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May 4, 2007 09:17 AM

Luke Last Night

I just wanted to throw out a few comments on our experience at Luke last night. For those that don't know, Luke is the new Besh restaurant, located in a hotel so it's serving breakfast lunch and dinner. Admittadly, this is the first week of it's opening, so I'm willing to cut them a touch of slack, but not too much.

Last night's dinner might be the perfect example of what happens when there's a complete disconnect between the front of house staff and the kitchen. There are almost two reviews to be had here- one of the food coming out of the kitchen when it came out promptly, and one of the service.

When we first arrived for a 9:30 reservation we were told to have a drink at the bar as the table they originally wanted to seat us at just had a light bulb burn out above it and it would be terribly dark. No problem, we were told it would be 15 minutes. We end up seated in the far rear of the restaurant in an equally dark table, not far across from the table where we were supposed to be seated.

We sat down, ordered more drinks and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the drinks came and we ordered- a table of 6 ordered a couple of dozen oysters (P&J's and Blue Pointes), beet salads for 2 of us, a pork rillete, and some matzoh ball soup for 2 (why this is on the menu in a French brasserie I'll never understand, but that's besides the point). For meals we ordered the entrecote frites, 2 of the veal cheeks, a veal pannee (I believe), pate for one (she wasn't so hungry), and I honestly can't remember the 6th dish.

Here's where the service goes from sloppy to bad. I ordered a glass of blanc de blanc to go with my oysters (I like champagne with my oysters, my girlfriend prefers sancerre). The first glass that came out was sauvinion blanc and it had to be sent back.

Side note that they serve their wine in these little drink glasses. Pony up and buy wine glasses, even if they are cheap. Straight edged highballs don't suit wine at all.

Then the appetizers came. Yes, the appetizers came before the oysters. I didn't get it, but after a 35 minute wait for them, it was nice to see them. Appetizers of soup were served warm, but not hot, the rilletes were fantastic, the beats were good as well. I couldn't figure out at this point if the kitchen wasn't serving hot soup or if it was sitting on the station waiting to be picked up. Also, note that soups weren't served with spoons and it took about 3-4 minutes to flag down a waiter to get them. This might be part of the reason for them not being served hot, but no steam was coming off of the soup when it was served.

Appetizers were cleared and we weren't even sure if we were getting our oysters. Another 10 or so minutes later came the oysters. The oysters were admittadly very good, though we were perplexed as to why these came between appetizers and a main.

At this point several glasses are empty and the server isn't asking if people want more drinks. Also, empty oyster trays are sitting on the table with used shells.

From nowhere our entrees appear and they start to serve the mains. Without taking the trays away. They are having to move the trays around to get plates down. We ask people to take the trays and they walk away emptyhanded. We are astounded at this point. My entrecote is served luke warm (i touched it to feel it) and without a steak knife. By the time I can cut it, the steak is then medium well to well done. Had to be sent back and I asked not to send another.

You'd think that at this point either Besh, who had been lounging at the bar all night or one of the 3 managers would come by and ask us how the meal was, but not at all.

Finally when all was said and done, another half hour later or so Besh's partner came by to apologize again for the steak and asked how the meal had gone. We told him of all the gaffs- the inattentive wait staff, the I could care less attidude and whatnot. He was appauled and did the right thing- comped the entire meal for everyone. An extrodinary gesture of kindness that we attempted to turn down as it really wasn't the kitchen's fault, it seemed all the fault of service.

All in all this experience leads me to think a few things: One, this is exactly the experience I expect out of hotel food, but not the experience I expect out of a Besh restaurant. Two, if you're sitting front of house, who's cooking my food? Three, if you are FOH, why aren't you spending any time running your restaurant? Four, you can solve these issues easily by checking in with your customers regularly- not obtrusively, but between courses with a "hey, how are things going" and then you need not bother with comping a meal. Five, if Luke can get its act together it can be a very good place to eat, but until then they have a lot to work on.

I apologize for the disjointed nature of these comments, but it reflects a very disjointed meal.

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  1. I had the complete opposite experience. I was staying in the hotel and dined the first night Luke opened. The service was good, and the atmosphere was excellent. The timing was fine and the food made up for any hiccups in service that are excpected on opening night. From the Crabmeat Maison to the Shrimp Farci, everything was delicious. I loved the nostalgic old New Orleans feeling of pouring my own wine from the carafe into the small glasses. I have become a repeat customer and things have gotten better every time.

    4 Replies
    1. re: happy12

      Has the service been the same the last few times? I mean they've only been open for a week or so, so I'd imagine you've only gone back once or twice since then. I wish I had your experience though.

      1. re: jpschust

        I think it is unfair to rant like you did about a BRAND NEW restaurant, especially when your disappointments were addressed your entire meal was comped. Would you have had so much to say if it was a great meal?

