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Jul 29, 2007 05:17 PM

phx : palatte, second try

so we went to palatte again friend and i had a arts' board meeting downtown. she runs 2 businesses downtown, and in addition to being managing editor of a local mag, and we do everything we can to support cenpho businesses.

we walk in, get the 'have you been here before' spiel for the owner and we told him about our unfortunate experience the day before.

we asked if he wanted our opinion and he said 'well, yeah but i don't know if i'll do anything about it'..ok fine, whatever.

we told him our issue with the self serve counter action - and how even at that moment, you had to tell everyone. grab a menu, head to the counter around the corner, grab a table. its awkward!! esp when its busy. where are you supposed to stand because there's no space! in fact, we pointed out people around us, looking uncomfortable, trying to figure out where to stand and what to do while you're holding a menu.

so we order, i got a coffe and the bev *egg spinach dish* and my friend got an iced coffee and the potato.

i get a coffee cup unceremoniously handed to me. uh, ok..what am i supposed to do with this?

we sit down, and my friends iced coffee shows up. only its the color of iced tea. so we send it back - thats iced tea, not coffee. turns out it is. they took a cup of ice and poured coffee over the top of it. lukewarm, diluted, and tasted like dishwater. she sent ended up trading it for regular coffee.

my friends dish comes first - not much in the way of potatoes, and with some unnamed flavor we guessed was cinnamon. cinnamon? hrm. and the cheese? well, if cheese is heated too much over a grill, with eggs, you separate out the water, so you end up with a runny mess. which was precisely how the dish showed up. runny, wet, and not enough potatoes to qualify as a potatoe dish.

so, i still have an empty coffee cup. we've had 3 visits from staff *bringing the iced coffe 2x, then my friends food*, and no one notices my empty cup. so i finally i just decide i'll get my own coffee. s o i do. and have to ask the guy at the counter 'is it self serve?'. it is. and the cream/milk/etc are glass jugs in tubs of water. yowza. safe food handling temperature much?

15 minutes after my friend gets her food, the owner comes back to see if we're ok. i ask - is my food coming? he sends it over. don't know what happened but it was no longer hot. the toast? if it truly was whole grain thats news to me. and the bev? strangely greasy, and devoid of any seasoning - no discernable salt, pepper, or any other hebs. yipes!! and the avocado look like someone scraped it out of the peel and tried to slice it. nicely prepared it would have been a decent presentation. in its current incarnation it was embarrassing.

the fruit side we both got? apples and plums. the apples were soft, and the fruit wasn't cold. whether it rose to room temperature while it sat out for 15 minutes i'll never know.

so the owner comes back to talk to us. here's where the condescending attitude came in. evidently he and his wife have lived all over : nyc, san fran, paris, australia. and this, counter service, is the way it is. and they are here to teach phoenix what its like in the rest of the world. we just looked at each other. we both lived in nyc, and i lived in the bay area, and we've both spent extensive trips abroad, including my 2 stints in cooking schools in france and thailand. and if counter service is the way it is in those places it's news to us. his parting comment sealed the deal, tho. 'we're targeting people who get it'. so, clearly we don't.

thats fine. we'll get it at au petit four or coronado cafe or matt's. flavorful, straightforward food served with a smile and not a side of attitude.

i can forgive a multitude of sins, esp for a newly opening restaurant. like switch, where the manager pulled up a chair and said 'tell me what you think'. im sure he wasn't in love with every thing we said, but he smiled and nodded and listed to what we said. in a thousand years i can't imagine a restaurant in a newly opened establishment telling people who he KNEW walked out the day before that we clearly don't get it, and this place isn't for us, because clearly we hadn't been to nyc, san fran or france.

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  1. I, too, lived in NYC for a stint and can tell you that I never experienced something like that in the multitude of restaurants I experiences in both Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens (although I never ate in The Bronx or Staten Island, but I doubt that type of service exists there either).

    I am sorry you had such a bad experience, Sloan. Since I am a Phoenix native, I guess I am just one of those uneducated Phoenix yokels who needs to be edumacated about "counter service."

