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The Linkery (SD) - another frustrating experience

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I am trying to like this place, I really am, but I'm about to give up. In addition to the hit-and-miss food, I've had several very frustrating experiences. The most annoying was showing up to find it closed on a Wednesday. They have since decided to join the rest of the restaurant world and open their doors on Tuesdays/Wednesdays. They also refused a coupon once.

So last night my girlfriend and I decided to give it another shot. We called just to make sure they were open, but the phone was busy, so we sat around for the next 10-15 minutes trying to get through. No luck. Finally, we reasoned that if the phone was busy chances were that it was open, so we jumped in the car and drove over. We arrived to find the restaurant half empty. Odd. Every other time I've been there it's been busy. No names on the waiting list. It was Tuesday, so it must just be a slow night, we thought.

Wrong. A waittress walks up and informs us that the last Tuesday of each month is a "special night." For $45 we can get their prix fixe with wine pairings from...South Carolina??? No thanks, we'll just go with the normal menu. Oh sorry, only the prix fixe tonight. Are you kidding me?!! I mean, just how many quirks does one have to memorize in order to show up to at this place and get a meal?! (Note to the management: if the prix fixe somehow makes it impossible to offer other selections, just let people order a la carte so you don't have to turn them away!)

Exasperated, we sat down at the bar and ordered a beer while we decided what to do. The tab: $16.50! I understand that their no-tip policy means that the tip is built into the price, but $16.50?!! A pint of beer at a pricey establishment should never be more than $5, and that's pushing it. Let's say we give them a 20% tip. That's $12. And our tab was $16.50. Unbelievable.

The Linkery has a nice atmosphere, great beers, and a friendly staff. And while I've had several dishes that I felt were a bit ill-conceived, I've been very impressed with others. But between the odd hours, the exorbitant beer prices, and this absurd prix-fixe-only night, this is getting ridiculous. I mean really, is there any reason to go back?

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  1. The Linkery is a quirky joint, no doubt. They're often jam packed, they run out of specials early on a busy evening, and the pricing structure can appear eccentric. Oh, and did I mention that it can be noisy as the drop-hammer line at Goodrich Aerostructures? Even so, yeah, there's plenty of reason to go back. A creative chef can make dining an adventure (a pessimist would say "hit or miss"), but the hits can be very impressive.

    If you sign up for their email newsletter (when you get your check) you'll get advance notice (or warning) of the "special nights" and the week's specials. Oh, and that South Carolina dinner? I didn't make it, but it sounded delicious and fun. The Linkery isn't someplace I'd want to go on a weekly basis, but for now at least, I'll keep coming back.
    . . . jim strain

    1. http://www.thelinkery.com

      If you check the website, you can find out everything about what's going on there. The South Carolina dinner has been discussed on the restaurant's blog for well over a month.

      Also, if you ordered the cask beer, then the price is $6.50/pint. Their draft beer is more in line with your price expectations. I do think their cask beer is kind of pricey, but I order it nevertheless. I'm just thrilled there's a good restaurant I can go to that serves it. Normally if you're drinking cask beer your food options are limited to burgers and/or nachos.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Josh

        Josh, I realize the restaurant has a blog, but we didn't have access to a computer. I don't think one should have to follow a blog in order to get a meal. There should be other options for people who don't happen to follow the blog.

        Also, it was the cask beer, and it was $8.25/pint, not $6.50. This isn't eccentric, it's overpriced.

        1. re: mangiatore

          $6.50 x 2 = $13
          $13 x .0775 = $1.01
          $1.01 + $13 = $14.01
          $14.01 x .18 = $2.51
          $2.51 + $14.01 = $16.52

          I agree that Linkery isn't cheap. Food and drinks there results in a fairly sizeable tab. However, good food and beer cost money. You can get cheaper cask beer in town, but your choice of food to go with it will be standard pub grub.

          Once you factor that in, then saying Linkery is overpriced stops making sense. There isn't any point of comparison.

          1. re: Josh

            The linkery's service charge is calculated on the "after the tax" price? That is seriously lame. I don't really like the service charge (and have strong issues with their logic as to why they use it and mind you I was a server for a long time) but am willing to deal with it. But to add the service charge to the after the tax price is pushing it a little too far.

            1. re: jturtle

              It may well be before the tax. With that amount of money, it worked out to be the same price either way.

              1. re: jturtle

                It may be that they have to charge tax after the addition since they have to call the addition a 'service charge' rather than a tip (according to the blog, if I recall).

                In any case, before or after, the difference is about 1.4%, so just think of it as a 19.3% service charge, pre-tax.

                Also, $6.50 for a quality cask beer that is rare or unique in SD is not overpriced at all in my opinion. To go off on a tangent, I recall being dragged to TGIF over a decade ago and the beer 'special' was $6.50 for a 20oz draft San Adams. Or, to put it another way, check out a wine menu at the vast majority of places. For $6.50 you can usually get a nice glass of tap water (i.e. no glasses under $7) or a glass of wine from a bottle you could find at Ralph's for $9. And I don't want to get in to why this is so, just simply pointing out that in terms of eating out, beer has a much better experience/value ratio since very few of us ever have uncommon cask beers at home but we all can shop at Ralph's. For $6.50 in beer you are almost assured of a high-quality drink (at least at a place like the Linkery) for $6.50 in wine you are almost assured of a low-quality drink (with some exceptions). Actually, I think I just convinced myself to drink more $6.50 pints and less $7.5 glasses....

