extra week of Restaurant Week when we sat down at the bar on a recent weeknight. Could have jumped up and left, probably should have, but we settled down and ordered.

Menu was a disappointment, definitely a sharp step down from Caffe Umbra's usual, of which we are generally big fans. A "crispy chicken" turned out to be a batter-fried chicken breast: definitely chumpy by the standards of this kitchen. A very weak "heirloom" tomato salad; great local produce is a long suit here, and this was clearly a cheap-out. Even desserts (from one of our favorite local pastry chefs) demonstrated obvious corner-cutting, the sticky toffee pudding a wan imitation of its usual richness. Mercifully, he couldn't seem to bring himself to under-deliver on his ice creams, which were extraordinary as usual. I'd stack this guy's salt caramel against any of my favorite luxe-class ice cream purveyors.

Worst was the service: too involved with some friends at the bar, and "accidentally" charging us at regular prices, despite our obvious ordering of app-entree-dessert off the limited RW menu. When I pointed this out, I got: "Oh, you wanted to do that Restaurant Week style?" Ugh. I can't remember the last time I left a sub-20% tip, but this cheap trick pissed me off enough to leave one that night. Ironically, this extended RW is positioned as a thank-you to local regulars so they can avoid the usual RW hordes.

Pretty distasteful to get what seems like a consciously sub-par experience at a place we otherwise like and support a lot. I can only hope that the rumored return of Joe C to the bar heralds a comeback of some old-style service and charm that has been in short supply here lately.

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  1. Wow. Ouch. Doesn't sound like the Umbra I know, nor the one I know you know even better. Be curious to hear, if anyone goes in the next week or two, whether this is a general trend or a Labor Day (as in "when the owner's away the employees will play") fluke or something?

    1. We had exactly the same experience there last extended-RW. Server just as you described - too busy chatting with friends at the bar; annoyingly limited and cheap-feeling menu choices, sad salad veggies. We haven't been back since, though we've considered it. Each time I raise the possibility, the unpleasant memory leads us to choose instead a restaurant that hasn't made us feel like the poor relations.