        1. re: Tonto

          I would have, but the service gaffs were unacceptable, plus I think my comments were quite balanced in that the food was excellent.

        2. re: jpschust

          Yes, the service has been the same. I have had dinner twice and lunch once. They opened last Tues and the food has been great every time. I've seen the same customers that I met on opening night.

      2. In addition to only being open a short time, they've opened to one of the peak restaurant weekends in the city: 2nd Jazz Fest weekend. Many locals skip the eating out because it throws more than they can handle to even the most professionally run operations. I'm sure they've got some things to learn, however, some extra slack might be offered for the bravery of setting sail in a tidal wave.
        If you're in town long enough, try Meauxbar Bistro on North Rampart. It's small enough that they can pay attention to you, but just large enough to have good energy. Also, they've been around long enough to know the service rhythms that work in their place. Ginger-crawfish dumplings are a favorite of mine. Cheers!

        1. For what it's worth, John Besh is not the chef at Luke. Jared Tees is the chef.

          1. I didn't think your post was a rant at all; I understand your frustration and sometimes when you're actually sitting there waiting for food, 35 minutes seems like an eternity.

            But I think that in general we're hearing the same thing in these threads, that as we all already knew, good waitstaff are in short supply here, so a lot of restaurants, maybe even most, have at least some inexperienced servers. Unfortunately, as others have mentioned on other threads, that is one of many lasting effects of Katrina. Clearly when the manager came by, he knew how to deal with your situation in a responsible and professional way, but it is unrealistic at this point to expect every waiter to have the same finesse.

            Thank you for patronizing New Orleans... please be patient with our progress.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Adrienne

              Well put Adrienne. I think everyone could use a gentle reminder of the fact that FOH staffing in NOLA has been plaguing the restaurant equation post-Katrina. Hopefully as the infrastructure of affordable housing, quality schools and safe hospitals begins to take shape in the city, the qualified professionals to fill these positions will follow.

              1. re: culinarycorps

                I certainly hope so, and I've been back many many times since Katrina, though while I will always cut some extra slack for NOLA restaurants for the issue you raise, I guess the question that arises with me, is when is it no longer ok? You know when it comes down to it, it's not so much that it takes forever, but moreso that it felt like no one cared about what we asked for. The irony is had someone just addressed this earlier it would have never been an issue, but when the proprietor and managers are milling about the restaurant and ignoring us as we get more and more upset it does no one any good.

                1. re: jpschust

                  "I guess the question that arises with me, is when is it no longer ok? You know when it comes down to it, it's not so much that it takes forever, but moreso that it felt like no one cared about what we asked for."

                  You could change just a couple of words there and apply it to New Orleans' relationship with the United States. If you don't have the patience for it, then don't come here, I guess, but don't come to a city that has been through so much and received such meagre help and then be surprised when your service isn't perfect. It's just how it is. No one was actually rude to you, the manager more than made up for the service problems, so what do you want?

                  1. re: Adrienne

                    Come one, there is a point when we can start holding restaurants to national standards of service. Now, I would cut Luke lots of slack because it's been open all of one week. Almost any restaurant is rough during the first few months.

                    On the other hand, I think that once Luke, and any other new restaurant, gets up to speed that they just don't get a Katrina pass. After operating in post-Katrina New Orleans for nearly two years, with a full understanding of the labor difficulties, you should only launch concepts that you can staff.

                    Besh runs a good operation, and I'm pretty confident that these problems will be fixed soon. On the other hand, he has a very experienced management team and they should have been watching for problems and checking in with customers. Getting a meal comped is a very generous gesture and a nice acknowledgment that things could have been handled better, but it does not magically make two frustrating hours into a enjoyable memory.

                    1. re: Frolic

                      Happened to go with out planning to. I thought Cobault was pretty and interesting and worth preserving. It has a new feel and I found the chairs uncomfortable. Food was terrific, very hotel-esque, but the kind of hotel food that eclipses all others.

                      1. re: Frolic

                        You took the words right out of my mouth.

                        I had lunch at Luke for the first time today, and I thought the food was outstanding. There were some minor issues with the service - they did tend to leave stuff on the table when bringing new courses - but all in all it was very polished for a new restaurant that was nearly full by noon.

                        I am absolutely going back, and soon.

                        1. re: Frolic

                          I recently had breakfast at Luke and I was terribly dissappointed. We waited at least 6 minutes in the lobby before anyone aknowleged our presence. The breakfast was ok but nothing to write home about. Unless the prices are being reduced to accomodate the bad service and mediocre food....Katrina is not a good excuse. Its not ok to receive bad service at a pretty expensive restaurant anywhere in the country and New Orleans is no exception!

                          1. re: rchill

                            Luke is terrible! I have tried it 3 times now and had the worst service!!! One other table and I waited 30 minutes for a pork sandwich in which the pork was old and gamey! Terrible service and cafeteria quality food. I give this bomb 6-12 months tops.

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