              2. re: Josh

                Even if I buy into this logic, what you're saying is that their superior food (superior to pub grub, that is) gives them license to charge that much for the beer. I completely disagree, but I can see how someone who is as into beer as you are might think otherwise.

                1. re: mangiatore

                  You don't have to order cask beer. They have plenty of other options that are reasonably priced. They have other options that are very expensive, such as their large format and limited release bottles.

                  I mean, you're starting to get into the realm of basic capitalism here. The guy can charge what the market will bear. He's not aiming for the kind of crowd that a place like O'Brien's is catering to. Obviously he has a customer base that is willing to pay the higher prices he charges, for the ability to enjoy a fine cask beer with a really high-quality meal.

                  Linkery's pricing is expensive enough that I don't go often, but when I do go I always feel I get value for my money.

                  1. re: mangiatore

                    I would say that their food much more than just "pub grub" or even close to it. What other restaurant would you suggest at this price level in SD with an ever changing menue (food and drinks) which has the same quality of food ? I don't know any in SD.

                    1. re: mangiatore

                      yes it most definately does, having a full kitchen should affect your beer prices.

                2. re: Josh

                  I dont believe that $6.50/pint is too expensive in today's market. With the devaluation of the dollar on a record pace, and the increased cost of each keg, I'm scared of the $10.00 pint being not to far away. I run a San Diego Brewers Guild "Allied Pub Member" restaurant, and we have 2 kegs on right now that are $190-$200. So in order to keep our food costs down, and to make a small profit we must charge $6.50/pint for those two (although that does include tax). You should be happy that fresh local beer is still available in the variety that it is today, it has to be rough for the brewers as well. For the people that are feeling the pinch, we always have two handles of craft beer that are $3.25/pint. But if you are picky, and you must have your favorite style of beer, be prepared to pay for it in today's market. **I left out the name of my place, or the name of the beers that we charge $6.50 for because I'm not here to pimp my place, just trying to explain the financial problems in the food service industry.

                  1. re: tonloco

                    If you check the date of the post you're replying to, it's approximately one year old. At that time, they were charging $6.50 for a glass of cask ale (not always a pint) when local pubs were charging around $3.50-4.00. It's no secret that in the year since I wrote that post hops and grains have gotten significantly more expensive.

                3. I can understand a little bit your frustration but I think there are many reasons to go back to the linkery. I think it is one of the best restaurant in SD for this price level with very good food and an excellent beer list (your pint was $6.50 + tip which is ok for me for this unusual selection of beers). I also like it that they have special evenings with prix fix menues and don't see why they have to also offer the regular menue because this common pratice at other restaurants on special nights.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: honkman

                    I might be ok with the $6.50 if the service charge or tip or whatever they want to call it wasn't 27%, and I might be ok with that if I didn't think the food was hit-and-miss.

                    I guess you have a point about special nights, although I still don't understand why they can't let you order a la carte if you don't want to go all out. It's just that when you add this to all the other things that drive me crazy about The Linkery, I don't think it's worth it.

                    1. re: mangiatore

                      I think it is easier for the kitchen on those "special" nights. And so far I didn't have a miss at the Linkery after 4 visits.

                      1. re: mangiatore

                        27%?

                        Their service charge is 18%.

                        As for why you can't order a la carte on a special prix-fixe night, think about the operation of a restaurant. Especially a place with such a focused menu. If you're doing a special menu, then you're not doing your regular prep work, and you need to have the kitchen set up to put out plates at the right time with the right items.

                        I find nothing strange about it, you simply had the bad luck to go on that night.

                        1. re: Josh

                          My bad, I forgot about the tax.

                    2. I thought we were the only so-called 'foodies' in town that have had disappointing visits to The Linkery! We've been 3 times and can't figure out what this place is supposed to be - but whatever it is, we'll not be back. Everything we've tried there has been 'just okay'. Frankly, for the price, the hassle of parking in the area, and the ringing in my ears that lasted long after we left the place, well, just okay is not enough.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mimosa

                        I didn't have that experience at all. I thought the food was well worth the price, the available drinks were priced fairly, and, personally, I don't like hassling with a tip (taking a visit to Australia will do that to you) if I don't have to. The service I've received was well worth what they added on. I took their cue - I believe from the website - and went on a Monday night (Monday and Tuesday are their least busy nights, which is probably why they held their special dinner on a Tuesday). I managed a parking place right in front. Sometimes knowing your location is the key, which is why I get on the mailing lists for places like this. They've been advertising their Carolina dinner now for over a month. And I would never go to someplace on 30th Street at 7pm and expect to find parking in front or a quiet dining experience. Kind of like why I don't go to Yogurt World at lunch (too many kids) or at night (fighting the parking with O'Brien's & other merchants).

