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May 6, 2007 06:11 PM

Disapointing/Infuriating Lola dinner in Cleveland

On my parental catch up trip home a few weeks ago I suggested we all go out to a nice dinner. I suggested Lola because the chef had been nominated for a James Beard award this year, and because their one vegetarian option sounded tasty. The dinner was going well until the entrees arrived. The vegetarian risotto with butternut squash and tofu came out as a stacked entree: all the ingredients were seperated. This presentation led me to believe each item could be eaten alone. Not so. Neither the tofu nor the Squash had been flavored at all...possibly not even salted! The dish was kind of ok when i finally mushed everything together, but it was still sub par. I complained to my waitress that the dish was not only poorly executed but it seemed as if the chef had not cared at all about my dish. She replied that he was " a meat guy" and had "begrudgingly put a vegetarian dish on the menu"!!!!

Fine, you don't want to cook a vegetarian meal, then don't put it on the menu at all. I have never felt more insulted in a restaurant than i did then. My parents were willing to lay down a few hundred dollars for this dinner, and in return the chef effectively gave me the bird. I guess I wanted to write this as warning. Lola may be a great restaurant for meat eaters (my parents loved their entres of fish and duck), but to have a chef who could be so blatantly rude to his customers is a sign of not good things to come. Restaurants are in the service industry. It's about pleasing people, not making judgements on their eating habits. That chef, by preparing me a careless meal, said to me that he was willing to take my money but didn't want to put any care into the preparation. Shame on Lola.

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  1. I am sorry, Elizabeth, but I cannot imagine any Chef in Lola's kitchen not caring about your food. I have been there three times since they re-opened downtown, and I have sat at the Chef's Table, where I and my companions watching the kitchen throughout our dinner - you can see the passion everyone back there puts into the food. We could even see the pain on one chef's face when a steak came back "too rare" and he had to fire it longer! We saw the care that went into everything, from presentation to service.

    How long ago was this incident (you indicate "weeks")? You say you have never been so insulted in a restaurant as you were then - but did you ask to speak to a manager when this happened? Yes - the server should have gotten the manager if you weren't happy, but again, having seen the management at Lola in action, I am sure that, had you asked for the manager, they would have offered to get you something else and/or take the item off of your check.

    8 Replies
    1. re: NancyH

      This restaurant is unfortunately the best Cleveland has to offer?. The portions are very small, You must ask for the Entres to be explained or you will be surprised, and not in a good way. . Go to Sans Souici or Baricelli Inn for fool proof Nirvana

      1. re: 7senses

        At the risk of sounding like the Lola cheerleader (and I have no stake in this place other than that I enjoy it!) - I must disagree with 7senses. I have found the portions at Lola to be very reasonable in size, as demonstrated by my photos at http://nancyheller.evite.shutterfly.c... and the 3 attached photos. Even though Lola is using premium ingredients like Jamison Lamb, Curly Tail Farm Pork and local produce, we have even had leftovers (that hangar steak in one of the photos was a marvelous lunch the next day - and what part of "Beef Hanger Steak" on the menu needs to be explained?)! But I do not go to a restaurant like Lola expecting a bag of leftovers - I expect portions to be sized so that I can enjoy appetizer, entree, side or salad, and maybe a bite of dessert, without being stuffed.

        Lola is a restaurant that is designed for Chowhounds - sophisticated ingredients in sophisticated preparations at fair prices, with the option to eat more "ordinary" if you wish. It bothers me to see it bashed so anonymously here when it does not deserve it.

        I can't speak to Sans Souci because I've never been there. I will agree with 7senses that Baricelli Inn is also very good, though I don't think their portion sizes differ from those at Lola. Both Lola and Baricelli are wonderful dining destinations in Cleveland.

        I think Lola is one of Cleveland's best restaurants, based on the food, pricing and service. Each time I've been there, every item from appetizer to dessert has come in a serving large enough to share among at least 4 people. And Lola's desserts are absolutely heavenly - I could go there just to eat a dinner of dessets!

        Nancy Heller, Cleveland Ohio

        1. re: NancyH

          Dear Nancy,
          I understand you being bothered by my post. Let me explain. I live in DC and I frequent a classic neapolitan pizza place called 2 Amys. I often feel that I am the chearleader for 2 amys when on chowhound. However, I do recognize the place has some faults. For one, their fried risotto balls are dry. A few days ago I witnessed a couple ordering the risotto balls and the waiter making the informed suggestion that the table also get an order of marinara, given that the balls can tend to be dry. I love this restaurant but it is not perfect. However, what I always get from the place is a genuine sense that care has been put into my meal. Yes, it is, all totalled, usually a 30 dollar meal, rather than the hundred dollar one I got at Lola, but it is not the price that I value so much as the quality and the feeling that I am a customer that the restaurant values.

