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May 29, 2007 10:18 AM

Good food, bad service Drago Santa Monica (very long)

Last weekend, a few of us went to Drago for dinner. We had heard from another Italian friend that it had some of the best pasta in town. That part was true. The rigatoni with bolognese sauce and the spaghetti with bottarga - we all agreed were superb.

The good: the amuse bouche bruschetta tasted exactly how you wish yours always would taste at the peak of summer - fresh, slightly sweet, slightly tart. The sauces on the rabbit and the quail dishes - you could tell the reductions, someone had spent some time and effort on them. They were almost like syrup (not sweet, just texture), deep in color and flavor. The panna cotta was perfect in texture - light, creamy, mildly sweet. So often, panna cotta is watery or rubbery, but at Drago, it was perfect.

The bad: the service.

Reservations: we had called for reservations at 7:30 earlier that day. The hostess said fine, but we'd have to be seated in a quieter "side room" as opposed to the main room. That suited us perfectly. When we arrived, the hostess said our reservation was at 8:30 and our table wasn't ready. Mistakes happen, and that's fine, but she insisted she was the only person who answered the phone and had no recollection of the 7:30 side room reservation, that it was our mistake. I had heard the call made, so knew it was not on our side, but figured, ah well, busy, whatever. The manager treated us to a round of Prosecco, so that eased the wait. We had a chance to catch up.

The wait for food. So we're seated a bit after 8:30 in the main room. We order our food and the waiter jets off. Which is funny because we were about to order wine, and normally that's the first thing they try to get you to order. We manage to get in the wine order after asking a busboy to call the waiter back. We get the amuse, and then we wait. And wait. At 9:45, our first course arrives. One of us comments to the waiter, we waited 1 1/4 hour for our first course. Our waiter's response was, Nooooo, you didn't. And then, referring to our botched reservation, he says, anyway, that's not my fault, that's another area. We said, we're talking about the long wait for the food. After another denial, the waiter blamed the busboys. By the time we got our dessert, the dining room was empty. The manager poured us a round of complimentary dessert wines.

One of our group joked, well perhaps this is the European way, the drawn out dinner. And another of our group, a European, said, poor service is not the European way.

Again, the food was good, but with the prices, we expected somewhat better service. An off night? A bad start? Probably. But considering I had recommended the place, I felt guilty about the choice.

The two rounds of complimentary wines helped - at least they made an effort, so it's not like they did nothing.

I debated whether to mention this at all on chowhound. The reason I did is not because of the reservation snafu or even the long wait. That happens. It is because the first response in both the front of the house and the floor was not an apology, but an insistence that the customer was not telling the truth.

To all restauranteurs: please don't imply that your customers are liars. Good food won't cover the bad taste that will leave behind.

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  1. It had to have been an off night. I can't speak for the staff or their training but the owner is very conscientious and sincere. My impression has been that Drago is all about conveying warmth within a more formal setting. At least they knew the importance of the complimentary drinks -which is a kind of apology and admittance of blame. Your post, btw, was excellent and very reasonable under the circumstances with good advice that all should heed.

    1. Another good reason to use Open Table, (which Drago is a part of).

      1. I had the reverse experience: good service with mediocre food.

        1. Weekend reservations at restaurants like Drago, Valentino, etc. should be avoided, when possible. You will get better food and service during the week.
          Second, if the only time you can dine at a big ticket restaurant is on a friday or saturday night, don't wait until the day of your dinner to make your reservation---unless you are a celebrity. In the pecking order of customer importance, a same day (aka last minute) reservation places you on the lowest step of the ladder.
          Popular restaurants do themselves and their customers a disservice when they accept reservations that are essentially "wait listed" and without the customers knowledge or consent. It's analagous to an airline overbooking a flight. They figure someone won't show up. But what happens when everyone does show up? You wind up with an evening like the one you endured.
          My experiences at Drago have always been excellent. But I never go on weekends.
          I hope your complaint is read by Celestino. I believe he will do the right thing. Please let us know..

          1 Reply
          1. re: cuppajoe

            Definitely complain to ownership.
            The Dragos in my experience will be amenable to making it up to you and working on improving the situation. That said, there is NO excuse for this kind of treatment of a paying customer.