                      2. You are aware that The Linkery is a restaurant devoted to sustainable agriculture, products and as many locally grown and produced items as possible. This changes significantly the dynamics of their business as well as their business model. This is one place where I think it's safe to say that the Sysco truck isn't going to be pulling up to the back door. This also means that they're not using routine supply lines as well. This changes what they can and can not offer. The commitment to run this type of operation is enormous and adds an entire level of complexity to running and managing it. I know of no other restaurant in San Diego that has made this level of commitment to sustainable products, particular one doing this volume of business. The only other restaurant that even came close was Region and they were more Slow Food with sustainable overtones than whole heartedly sustainable. And, let's see, Region is no longer open. Hmmm......must be an easy business to run.

                        That said, I did happen to have dinner at The Linkery last night and for $45 it was a whale of good bargain. 4 courses, 3 wines and a stout. Where in this city can you get 4 courses WITH alcohol for that price. I do happen to agree that it can be a little hit and miss, but working with heritage, heirloom or sustainable products is not always the same as similar products commerically produced coming out of the agribusiness machinery. So here's my take on last night, the good and the not so good.

                        We started with a plate of pork, country cured, house (or city) cured and a pork foot terrine. It was served with a rose wine. Both hams were delicious and showed off the sweetness of the meat in different ways. I loved the haunting smoke of the house cured ham and when paired with the wine, it produced hints of leather and tabacco. The terrine was served with grain mustard and appropriately chunky and chewy befitting it's lowly orgin. My dining companion LOVED the terrine, I merely liked it. There really wasn't a clunker on the plate.

                        The second course was pork belly confit served wtih heritage grits and collard greens. I'll state right up front I am not a fan of bitter greens so I wasn't so enthralled with the collards. First they suffered from culinary school over-thinking. They were beautifully bright green and too tough. They needed longer cooking - preferably with pot liquor - to make them more palatable. Most greens come out of the southern slavery cooking tradition; I for one would have perfered to have had the collards cooked in a more traditional way, but then they would have been olive drab on the plate. The flavorof the grits was actually very good, but they were too dense. A little more liquid, milk or cream would have helped. Actually, I think some maple syrup would have worked as well. The pork conft, however, rescued the entire dish. It was fabulously lush and velvety in the mouth and a bite that contained all 3 components was quite tasty. To my taste, this was the least successful dish of the night because even though all 3 components worked well together, 2 of them really didn't work that well individually. But that pork confit, oh boy, rich, succulent, totally satisfying, I'd go back for that in a heart beat. This was accompanied by a nice white from the Alsace which was light enough to counter act the heavy notes of the food.

                        The 3 course was grass fed beef that had been braised. It was served with yam mashers and fava beans. Grass fed beef is much leaner than beef finished on a feed lot, which means that it won't have much fat or marbling, meaning that it won't have much internal lubrication. The braised beef had good flavor but it suffered from that lack of marbling in that it was very, very dry. Braising should have been a fairly good cooking method for the beef, so short of overcooking, I'm not sure why it was as dry as it was. Serving it with more of the braising liquid would have helped as well. I prefer my favas with olive oil, sea salt, fresh cracked pepper and shaved pecorino cheese, but these were pretty good, tho' slightly undercooked. The yam mash I could take or leave. I didn't think the flavor combinations came together all that well, I really felt that the beef, yams and favas were all competing with each other for attention and/or top billing. The Sangiovase that was served with the meat was deep, fruity and peppery.

                        The final course was, of course, dessert which was a deep dish sweet potato and pecan pie about the size of a small muffin and it was terrific. It was more like a tart than a pie. A high alcohol stout was served with it instead of wine and I have to say it was an inspired choice and pairing. The bite and bitterness of the stout really worked well against the sweetness of the dessert. And thankfully, the stout was served in a very small portion, I'm not sure how anyone could drink too much of it.

                        No not everything worked, but at no point did I feel ripped off and at no point did I feel that the meal was not a good value for either what I got or the portion sizes. In fact, I thought the entire dinner was a steal. My biggest comment about The Linkery is that I think they need to amp up their seasonings some. I know the trend in the sustainable food/slow food movements are to prepare the ingredients as simply as possible in order to let the natural goodness of the ingredient shine and be center stage; kind of in the Chez Panisse mold. However, a little seasoning here or there not only acts to prevent blandness it can actually highlight or play up the ingredient or dish. In this regard I think The Linkery is leaving their cards and money on the table.

                        My opinion and point of view may be the minority one, but I have to say I have enormous respect for what The Linkery, it's staff, mangement and ownership are trying to do. It requires a huge commitment of time, energy and resources and is not easy, especially in a town like San Diego that does not place tremendous value on food.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          It's posts like this that made us go back after not one, but two mediocre experiences! Would that we could have as inspired an experience there but it's not happened - not even close - in 3 tries.

                          As beautifully written as your post was DD, I have to pull out just one line for another good chuckle "...suffered from culinary school over-thinking" LOL

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            Thank you for bringing up the issue of using sustainable agriculture, products and as many locally grown and produced items as possible by the Linkery. I just started a longer post about that but you summarized it perfect.