          You, as a Lola fan, should be more distrubed than I with my reason for complaint. I'm freely willing to admit that a restaurant can have an off day or an off service or just one off meal, and maybe I just got unlucky. I find it entirely possible that the risotto is usually a good dish and that on just one night something went wrong. I truly hope, for the sake of cleveland chowhounds, that this was the case. Maybe Lola was understaffed or they were training someone new or they had some mad rush right when I ordered. I understand, being in the food business myself, that things happen in a restaurant and mistakes get made. A restaurant kitchen is a hot, cramped, intense place to work. I think it is entirely acceptable for a kitchen to send out a few flops every night, simply because people are not perfect. What I do not think is ok is having a customer's complaint be dismissed. However petty, however particular, a complaint indicates that the customer is unhappy in some way, and the job of a good restaurant is to address the problem. Replace the meal. Get a different meal. Comp the meal. A free drink. Something. Something to make it clear that the restaurant wanted to do its job and provide a pleasurable experience to the customer. This is where Lola failed. My waitress, while sympathetic, did nothing to fix the situation. If a manager was involved in any way, I had no knowledge. I guess, in the end, what really got me was that my not great dish ruined the meal for my parents also because of how my complaint was dealt with, or rather, ignored.

          It is insulting to be treated as if you know nothing about, or are insignificant to, a restaurant. That is my complaint with Lola. You are lucky to have found a restaurant you love in a city with not too many options. In the spirt of Chowhound, I posted my true account of my experience at Lola, definetely with the intent to express my shocked displeasure, but also to make others aware that they could get this sort of indiferent treatment at Lola. Or they could, in your experience, get great treatment and have a great experience. This forum is about sharing what is thought, known, tasted, felt, smelled, experienced at all with food ad restaurants. You may not like hearing this news about Lola, but it is true and so Lola does deserve this one criticism.

          P.S. My father and I shared the "Rainy day in Cleveland" and it was only ok.

          1. re: elizabethmmm

            not many options? i've always considered to cleveland to be a great town for eating, and i actually look forward to visiting.

            1. re: elizabethmmm

              sorry you didn't enjoy your food. the waiter banter i just shrug off. for you i'll say this story. i once ordered a drink at the old LOLA and the waitstaff person told me she never heard of the drink and there was no such thing. instead of getting insulted, like i think i mildly felt inside, well not really i just thought it was very amateurish and unprofessional to argue with a customer like that, but instead of getting mad i just laughed and asked her to talk with the bartender and let me know. well, what do you think happened then? my negroni came -- made perfectly - lol ( i was on a kick of having one of those before dinner for awhile)!

              so i am surprized you didnt take your complaint to management. speaking up really does work at LOLA. doesnt make up for the remarks or the food, but really your bugaboo about the food is by far the bigger issue to me than service (i really don't care about service that much myself, i forgive a lot, but thats just me).

              one other thing, hold on there with your pricing. your $30 meal at your dc place was you. your $100 dollar meal at LOLA was you and your 'rents. at least i sure hope you didn't pay $100 for a bowl of rissotto w/o us hearing about the rarest of truffles or at least a nice bottle of wine!

              1. re: mrnyc

                No no, it was about 300 for three of us...Appetizer, entree, dessert, coffee, a nice bottle of wine, and tip.

                1. re: mrnyc

                  FYI, 2 Amys is a pizza joint; I used to live across the street from it. I never, ever, spent $30 in there.

            2. re: 7senses

              are you kidding, 7senses? the portions at lola are enormous.

          2. Elizabeth,

            I took my In-Laws (one who is a vegetarian) to Lola not too long ago. My mother-in-law had the same problem! She thought it was just her, but now that I have seen your review, she will feel much better.

            I have been to many wonderful places, and Lola has wonderful food and service for the most part. BUT, in this instance, they failed. It is sad, really.

            1 Reply
            1. re: CircusMom

              I have to make something very clear, the portions of every dinner I have had at Lola were more than fine. The portion was not the problem with my mother-in-laws meal (and I don't think Elizabeth mentioned a problem with portion size, either). It isn't really coincidence that more than one person had the same problem with the same dish at the same restaurant. It is just a problem with the dish itself.

              I will rave about other dishes cooked at Lola, because they are wonderful. That doesn't discount the dish that isn't as well constructed, that just so happens to be a vegetarian dish. Everyone has their own opinions, and I just wanted to chime in to let Elizabeth know she isn't the only one that was less than satisfied with the dish.

