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Bar Stuzzichini - Very Mediocre

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Based in large part on the strong recommendations in a prior thread (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/412386) my girlfriend and I went to Bar Stuzzichini for dinner Friday night. The experience was truly underwhelming and has me scratching my head (and frankly a tiny bit skeptical) over the glowing reports found in the other thread.

The space is cavernous and oddly styled. The food is very much in the familiar NYC rustic Italian mold, but instead of a warm intimate setting the feel of the place is somewhere between Bull and Bear and TGI Fridays.

Our server was well meaning and attentive but was overly ambitious about steering us towards her personal favorites and basically reinforced the TGI Friday's sentiment. I'm OK with a little direction from my server, but she went too far. That would be more excusable if she hadn't condescendingly treated us as if we were helplessly lost amid an ever so exotic menu. She did this in pretty much the nicest way possible but it was nonetheless aggravating. This is New York City, the food at your restaurant is not so unusual, and you have to assume patrons have some level of knowledge of what's being served. The real problem here is that, despite attempts to appear otherwise, she clearly had limited experience with sophisticated food and was working on an assumption that whatever she had learned in her training was beyond anything her diners would know.

Oh, and she annoyingly repeated back to us the Italian name for everything we ordered.

Me: "We'll have the grilled octopus:
Her: "The Polpo"
Me: "The Prawn"
Her: "Gamberoni"

She did this for every single item. Grrrrr.

I am no wine geek, but I do appreciate a good bottle and don't appreciate when wine is served in inadequate stemware. Stuzzichini uses the new fangled wine glasses that are sans stem and with low quality thick rims. Half point deduction.

Onto the food, most everything was at least decent, but nothing was particularly good. We started with the Misti -- our choice of any five antipasti for $22. A great sounding deal that is in fact a pretty good, but (given the bite sized portions) not so terrific bargain. We had the prawn (simple but good), grilled octopus with thinly sliced celery (octopus had good soft texture but no char, celery worked well), zucchini (very uninspired), fried artichoke (big let down, outer leaves were dried out while interior was mush, under seasoned), and the buffalo mozzarella (good but I'm not giving much credit for serving a ball of mozzarella).

For our second course we split the spaghetti with squid and cherry tomatoes. A good but not particularly impressive past dish that was much too small a portion. We each got about five bites worth. Honestly, we struggled to find a pasta we were excited about after crossing of the Rigatoni with Ragu (the GF doesn't eat veal). This dish was fine but didn't do anything to turn around our impressions after the lackluster antipasti course.

For our main we split the crispy lemon chicken. Again, we couldn't really find anything we were too excited about among the secondi so, encouraged by some of the comments in the earlier thread I referenced, we opted for the chicken. The dish was a half de-boned bird, nicely crisp with juicy flesh, and the right amount of lemony bite. It was tasty, but hardly elevated chicken above mundane. At $18 for half of a small bird with absolutely no accompaniments or garnish, this was a poor value.

For desert, I had the olive oil cake and she passed. The cake was pretty much in line with everything else we had.

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  1. OMG. I had the EXACT same experience with the waiter!!!! We had a dude, and he had the enthusiasm and 'flair' of a TGI Fridays waiter, with the "excellent" recommendations ... and after each item we ordered he said "excellent choice", as if we had picked the menu lottery and chosen the best from each category or something.

    I did like the food however, I'm not impartial because I live in the neighborhood and it just might be my new go-to favorite to solo dine. The floor managers and some guy who is clearly an 'owner', stick out like sore thumbs. If you go, you'll know what I mean. They are very nice though, although I don't know if this type of establishment is their original training.

    I recommend.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jimnorton

      I know exactly what you mean about the management figures.

      We got the parallel treatment when we went against our waitress's pasta recommendation; she gave us a sigh that was saying 'alright you can have that but I'm disappointed with you'.

      Seems to me that the kitchen staff and the management come from different culinary backgrounds.

    2. I dined there on Sunday afternoon and had the same interaction with our waitress. THe food was ok, not great.
      We ordered our food and about 10 minutes later, she cam back with a pen & pad, repeated the order back to us while writing it down and walked away. She got the order right, but it was strange, to say the least.
      The bartender spent a solid 10 minutes crouched behind the bar on his cell phone. Since we were sitting by the window, we had a perfect view of this. While it wasn't necessarily bothersome, it was indicative of the service as a whole.

      1. I never gave it a glowing review - I thought it was fine but nothing exceptional.
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/41238...

        I also pointed out the slightly somber atmosphere of the place. It's fine if you happen to be in the neighborhood but it's certainly not destination dining.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Bob Martinez

          I was there on Saturday night and this is my experience as well. The waiter treated us like we could have never possibly seen an Italian influenced menu before and talked and talked and talked like we should all be life long friends about what he likes there. He spent too much time explaining the menu when we didn't even ask. More embarassing, two of us were CIA graduates and found this incredibly funny. The food was OK, even good but the place does remind me of a chain restaurant. It is huuuuge and feels strange. Dark. The artichokes were underwhelming. The meatballs were good. The pastas were fine. The wine was fine. Portions are tiny, even for small plates. We got a double order of the small plates for apps and really it was just a bite or two. Would not recommend, and would not go back again.

        2. Thanks everyone, unless i find myself in front of this place, I'm taking it off my list!

          3 Replies
          1. re: elizabeththinks

            For a place with stuzzichini in the name (Italian tapas), isn't it odd that part of the menu is so limited and basic? The room will always be a disaster but the crowd surprised me most of all. When I went it was the oddest mix of a corporate outing in the front bar and huge tables of Jerseyites in the back. Made me almost miss Komegashi (the previous occupant of this soon-to-be-cursed place).

            1. re: npandela

              It has an eerie franchise, in-a-mall feeling. And the blabbering staff that hovered didn't help.

              1. re: Brigita

                Haha, I walk by this place literally every day on my way into work, and sense precisely the same sterile, overly-manufactured vibe each time I peak in.

                I had always assumed the portions must be substantial given the pricepoint (didn't they just get written up in NYMag's CheapEats issue?), and I was literally one hungry afternoon away from ignoring my best instincts and giving it a shot.

                Thanks for a well-timed post.

          2. We had the worst experience with service I've ever experienced in an NYC restaurant at Bar Stuzzichini. We were ignored for ridiculously long stretches by our waiter, were condescended to by an obnoxious somelier, and then blown off by a manager when we complained (after two hours without receiving any entrees, we managed to flag him down -- he basically forced two unwanted glasses of red wine on our table of three, then acted as though the situation was now resolved). I actually felt a bit badly for our waiter, as he began to realize how poorly we were being treated. He brought the check to our table, said "sorry", and trod off.

            Almost all the food we had, we liked. The octopus in particular was fantastic. But, I'll never set foot in the place again.

            1 Reply
            1. re: danoots

              I'm so glad to read that there were others with bad experience at the place! After seeing good reviews, I made reservations there one day in advance. When we arrived, we were seated at a tiny table in the cramped bar section, instead of one in the dining area. And there were many empty tables in the dining section & it was only 5:30 pm! I didn't complain because I had an out of town friend there, but it really felt like a slap in the face! They're a fairly new restaurant & I'm surprised they are treating their diners with such disrespect! The food was fine, but certainly not great, & completely overshadowed by our experience there. There are so many great restaurants out there that will treat people with more respect. Unless you're a masochist & don't mind being treated badly, there is no reason to go to Stuzzichin!!