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              Well said. I like the Linkery. I like that most of the choices of beverages are well priced, unusual and generally quite tasty. Although, now we are addicted to the super special glass bottle dr. pepper but that is another story. I like that they are committed to slow food & the environment and are trying to be a responsible small business.
                              I don't like the service charge but will deal.
                              I have had an uneven dish or two. By uneven I mean I can make a better pulled pork sandwich then they are serving (and if they are reading I will totally come in and share!) I also understand that it is different when you are running a kitchen then your home and am willing to forgive and order other dishes, especially the sausage tacos.

                              All in all we will continue to patronize The Linkery due to the fact that I would rather have my food dollars go to them then a place that is buying meat/vegetables produced in a manner I don't personally agree with just because it might be a bit tastier or cheaper.

                            2. I'm curious, how come you decided not to have the prix fixe dinner?

                              27 Replies
                              1. re: Alice Q

                                Actually, that's a great question, Alice. It was the South Carolina wine pairing. This is a much bigger discussion that has more to do with wine pairing than with this particular evening at The Linkery. I think wine pairing is vastly overrated because if you are someone who "knows wine" and knows what types of wine you like, you will almost always do a better job pairing wines than the restaurant. This is, of course, assuming that the restaurant has a great wine list, which The Linkery doesn't. I'm not critisizing The Linkery for this, but I just don't think they are going to do a better job choosing the wines I like with the dishes they're serving than I will. I drink a lot of good wine, but I believe this to be the case even for the casual wine drinker. My mom, for example, hates red wine. I don't care if you have the best sommelier in the world doing the pairing, she's still going to enjoy the meal more if she can choose the best white wine for the meal. Anyway, if they had given me another, lower price option without pairings ($35?), I would have done it.

                                1. re: mangiatore

                                  i agree with your opinion about the Linkery. Average at best. Overpriced for sure.

                                  I dont care what their purpose is behind what they buy and how they serve it, if i'm going to pay a certain amount of money i should get that quality. I love how their menu says exactly where everything is coming from down to the smallest ingredient, LIKE IT MATTERS? Do i know the quality of the ingredients they are buying? (no) Its just an act to get people to go back.

                                  Alot of people like this place not because of the food, but because of the experience.

                                  The only thing that's probably not overpriced is their beer, its not easy to get cask beer in a restaurant nowadays. But they should really stick to beer and not wine.

                                  1. re: clayfu

                                    I love this image of Jay, at the Linkery, sitting in the back room rubbing his hands together and scheming up ways to dupe customers into coming back by paintakingly explaining where each item on the menu comes from. Good plan. Not to mention traveling across the country to visit and hand select his suppliers, and paying thru the nose so his diners can have a better experience. Oh, and don't forget the efforts to reduce the negative impact of the restaurant on the environment. Clearly just a gimmick.

                                    In all seriousness though, is it perfect? No, not always, but it is good quality, and most of the time - it is very good food. If you don't care about what they are doing, then just don't go. There are plenty of other restaurants in town that will be more than happy to take your money and use it to buy frozen french fries from Sysco.

                                    1. re: Alice Q

                                      Funny, I was thinking the same thing about Clay's comment. Anyone who's met Jay knows how ridiculous that notion is.

                                  2. re: mangiatore

                                    Again, you seem to be missing the practical implications of what you're saying here. I largely agree with you about wine and beer dinners, I can usually find something about the pairings to criticize. However for the restaurant hosting such a dinner, imagine the serving nightmare you'd have on your hands if your waitstaff had to take individual drink orders from each person at each table.

                                    If you don't want your wine paired with your courses for you, then don't go to a wine/food pairing dinner.

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      That's stretching it. You had me semi-convinced with your explanation as to why allowing people to order a la carte off the prix fixe isn't practical, but most restaurants that have tasting menus or prix fixes have two options: with pairings or without. Also, why would taking drink orders screw anything up? They're servers for god's sake.

                                      1. re: mangiatore

                                        I agree that offering a drink-less option makes sense. But as a practical matter, you're looking at either pre-pouring a bunch of glasses assembly-line style, with bottles opened and ready, or individually fetching everyone's drink order. To me the difference in efficiency is blindingly obvious.

                                        1. re: Josh

                                          Yes, certainly less efficient without drink orders, but not inefficient. And considering the fact that many of your customers would rather do their own pairings (especially when the pairings offered are from S.Carolina!), IMO the service factor trumps the efficiency factor.

                                          1. re: mangiatore

                                            Have you had many S. Carolina wines? I've had a Rose from Carolina Vineyard that was quite nice, I also had a sparkling wine that was nice.

                                            1. re: stevuchan

                                              No, I haven't. I'd be willing to try.

                                              1. re: mangiatore

                                                So your are complaining about wines as bad choices when you have never tried them ?

                                                1. re: honkman

                                                  I would prefer to try them on my own instead of paying for them in a pairing. I don't like pairings in the first place, so I'm certainly not going to pay for one featuring wines from South Carolina, of all places.