            2. the waitress should have handled your complaint better. that said, i think it's a bit hysterical to claim that the chef "gave you the bird" and was "making judgements" on your eating habits. personally, i thought it was a relief to see a vegetarian dish that wasn't a throwaway pasta or a plate composed of side dishes.

              2 Replies
              1. re: wleatherette

                Hysterical, well, perhaps a little. All I meant to convey was that, at one of the few upscale and forward thinking restuarants in Cleveland, I would expect a better experience. I would expect a well prepared meal. My parents both got meals they really enjoyed, and I just wanted the same. The idea of complaining to a waitress is that they can fix your dining issue. They are the emissaries of the kitchen. My waitress, in effect, threw up her arms and said, yeah, this is not a restaurant meant for vegetarians. I found that insulting, not becuase the waitress was candid, but because I felt duped. I was led to believe that every dish coming out the Lola kitchen would be given as much attention as the next and this was just not the case. If you make a concession and put a vegetarian item on the menu, which it seems like Michael Symon did by including the risotto, make it be as spectacular as everything else that comes out of your kitchen. Yes, he didn't put a lame pasta primavera on the menu, but I'd take a well made pasta primavera over a poorly made risotto.

                1. re: elizabethmmm


                  I think that you have expressed the experience and your frustration quite well. I don't see your post as a slam or an over-reaction.

                  The response you received from your server is unfortunate, actually inexcusable in my book. That is not the response you should have received in any restaurant let alone a place on the level of Lola. I empathize with your felling of having been flipped the bird based on the server's response. I hope that s/he was incorrect in their assertions that basically the kitchen isn't that concerned with what it serves to vegitarean diners. BTW, based on my experiences at Lola and Lolita I have to believe that your server was way off base in her response to you.

                  I'm sorry that your experience there wasn't better. I have had both very poor and very amazing experiences there. I particularly feel your pain because my very poor experience there was made exponentially worse by the way the server and manager handled the issues. The service problems indicate a lack of training IMO and that is not what I want to have to write off or deal with from a finer dining establishment. Service is an intregal part of the dining experience.

                  I think we have a good number of forward thinking dining establishments in Cleveland. I hope that on your return trips you will give some of them a try. I also hope that you give Lola a call and let them know about your experience. No, you shouldn't have to be the one waving an issue flag, your server should have handled the situation much differently but since s/he didn't call the restaurant and talk to the management. They really do care.

              2. I'm really surprised that even meat-loving Michael Symon would put out such a poor dish, but obviously he did. It's too bad, since a great chef should be able to create great entrees, whether meat-based or not. Probably you should have taken your cue from "their ONE vegetarian option sounded tasty".... Not a promising sign at all. That being said, I'm not surprised by the waitress' reaction. The few times I've eaten at the original Lola or it's current incarnation as Lolita, I was under-whelmed by the wait staff to say the least. Something about the attitude, a weird mix of overly-friendly and haughtiness.

                I'm sorry you did not enjoy your dinner at Lola, but please take what others have mentioned to heart. Cleveland is filled with many, many wonderful restaurants with fantastic chefs putting out fabulous food (and wonderful servers serving it too!).

                3 Replies
                1. re: gourmanda

                  not to resurrect (or start) an argument but...anyone want to tell me the dif btwn Lola and Lolita? I know the orig Lola became Lolita but can anyone tell me which one I should visit if I only have time for one meal while in the Cleveland area? And why, of course

                  1. re: sarapeater

                    You can see both of their menus at their website:

                    Lola is more "high end" in both ambiance and menu. Lolita started as a "small plates" restaurant emphasizing Greek food, but it didn't sell well in Cleveland, so the menu has retooled a couple of times. Chef Matt Harlan runs the Lolita kitchen.

                    The quality and service at both restaurants is superb, but they are very different. Lolita is more casual and lower priced. Portion sizes are great at both places. Both places use Jamison lamb exclusively. Lolita has more of the charcuterie and "working class" food (fried smelts, fried pig ears, mac and cheese) whereas Lola is more upscale (even the Beef Cheek Pierogi is artistic).

                    So - it really depends on your taste and your budget. Lola is now open for lunch, btw. I've been to both and I don't think you can go wrong with either.

                2. Since this thread has percolated to the top of the board, I thought I'd take the opportunity to add Lola and Lolita to Chowhound's new Places database.

                  2058 East 4th Street, Cleveland, OH 44115

                  900 Literary Rd, Cleveland, OH 44113