    2 Replies
    1. re: Seth Chadwick

      It's truly bizarre. Tara and I had a great time. The worst thing that happened was when we asked for lemon wedges for our water, the waiter only brought one the first time, looked at us and said something like "You probably wanted two, huh?" , and got another one. I'm a very harsh judge of wait staff (not sure if that comes through in my reviews) and when that's the worst I can come up with, I consider it a very good day.

      Sure you didn't kick their dog or something, Winedubar? :)

      1. re: Firenza00

        I dined with Winedubar at Palatte, and I will say this is not an experience in customer fussy behavior. On our first attempt, it was plain annoying to have someone tell us several times, after telling us we could plop down at a specific table once it was bussed, to have a seat on a nearby couch when we a. didn't want to sit and b. wanted to claim our table, as the open seating was getting slimmer by the second. What if someone had already been sitting on the wait-couch? Where would we have been ushered to then? I feel three of the same exact exchanges with someone gave a clear idea that we were waiting for the table that another staff member told us we could wait for and sit at once it was clear. So, as you heard already, we split.
        Being avid, active patrons of all types of downtown businesses, we decided it would be fair to try again. Frankly, I'm sorry, in the end, that we did.
        The owner's patronizing speech was enough to put me off of the place forever. In giving a little lecture about how they will educate Phoenix as to how the big city folks do it, he never once took a second to find out who he was alienating. Suppose I was a business owner and not a backwoods hick, perhaps I'd have told him by making statements like that, he's assuming a lot about his customers. Suppose I was a former longtime NYC resident and could tell him that never once saw that kind of set-up. In fact, maybe I'd have mentioned that had I been a longtime NYC resident, I couldn't recall offhand any NYC'er that would love to be ushered around and told by several different members of the waitstaff what to do and when. Hmmm, suppose, indeed!
        And in the end, I've had some crappy experiences with staff, seating, etc., in plenty of other places and had all that adversity drift away when served a lovely plate of delicious food...but that was not the case. My plate was oily with the cheese, making the whole egg 'mish-mash' just a mess. I cannot see bothering to put iced coffee on the menu when you are not chilling brewed coffee and pouring hot over a glass of ice instead.
        Sure the place is rustic and charming and for those of us who know Tera, her unique presence and free spirit will always fill that stretch of land, but that's something I will now choose to enjoy as a memory because I just won't be going back.

    2. After reading through the previous thread and this post, I have some thoughts.

      1. The counter service as described sounds familiar to me. There are two places within spitting distance of my office in Berkeley that run their dining rooms as almost exactly as you described (order at the counter, take a number, find a table). One place runs it this way all day and the other runs it this way during lunch only--breakfast and dinner being full service. So, I guess I wouldn't be thrown off by that alone.

      2. Despite, or due to, the fact that I'm used to dealing with "counter service", I would find it a bit awkward to have to figure out where to stand and to have to ferry some bulky menu back and forth from the host's station. The counter service concept I'm familiar with involves (a) having a portable menu that you can drop off after ordering and/or a large menu board you can review before or while (b) queuing up to place your order with someone at a cash register. That way, you have an opportunity to figure out what to order and you know where to place the order.

      3. Service arrangement aside, I too would find it hard to deal with a haughty waitstaff and poorly prepared food.

      4. The owner sounds like he might be the one who needs some educating.

      All of that said, I guess I'm willing to give the place a chance, but probably after they've had a month or two to work out service and kitchen issues. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to have a chance to "educate" the owner.

      Final thought...I wonder if there was some architectural/structural/cost barrier to configuring the space to allow for the kind of arrangement that I'm accustomed to? It seems like a no-brainer to put up a menu board and give people a spot to queue up for ordering. Anyway, although it sounds awkward, I guess I could get the hang of the quirky (to me) spatial arrangement of the stations.