                                    2. re: mangiatore

                                      I guess I see your point, but I would probably just roll with it and give it a shot - unless I was exhausted or for some other reason just not up for a multi course meal. Out of (more) curiosity, where did you end up going - did you check out Alexander's across the street?

                                      1. re: Alice Q

                                        We ended up at Ono Sushi in Hillcrest. I saw Alexander's for the first time, and it looks really nice from the outside. But based on some things I've read, it doesn't interest me. I'm pretty skeptical of Italian restaurants.

                                        1. re: mangiatore

                                          I've never liked Old Venice, so I'm very reluctant to try Alexander's.

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            I forgot about that. Old Venice is the worst Italian restaurant I've tried in San Diego. Buon Appetito is probably the best (although last time I tried it, it was mediocre). I had a decent risotto years ago at Arrivederci, so I may give it another shot one of these days. I was tempted to try Piatti until I read some of the details in Naomi Wise's review a couple days ago. I'm suspicious of Baci due to misspellings on the menu. I'm curious about Salvatore's and Petrini's, need more info though.

                                            1. re: mangiatore

                                              Um she gave Piatti's a glowing review what was it that turned you off. The lemon ravioli's are so freaking amazing--although I get half lemon and half tomato.
                                              Seriously though what possibly could have turned you off. The 3.5 stars? The fact that the quality has been consistent for 18 years? The fact that the chef really tries to please his customers by letting them sub sides? The fact that they carry sweetbreads b/c the regulars love them even though they might not be popular? What?

                                              1. re: jturtle

                                                What? What? What!? LOL. The lemon ravioli actually sound good, although she complained about the quality of the ricotta, and I'm not sure why they felt the need to add basil. Lemon-based pasta and risotto cream sauces are better without other pungent flavors like basil (still, I'd be interested to try the dish). I also cannot fathom why they would add spinach to that cavatappi recipe. It sounds messy and misplaced. Another example of the tendency of American restaurants to 'just add everything' -- they're all good ingredients, so they must taste good together. They couldn't leave the carbonara alone either -- had to add those green peas. Parsley has no place on a Margherita. In fact, I can't think of a worse ingredient to add to a margherita, whose flavors are all subtle and would be completely drowned out by parsley. So basically, Piatti sounds like most Italian American restaurants -- they add inappropriate ingredients to almost every dish she mentions. In fact, in just about every dish I can tell where the chef jumped in and tried to add a twist -- but as usual the twists make no sense. Also, they serve pasta/risotto (primi) together on the plate with their secondi so that the juices of different dishes run together -- another bad sign. There were a couple other things I haven't even mentioned.

                                                1. re: mangiatore

                                                  Though I think Piatti is a reasonable good Italian restaurant for SD I have to agree with mangiatore that one of the biggest problems with American Italian restaurant (not only in SD but also in places that are known for good Italian restautant like Boston) all restaurants add too much ingedrients to their dishes. If there is one common theme throughout Italian cooking it is the very low number of ingredients. Just read some good regional Italian cookbook like "Flavors of Tuscany" and "Flavors of Puglia" from Jenkins or "Naples at Table". It seems that American Italian restaurants are afraid that their customers will complain that they don't get enough for their money.
                                                  But mangiatore I would still recommend to try Piatti (and I also recommend Barolo at UTC). Don't see them as competition to food oyu would get in Italy but just at places with good food with an Italian twist.

                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                    That's what I remember most about Roma Beach Caffe. The dishes always blew me away because of how much they got out of so few ingredients. They were like haikus on a plate.

                                                    1. re: Josh

                                                      AMEN honkman. While there are some complex Italian cooking techniques, the key to it lies in its simplicity.

                                                      I find this tangent in our conversation interesting in light of Dining Diva's comment on the Slow Food movement's emphasis on letting ingredients shine. It's no coincidence that the Slow Food movement began in Italy (in response to the perceived invasion and influence of American food). My advice to people/restaurants who are trying to follow the "let the ingredients shine" example but ending up with bland food is threefold: salt, pepper, olive oil.

                                                      Honkman, thanks for the recommendations. I'll give them a try.

                                                    2. re: honkman

                                                      It's not that restaurants think people will complain if dishes are smaller, especially since serving sizes are so large, but instead it is more that restaurant economics dictate that their fixed prices (rent, salaries for staff, etc) are so high that they need to charge more to make ends meet. The actual cost of food is one of the smallest expenses but one which costumers see the most therefor it is cost effective to increase portion sizes and then charge more.

                                                      1. re: oerdin

                                                        I am not talking about the serving sizes. I am talking about that Italian cuisine is mainly about having very few high quality ingredients in each dish whereas in Italian restaurants in the US you always get a lot of "additional" ingredients because a lot of Americans might find the dishes too boring. But these additional ingredients might often hurt the overall quality of the dish more than they help.

                                                      2. re: honkman

                                                        It's like cheating, it's easier to make it taste better with a lot of stuff thrown in. Italian food is actually a lot more complicated than some people think - and the fact is that most people here just aren't that picky, so restaurants don't bother to serve carefully prepared high quality ingredients.

