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Feb 2, 2007 10:31 PM

Chiaroscuro: Friday Night Train Wreck, Complete Meltdown

What started out as a promising night with a relatively early reservation (8pm) at this very new FiDi restaurant (in the old Tartare space) turned into a truly shocking display of novice unpreparedness. End result was that the entire restaurant ended up getting comped.

Even that, though, it didn't make up for it. And while Umberto (the owner) was gracious when told what this was a trainwreck (he knew it), he was still seating people when we walked out three hours, but only two courses, into our seven course tasting menu. Had we only known, we would have ordered something much simpler....

Things as simple as wine glasses were messed up: two different Riedel glasses -- one for a whie, one for red (each dirty, streaky, and lipstick-stained) were brought to the table for the same red wine. Things a little more important, like the bread components to the few dishes we got, were all seriously charred. Not overcooked, but burned and inedible.

It's one thing when the focus of the conversation at the table becomes the weakness of the restaurant, or how we should have tried something other than a first week place. It's entirely another when (literally) every conversation overheard is the same -- all about the fact that the evening is going down in flames, that only two dishes had come out of the kitchen between 9pm and 10:45, despite many promises to the contrary. It was an amazing sight to see and take part in, but it wasn't really pleasant.

I can say that the mussels were perfect -- well, the burnt toast didn't help them, but Umberto knows his shellfish.

There may be hope yet, but this is a deep hole. Very deep.

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  1. Owner's name is Roberto, not Umberto...And I am truly sorry about your meal. I was afraid that this would happen when they got busy.

    3 Replies
      1. re: answerman

        No, no...I just met him when I went to dinner last Monday. There is an Umberto at Perbacco though...

        1. re: chaddict

          Glad we have that cleared up.

          Now everyone can know to avoid ROBERTO's restaurant, at least on Fridays and for a long time.

    1. We went to Chiaroscuro last night (Saturday). We hadn't seen these reports of we'd never have gone. And we wish we hadn't. For the first time in my life I had to return a dish to the kitchen - my salmon was not pink it was raw - neither was it smoked as described on the menu. Our other courses were just plain unappetizing. And we got soaking wet getting there and back.

      1. I hope they get their act together, as I'd really like more great food in that area. However, it's not their fault that it was a rainy night, whether or not you had umbrellas.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Frosty Melon

          Of course they can't control the weather - they can't even run a restaurant properly. I think the point was that one might be a little more forgiving of Chiaroscuro's utter ineptitude were the conditions outside not so miserable. You're not going to be getting great food from that place. I give in 3 mos, tops.

          1. re: answerman

            They haven't been open two weeks. Lots of restaurants get a rocky start due to staffing problems etc. Bit early to predict failure.

        2. Well, their ineptitude actually worked in my favor last night, as circumstances beyond my control resulted in my showing up at 9:45 for an 8 pm reservation. My friends had just finished their main course, and I had them order the semolina gnocchi for me. It was actually really good, and I can't recall having seen semolina gnocchi anywhere else in the Bay Area. Overall consensus was that the pastas were good, but sauces needed work (sauce on my gnocchi was perfect, though). And, of course, the service issues. The odd thing is that everytime someone from our party had to go the bathroom, they were nearly bowled over by a server rushing from one place to another, so it's not that they're not trying - they're just really, really inefficient. I don't think they're apathetic - everyone looked pretty stressed.

          I thought the noise level was a huge problem - the domed ceiling looks like it was actually designed to amplify noise, and there are no soft surfaces anywhere to absorb sound.

          I hope they work things out... they Bay Area needs more pure (not Cal-Ital, not Frenchified) Italian restaurants, and I love Roman food.

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