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Apr 30, 2007 10:11 PM

Red Fez up, Red Fez down

I really want this place to be good: it's in my neighborhood, a big, attractive space with a lovely patio that's not too close to the nearest busy street, affording a view of summer minor-league baseball games in the public park across the street. There's free parking for my friends who drive in. The food, a slightly updated take on Middle Eastern and North African food, has been mostly good over the past few years. They serve big cocktails, occasionally if not reliably made with reasonable craft. There's a big-screen projection TV for watching the odd Sox or Pats game. Sometimes the music (recorded) is good, and the crowd is often interesting, almost always with a good neighborhood component.

I started noticing a big decline in the food and service about a year ago. All my favorite FOH folks had left: I suddenly couldn't get a decent drink. The menu took some weird shifts. The quality of a couple of dinners -- we always order a lttile mezze feast -- dropped off sharply. After two or three bad experiences, we gave up, stopped recommending it. Big bummer.

I gave it another shot a few months back despite my misgivings: I was out with a friend who'd always wanted to try it, and it was close at hand. I was happy to report here that it had regained a step: we had a fine meal, good drinks and service. I was really hopeful of a swing back to its old reliable self.

I'm sorry to report a not-so-fresh feeling on a recent visit: bad cocktails and an inexplicable issue with the food, namely, a place serving Middle Eastern classics (hummus and baba ganoush) with no pita. Our mezze came instead with a very weak, fluffy, commercial focaccia. We tried a bite or two, but with that lame bread, it just wasn't working for us (the Fez always serves pita with these mezze).

This was very early in the evening on a weekend night. I flagged our server: "May we have some pita?", I asked. "Sorry, we ran out" "Really? No pita? At six pm on a weekend night? That's a shame. If we'd known that, we probably would have ordered something else. Please see what your management might do to rectify this." (Incidentally, there's a supermarket a couple of blocks away that sells pita.)

Our waiter brought our check, with nothing comped. We left most of our food on the table, paid the bill (tipped well -- it's not our hapless waiter's fault, after all), and left. And we ain't going back anytime soon. I'm a little puzzled as to what's going on here. There's only about a dozen new competitors already open or coming to the neighborhood this year, including a slightly-refreshed Franklin Cafe, which I was happy to see re-opened tonight with a fresh coat of paint and some attractive new lighting.

But I've officially had it with the Red Fez. No más. I can forgive the departure of reliable servers and our favorite dishes (chicken brik, muhammara). I am inured to the fact that many restaurants will hire barrtenders can't make basic classic cocktails. But a management and ownership that just doesn't appear to give a rat's ass, that I can't abide or support. No más.

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  1. That's a shame. One loved it for the place it almost was...

    As for the Franklin, when you say new lighting, you don't mean it's *brighter* in there, do you? I kinda hope not...the Franklin should be dark IMO...

    1 Reply
    1. re: tatamagouche

      God, no, the Franklin isn't really any different. It's just lightly refreshed with new paint and new lights, nice-looking, really. I haven't dined there since the redo, just stuck my head in last night to look.

    2. Ah... Red Fez. Every year, about this time, it breaks my heart the same way. Goes a little somethin' like this:

      Wittlejosh: Finally, a nice day! Let's go somewhere with outdoor seating!
      Friend: How about B&G? Or Tremont 647, maybe?
      WJ: They're gonna be slammed today, first nice day and all. How 'bout Red Fez?
      F: I thought you hated that place.
      WJ: Naw, it's OK. I mean, the service isn't the best, but with the sunny patio, who cares?
      F: Sounds good---let's go.

      [one hour later, drinkless for 15 minutes; mediocre kebabs half-untouched]

      WJ: Oh, my gosh---I forgot how bad this place is. AWFUL service! I'm never coming back!

      [one year later]

      WJ: Finally, a nice day! Let's go somewhere with outdoor seating!

      7 Replies
      1. re: wittlejosh

        I agree. The Red Fez is good for a nightcap, period. After 4 attempts over the last 6 months, I stopped trying the food. I never think about eating there any more, they just don't give a shit.

        1. re: BostonBarGuy

          MC Slim, I know they recently changed ownership - maybe they haven't gotten their act together yet?

          1. re: windycity

            I hadn't heard that it had changed hands, and we usually hear about such things in the neighborhood. All the news I've heard, reflected in my own experience over the last year, is that it had severe turnover both front and back, including a very recent huge spate of hiring. Where did you hear about the new owners?

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              From a friend who heard it from the new chef. I hope it returns to better times soon. I've had some so-so meals and some very pleasant ones there.

              1. re: windycity

                Okay, I ran this one by the president of my local neighborhood association: he says, "No way does the Fez have a new owner." So, just a new GM and a new chef, maybe? I certainly didn't recognize a single face among the dining room staff that night, but it's been that way on each of my last few visits.

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Yeah, a new GM and chef - I misinterpreted my friend's info. How recent was your visit? Hopefully they are trying to iron things out...

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    The owners have been the same from the day it opened a few years ago. The mission of the restaurant changed with the departure of the GM last year. I have to admit that I do not like it now but they are doing a bang up business at night with the out of town over 40 crowd. It was packed the last time I was there. We only go because we know that on a Friday at 7 it is only place to take a group of 5. The food was never anything to write home about and it has not really changed that much. If you want a place to ge guaranteed a seat, then give it a shot. Do not go for the food or the service or the drinks.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Ah, that explains why I saw people inside of Franklin yesterday at 8am. I couldn't for the life of me figure that one out, sounds like good news.

            I can't for the life of me figure out why I haven't been to the Red Fez, but it's never struck me as a place I want to go. I love eating/drinking outside, so I'll probably end up there at some point, but I've only heard bad things about the food and service.

            I thought I'd heard a year or two back that they were planning to close the place. Was that true?

            1. I was at Red Fez last night party of 6 - lots of pita
              Service mezza mezz, but amiable
              Bar quiet
              Food good, especially for grazing with friends over a bunch of small plates

              The party was a lot of foodies who eat at restaurants all around the city. I think Red Fez's big problem is dramatic inconsistency, so you can have a great experience on the patio with free parking and lots of interesting food and nice cocktails.

              Or you can have lousy food and lousy drinks brought to you by a careless server. If you've had this experience one time too many, than its not worth it.

              I had a mostly positive experience last night and the location/parking combo is extremely hard to beat if you are trying to get people together after work, from lots of areas around Boston who drive to work.

              Its too bad for the Red Fez, it should be a gold mine.

              3 Replies
              1. re: lmarkarian11

                I suspect the Red Fez parking advantage is going to be greatly diminished now that Rocca has opened with its free parking and eventual outdoor dining. However, so far the service is not much better better nor, in my case, the food.

                1. re: Fort Point

                  The sushi place nearby was closed on Monday night so we opted for the Fez. A horrible mistake. We were offered complementary foccia style bread with a flavorless bean dip. Horrible service. I agree its very inconsistent but last few times was just plain bad. Won't give it another shot.

                  1. re: gardgen

                    Agree that the location and patio make this the kind of place that you tend to end up at without really wanting to be there.

                    Last time I was there, I met two friends who were sitting at the bar. They had already ordered and received drinks. We were the only people in the place, and yet I couldn't get served even after I'd been there for about 15 min. The bartender just kept wiping down glasses and watching the Sox on the big TV.