                                                        I used to like Via Italia in Clairemont, but I have heard it's gone downhill. I also had a really good meal at Buon Appetito, but then had a pretty mediocre dish on my last visit - I think I ordered poorly though. The last good Italian meal I had was at Trattoria Antica - you might want to give it a try. I've also never had a bad meal at Piatti.

                                                  2. re: mangiatore

                                                    Italian food in SD is in a sorry state. I was astonished at how bad Old Venice was, given the number of recommendations I'd heard over the years.

                                                    1. re: Josh

                                                      Had Linkery experience #1 a few nights ago and am excited to say that we are going back. We had the tacos and also the saurkraut plate (with 2 links, one cuban one spicy something). Both were great and the experience was one that we haven't found in SD in awhile, nice atmosphere, hip beers, informative menus, etc.

                                                      Forgot my camera so no blog about it but I'll bring it on visit #2.

                                                      Mangiatore, for someone without a computer you sure post a lot online ... :)

                                                      Also to the poster asking about parking they have a lot behind the restaurant and there are usually spaces on the street on nearby Grimm.

                                                      Peace,

                                                      Stan
                                                      san diego food blog
                                                      http://www.sandiegofoodblog.com

                                                      1. re: stangoldsmith

                                                        Heheh, I have a computer, I just didn't have it with me that night... ;)

                                        2. The Linkery is one of those enigmatic concepts that in spite of its quirks you want to like. After all, it is a noble effort to run a slow food establishment, and they brought their game to a part of town that had a dearth of creative outlets even though the location wasn’t the best. Initially establishments like the Linkery get my repeat business because I want them to succeed for the good of the neighborhood and SD as a whole. Besides any place that has the good sense to serve Speedway Stout (the beer I developed) is doing something right.

                                          Yet I admit their decision to move to a service charge model was in my view ill conceived and their blog didn’t do much to alleviate the situation. After all it is hard to keep a straight face when seeing the use of The French Laundry & Chez Panisse along with an amalgam of articles to support his unsubstantiated theory that “…tips and quality of service are usually very loosely correlated” Having been both a server and an owner I could wrangle over the democratic nature of the tip and what it means to the average diner, but it is a much shorter discussion to simply say that once you become Chez Panisse you can make these types of “adjustments” to the standard restaurant model with a bit more aplomb. I know Chez Panisse sir, and you are no Chez Panisse.

                                          All that being said, after multiple visits (in my case five), it comes down to execution, and unfortunately I’m one of those patrons that has never had one experience where everything on our table was done well. Invariably something lacks adequate seasoning, or is over cooked, etc. Thus no matter how much I respect their effort, they will not command a significant amount of my restaurant dollars. I’ll check in from time to time to see if they have pulled it together if for no other reason than I respect their effort.

                                          15 Replies
                                          1. re: Charlie SanDiego

                                            Speedway Stout kicks ass, but I guess you already know that.

                                            1. re: Josh

                                              Thanks, its always good to know something you had a hand in making makes people happy. The boys at Alesmith have done a good job with one of my few moments of clarity.

                                              1. re: Charlie SanDiego

                                                I just have to chime in to tell you that your beer RULES!

                                            2. re: Charlie SanDiego

                                              Sorry to hear that you are not happy with their execution. I was at the Linkery again on Saturday and had a very good dinner (like many times before). I agree that there sometimes small things I would like them to changes/improve but I don't know many other restaurants where I pay $70 for two and get such good quality ingredients (sauerkraut for example was outstanding on Saturday).

                                              1. re: honkman

                                                Honkman, you know I like the Linkery, but I have to agree with CharlieSanDiego about a couple of things. Not everything is consistent and not everything is adequately seasoned. In fact, I believe I've made that comment before about The Linkery. It is,however, always interesting eating.

                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                  I agree that especially the seasoaning could be sometimes better. I addition I am also not always really happy with the service. On Saturday we felt quite rushed. Yes, the Linkery is not perfect but I am willing to accept those problems (and not only at the Linkery. We had for example recently really lousy service at Cafe Chloe but we will definitely go back soon) as long as they delivery good to excellent food.

                                              2. re: Charlie SanDiego

                                                "I know Chez Panisse sir, and you are no Chez Panisse."

                                                Hmmm...I didn't think The Linkery was trying to be Chez Panisse.

                                                "I could wrangle over the democratic nature of the tip and what it means to the average diner,"

                                                It means that the restaurant owner has successfully transferred responsibility for payroll to the customer, reduced the cost of labor to the restaurant and increased the odds of achieving some degree of profitability. The IRS likes the set service fee because it provides a verifiable audit trail and lessens (in their eyes) the amount of unreported revenue going under the table.

                                                I don't directly pay the maids that service my room at a hotel and I don't directly pay the airline pilot that flies me to a destination. So why am I expected to pay the service directly and the restaurant says it's not their responsibility to pay for the server they hired?

                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                  I have always found the food and beer at the Linkery to be consistently good. It's the service that is always a coin toss to me. I have been as frustrated as the first poster, but I love the idea of the place and the fact that they take the time and effort to get their products from the best possible places keeps me coming back. In other words, the food and service has never wowed me, but the overall idea of the place keeps me coming back.