      5 Replies
      1. re: hohokam

        hi hohokam,

        thank you for the thoughtful reply.

        im not against counter service, i'm just saying if you literally have to have someone positioned in front of the door to tell every single person how to order and where to go, thats a problem. bring on the reader boards!!

        as far as the build out/redesign goes, there's a huge walll they faux painted that would be a perfect spot for a reader board menu.

        and the order station is on one side of corner. kind of like the top part of an L there's an opening on the other side *the bottom part of the L* where the cashier has to enter/exit to put the menu's back. you could literally stand in the same spot but turn 90 degrees and take orders right there in front. problem solved. a line out the front door. an obvious place to wait. the menu's on the wall.

        i'm not a total ogre. da vang's one of my fav places fer parmesan's sake ;) i'm just here for the food - it doesn't have to be fancy : menu's, staff, the building. i can forgive loads of things in a restaurant, esp a new one. but attitude and a lecture that i 'don't get it' was too much.

        i guess i DON'T get it. which is too bad. i haven't missed a saturday breakfast out to eat in forever. i would have loved to have them in my rotation.

        1. re: winedubar

          Totally! It's not complaining for complaining's sake at all. It was just uncomfortable. That was a great reply, Hohokam..and really, I don't mind counter service at all--when it's clear what's going on. I think having to have someone usher guests through the process when it's busy and crowded is going to be problematic. And for the guests that are returning, having to be asked everytime "Do you know how we do this," etc., is also going to get a bit stale. Again, counter service is fine, but having to cram in a narrow hallway doesn't make for the best set-up. If I was going for counter service in that place, I'd do it where they have the coffee bar currently, as it's directly in front of the open kitchen window. You could order and the order-taker could literally turn around and put in your order. Coffee could be a table service and it would take the cluster out of the front. Granted, as a business owner, I've often cringed at some suggestions I've heard, but I take them in, listen and don't assume that I need to give anyone any schooling.
          I hope you do have a good experience when you go and let us know what you think!

          1. re: Annika

            I've worked with Winedubar before and have known her for quite a while on and off. She's very easy going and always up for a new restaurant. I really thought Palatte would be a place for her after our visit. Downtown, kinda funky, and at least on our visit, great food. Her experience here reminds me of mine and Tara's visit to Fate. Everyone else really likes the place, but we'll never go back. We've been shaking our heads and wondering if Winedubar entered via the Bizarro World entrance to Palatte. It's possible we had a friendlier waiter and the kitchen crew wasn't hungover from a Saturday night of partying.
            As for the menu/ordering experience, Pei Wei has kinda that method. An upscale taco chain in Dallas, Tin Star, has a similar thing going too. I agree that the owner sounds like he could use a course in customer service.

        2. re: hohokam

          This is a very good analysis. I think my thoughts about the counter service go directly to the heart of having to cart a menu to the counter, order, then cart the menu back and then seek a table. Even Chipotle has menus at the front of the line and then you drop them off at the counter when you make your selection, or you can simply order from the menu board posted above the serving line.

          An interesting point made by my other half J. while we were discussing Sloan's experience over dinner was this blatant truth: "Gee, I usually go to a restaurant to get good food and good service, not to be lectured and educated by the owner."


          1. re: Seth Chadwick

            j. sounds like a wise woman indeed :D

        3. "we asked if he wanted our opinion and he said 'well, yeah but i don't know if i'll do anything about it'..ok fine, whatever."

          I would have turned around and walked out of the restaurant right then and there! What a pity you and your friend gave that unhospitable owner/manager your business.

          1 Reply
          1. re: starlightjulian

            I'm with starlightjulian... RIGHT OUT OF THE RESTAURANT. If the owner can't accept a little constructive criticism, I can't give him my hard-earned greenbacks.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. It's incredibly presumptous that anyone should think you need to be "educated" about anything when you go somewhere for a meal. Firenza talked about this tonight all through dinner. It's interesting how people can have such different experiences. We truly had a lovely meal and would go back. If we'd had the kind of service you had, though, we both would have been livid. I agree with Seth's fiancee - you go to a restaurant to eat, not to be educated. I haven't lived all over - Phoenix and Minneapolis, to be exact - but I don't consider myself too dumb to eat in any restaurant.

              I do agree that the layout of the place leaves something to be desired. I didn't love standing awkwardly by the door with the big metal menus, trying to make sure we didn't step on anyone who was sitting on the bench and trying to stay out of the way of people who were coming in the door.