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Report on La Petite Auberge - Bad Experience

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My husband and I made a trip to La Petite Auberge for Christmas Eve dinner 2 nights ago.

We arrived a little after 9pm, and the room had a few open tables. We waited a few minutes to be seated and were shown to a two-top. We waited for over 5 minutes to get a menu.

With the menus, our waitress asked if we wanted anything to drink, and I asked for water, after which she proceeded to take our wine glasses. I stopped the waitress and said I intended to order wine, but wanted to look at a wine list. This was a bit baffling - isn’t it common to provide a wine list with menus upon being seated?

We wanted to know what the daily soup and entree special were so we could figure out what kind of wine we wanted, but were kept waiting. After spending another 5 minutes sitting unattended, I asked another waitress for the specials, and she said that our server would tell us. We waited a while longer and then finally got our waitress’s attention to hear the specials, and then ordered.

Our waitress had a distinctly sour expression and gruff manner (no smiles). When I eat out in Chinatown, or a diner, I put up with rough service. But not when I’m paying good money for a higher-quality dinner. I'm not sure if part of our experience had to do with being the youngest patrons of LPA? We're in our early 30s, and most of the diners were 50+.

The start of the meal left me feeling distinctly invisible and neglected.

The food itself was solid. I had the French onion soup, my husband the Coquilles St. Jacques to start. The soup was well flavored and executed, and the Coquilles St Jacques were excellent, the meat cooked just right.

For an entrée, I had the canard roti a l’orange, and my husband a veal special (with Dijon sauce). The duck was just average, one-dimensional-tasting. Had some of the veal, which had better flavor, from the sauce, although the veal was dry. We shared a Grand Marnier soufflé for 2 for dessert, which was probably the highlight of the meal, for me.

As expected, our waitress didn’t bother to check on us once during the entire meal, nor did she come by to refill our glasses with wine.

I realize La Petite Auberge is not a “fine dining experience”, but it seems like a place for a serious dinner, with patrons who appreciate a well-executed meal and service. To the credit of La Petite Auberge, it seemed that other patrons received much better, friendlier service than my husband and me. The other waiters and waitresses conducted themselves very professionally.

I left a paltry 13% tip (I usually leave at least 20%) and left the restaurant. I am thinking about calling the restaurant and speaking to one of the owners about my experience.

It’s a shame, since it could have been a very pleasant meal, and someplace I would have gone back.

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  1. As someone who has been going to La Petite Auberge with some regularity since it opened almost 30 years ago, I'm saddend to read about your experience.

    I'm familiar with all the servers and, to be honest, I wouldn't describe any of them as the most personable people in existence. As far as I know, there are only two young women who are regular waitresses there, and I've never found either of them to be in any way sour. However, we always make it our business to chat informally with whoever is serving us, and I've found that that tends to loosen them up a bit, making for a more pleasant dining experience.

    One thing I am sure of is that your age, tender in comparison to the other diners, had nothing to do with how you were treated. Lately, I've noticed more young people dining there, and from what I can see, they are treated as courteously as we oldsters. It may be that this particular server was having a bad day, and it was just your luck that she was assigned your table. Not that that excuses her behavior, particularly her ignoring you during the meal. It definitely does not!

    I will also add that at La Petite Auberge, they never provide menus immediately after diners are seated, and it sometimes does take them a while to get to it, along with the description of specials. So, again, this had nothing to do with your age. It's just their way of doing things.

    Since you liked the food well enough and said, if not for the poor service, you would consider going back, you should definitely call and speak with one of the two owners, both of whom have been there since the beginning. If they don't get feedback when a situation like this happens, they will have no opportunity to make it right.

    1. Please note, the digression about restaurant service in general on holidays has been split and moved here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/354569

      1. As I've mentioned before...I believe LPA to be a fairly mediocre dining destination.

        The service has never been good (I've been 4 times) and the food has been passable at best. So why have I gone 4 times...well, once was for lunch by myself (I live next door), once was my grandmother-in-law's birthday (she used to go there years ago once a month), once with my family when I first moved in next door and once with a group of friends who wanted to be close to my apt. but not in the mood for Indian.

        Back to the service...it has been downright rude nearly all 4 times...two times with the female server you are no doubt describing.

        The sloppy service continues in the kitchen. Just a few weeks back I very well may have saved the kitchen by calling the fire department. My back deck looks into the kitchen...and I could smell/see a grease fire catching on the stove...after business hours and with no staff on sight.

        Hopefully they can adjust/update (hey, I root for the feel good story as much as the next guy) otherwise after several decades of being in business...I fear that the end might be near...

        2 Replies
        1. re: dkstar1

          Good for you reporting that fire.

          Ive not been to La Petite Auberge so have no value to add that way, but would just comment that there is a place for traditional french restaurants and it would be a shame if they all "updated" . On a recent trip to france, there was a definite divide noted in Michelin between traditional restaurants and those catering "to today's taste". In a city as big as NY something there is room for that variety, and the traditional comfort foods, even though it may not be to everyone's taste.

          1. re: jen kalb

            I see what you mean...and don't mean to imply that LPA needs extensive menu changes or decor changes...but the overall feel of the place needs, at the very least, an attitude adjustment.

        2. I've been to LPA twice in the past year based in large part for the high praise that RGR has given to the restaurant. Both times the service has been extremely attentive and the food has been delicious. Your server must have had an off night. I would recommend that you try it again.