                                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                                    yeah but you never pay the maid or the pilot directly like you are tipping someone. You dont tip a maid or a pilot for doing more or less (actually made i do, i always leave a tip), but a waiter you do. It is a completely service oriented occupation and i when the service is bad why are you forced to pay 18%? that's ridiculous.

                                                    1. re: clayfu

                                                      I have a sneaky suspicion that if you don't think the service you received merited an 18% tip/service charge you could take it up with them. Just like when restaurants impose 18% on large parties, most of the time the manager will make adjustments if you have problems with the service. And since Jay seems like a reasonable fellow, I am sure if you voiced your complaints with the service he would figure something out.

                                                    2. re: DiningDiva

                                                      Diva,

                                                      I was trying to go with the short answer here, but if I must…

                                                      The Chez P comment is a tongue in cheek play on Lloyd Benson’s classic “I knew John Kennedy sir, and you’re no John Kennedy.” The import of my comment is that the Linkery is attempting to emulate Chez P in their management style as it pertains to the tipping policy, and I found their logic concerning the decision to be attenuated at best.

                                                      Curiously you fail to realize that you are still “directly paying” the wait staff at the Linkery only now you are doing so at the rate they have dictated for you rather than at a rate you feel is commensurate with the dinning experience. The Linkery’s main argument was that by instituting a set fee for table service they would be able to maintain a higher standard of service due in large part to their ability to share this revenue with their entire staff. Various additional points are touched upon about how tipping can be influenced, and other vague statements about the difficulties of equating tips with good service. Bottom line, I do not believe this is true from the management side, and more importantly it doesn’t give adequate consideration to the customer’s perspective.

                                                      In my experience, quality restaurants train their staff to be an extension of their concept as part of running a good house period. Because the business model of restaurants affords limited ability for direct supervision of the employees, tips serve as another form of exigency on the wait staff to perform their duties in a manner consistent with fine dining. From the patron’s side, I believe the predominate reason people tip is to show appreciation for quality food and service; thus to remove their ability to make this evaluation for themselves is foolhardy. Few patrons want to be placed in a position to discuss the merits of substandard service with the management in order to negotiate a reduction in the imposed 18% gratuity.

                                                      Remember I started my post by saying how I appreciated what the Linkery is trying to do and I wanted them to succeed; yet I believe this move was a needless barrier to the establishment of a loyal clientele. There is a reason the only restaurants to utilize this policy are among the best in the nation, and did not do so from the get-go. It was only after their reputation was established, and their level of food and service was unquestioned that they ventured into these unconventional waters. If the truth be told, (with the exception of Moosewood) the move was not done to maintain their level of service but to increase their bottom line by guaranteeing an 18% bump on covers that far exceed the average for fine dining. In the case of the Linkery, they placed the cart before the horse…

                                                      1. re: Charlie SanDiego

                                                        One of the points I recall being made early on when they started their policy was that according to one of the Cornell studies, people tend to tip at a certain level regardless of service quality. I would have been in the minority on that study! Just yesterday morning I went somewhere where I had terrible service, and believe me that the tip reflected it. That being said, I've never had bad service at the Linkery so 18% in their case winds up being less than I'd normally give.

                                                        1. re: Charlie SanDiego

                                                          Your main argument seems to be:
                                                          1) Tipping helps management by punishing bad service and rewarding good service, because management is not able to tell if servers are doing a good job.
                                                          2) Tipping helps customers by letting them punish bad service and reward good service, and they enjoy being able to change their bill to match the service/food/experience.
                                                          3) CP and the other restaurants that started this did it only "to increase their bottom line by guaranteeing an 18% bump."

                                                          I feel you did not give Jay's arguments a fair shake, certainly not from what you wrote in the first half of this post. I will refer other chowhounds to Jay's blog, if they wish to read his reasoning for The Linkery's new policy (short version): http://thelinkery.com/blog/?p=311 and long version: http://thelinkery.com/blog/?p=304

                                                          But for your three points:
                                                          1) Does management really lack the ability to tell good servers from bad ones? I have not run a restaurant, but it seems to me that there are plenty of ways of judging employees other than asking the customers how much they would like to pay them. Unfortunately, often customers tip for reasons that ought to make management unhappy; they bartender gets an extra buck for a stiff pour; the maitre d' is slipped a $20 for that special table; the waiter gets his 25% by lavishing attention on a particularly promising table while ignoring the 8 person party of European tourists. Because of tipping, these folks are rewarded for behavior that hurts the efficient management of the restaurant, or even directly steals from profits. Why else do so many bars install metered pour spouts on the bottles?
                                                          Would it not be better if we would take our complaints to management, when service was truly lacking? Then the managers could improve the experience for everyone, from regulars to new customers. And if every tip is the same %, waiters and staff will not feel pressured to suck up to customers and lavish attention on particular tables, if doing so will make service suffer for other tables. Their goals are now aligned with those of management; sell more food and drink, and keep the tables full with repeat customers.

                                                          2) Does tipping really help customers?
                                                          Well, unlike Josh, I tip about the same percent (20%) most everywhere, unless the service is really great or really terrible. I would feel guilty about stiffing a guy even if he made a mistakes or was off-putting; what if he had a bad night? I also don't go fishing for special treatment with the promise of great tips, and I really can't afford to buy the Itamae a drink every time, if that's what it takes to get the good fish. So the Linkery's system works for me; I save 2 or 3 percent off of my usual tip, and I don't have to worry about it.
                                                          But what about those customers who revel in the power of a 50% on a good night, and quench their anger on bad nights by stiffing the waiter. Do they really benefit from the current system? Well, perhaps if they find tipping fun in and of itself. But I think they find no benefit in better service or food. The problem is, unless a diner becomes well known at a restaurant by very frequent, perhaps weekly, visits, each individual waiter is very unlikely to see the same customer often enough to know them well. And because many waiters have been stiffed after providing excellent service (perhaps by the aforementioned clueless European tourist) and likewise got good tips even on a bad night (couple on a first date?), they are inclined to think that the amount of tip depends more on the personality of the diner and the whim of fortune.
                                                          So, our clever tipper, who thinks his 0% a stinging rebuke for bad service, at best will find himself shunned by the staff on his next visit, labeled a terrible tipper. His 50% tip for otherworldly service leads only to disappointment if he is remembered the next time, and expected the act the same.

                                                          3) Finally, I find it hard to believe that a flat %18 really helped out Chez Panisse. Believe it or not, most of my 20-something, middle-class friends tip around 20% and up. There are quite a few articles online about 20 being the new 15. And at a high-end place like CP the tips ought to be even better.
                                                          Jay claimed that 18% was about the average they were getting at The Linkery before switching the system. Believe it if you will.

                                                          Again, I'd recommend that everyone read the interesting discussion on Jay's blog. The comments section is long and informative; many good arguments and counter-arguments came up. Most of the reasoning was better than mine.

                                                          1. re: Joseph

                                                            The whole tipping argument always gets me, particularly since some countries not only add the service charge but then STILL expect a tip! I was reading an article in Vanity Fair recently about a very high-end sushi place where the final bill was $1,152 "before service charge and tip". Yowza.

                                                            1. re: Joseph

                                                              I normally tip around 20%, with exceptions made for the extremes that you cited. I have never stiffed anyone, though I have given as little as 10% if the service was really poor.

                                                              I don't really care if the server is having a bad night. A professional doesn't let their personal feelings interfere with their work.

                                                              However, I think you are misunderstanding the discussion here. This isn't about "punishing" the server, or about "reveling" in the power (power?) of tipping.

                                                              A tip is something extra given by the patron as a measure of gratitude for receiving good service. Your comments suggest that you view tipping as mandatory, as though it is up to the consumer to help a business make payroll above and beyond their contribution by patronizing the establishment in the first place.

                                                              I think this is a strange way to look at it.

                                                              I like The Linkery. I am a fan of what they are doing, and I almost always have a great experience eating there. I understand Jay's arguments as to why they switched to a service charge, my comment was only meant to say that I don't habitually tip the same amount every time like an automaton. I do consider the quality of service I received.

                                                      2. I know it sounds like cheap advertisement for the Linkery but there are two sentences from the weekly email I found very interesting:

                                                        "Now, absolutely all the meat we serve comes from independent farmers and
                                                        co-ops, whose reputation and livelihood are bound to the quality and
                                                        integrity of the animals they raise (until now, this described most
                                                        but not all of the meat we serve). Many of these independent farmers
                                                        raise their animals outdoors according to traditional, sustainable
                                                        methods considered by modern industry to be too expensive or
                                                        inefficient."

                                                        I think (independently how everybody thinks about the quality of the dishes and services at the Linkery) that is a great accomplishment which hopefully many other restaurants in San Diego will follow. And for those who followed Michael Pollan lecture this week in San Diego will agree that the implication of such an accomplishment goes far beyond food.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                          is the Trattoria Antica open? Isnt that the one by ben and jerry's? If so we tried to go there but found it closed a month or so ago.. I did think it was tasty.. Funny story.. we were in Italy with friends two years ago. They started talking to a waitress I think it was..her father... was the owner of T. A.

                                                          1. re: karenc

                                                            Trattoria Antica is in a Von's shopping center at the intersection of Baltimore Dr. and Lake Murray Blvd. in La Mesa. IIRC, it is next to a verterinarian's office. It is open for business as usual.

                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                              I swear that was the same name as the one in Hillcrest.. maybe there were two?

                                                              1. re: karenc

                                                                The one in Hillcrest was Antico Trattoria and it closed quite a while ago. Ichiban on the Rocks is now in the space.

                                                        2. i read this year-old thread a few hours ago because of the recent posts, then just now stumbled on this interview with jay porter while doing some unrelated surfing.

                                                          http://jedsundwall.com/interview-with...

                                                          since i haven’t read his blog, this interview was a revelation to me and quite fascinating. i don’t know how opinions of the linkery have evolved over the past year, but i’d like to try it if for no other reason than to sample his vision of community involvement.