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Second City Bistro - Can Their Food overcome their bad service?

Last night we had our first try of Second City Bistro in El Segundo, which has a pretty loyal following, given some of the other reviews on Chow.com and Yelp.com. But I have to agree with those who said that the food was good but not spectacular, and the service being mediocre. I made the reservations a week in advance because all reviews said that SCB was packed on a Saturday night, however by primetime (7:30 to 9:30) there were only about 8 tables being served inside, and many open tables on the patio. When we checked in, I told the host that it was our first time at SCB, and he gave us a wonderful booth. However, our server (don't know her name because she never told us her name), was almost non-existent, and a bit snooty (especially for a place that advertises that it's a family-run, small-knit, local establishment). First she told my husband the specials while I was in the bathroom (big server no-no, always wait until all the guests are seated). Second, she was not at all helpful with recommendations of the food or of the wine when I asked. Third, we saw and interacted much more with the busgirl (who was outstanding, by the way) than with the server. Fourth, she never came by after we got our entrees (the busgirl dropped them off) to ask the obligatory: "So how is everthing?". Fifth, after giving us dessert menus (that WE had to ask for), we stacked the menus and put them at the front of the table (a signal that we had indeed decided), and we watched her pass by 4 times, she even glanced at the menus on the table! It was then that I had had enough, and although my mouth was all already for their warm apple pie with berry compote and vanilla bean ice cream (groan!!), I told my husband that we should just have dessert at home. With regard to the food, however, our seared tuna appetizer was incredible! About 6 beautiful dark red slices of tuna, seared on the outside with some kind of wonderful seasoning and two kinds of sesame seeds. I ordered the grill filet mignon with black berry reduction, steamed spinach, and mashed potatoes. The steak was cooked perfectly, and the berry reduction had the right amount of sweetness, to offset the filet savoryness. It was a truly a beautiful dish, visually and taste-wise. My husband got the oven baked filet mignon stuffed with lobster and cambonzolla cheese. We both commented on the same issues: It smelled funny (not really bad, just different), and the cherry reduction sauce did nothing for the dish at all. He ate most of it, but was not impressed (and my husband is EASILY impressed). Also, we ordered the Taz Fiddlestix Pinot Noir (on the recommendatin of another Chower), and it was truly incredible, very smooth. I looked around at what other patrons were having, and it seemed like the rack of lamb, or the seafood pasta was the big winner of the night. There was an oven baked chicken with an apricot, pistacio, and brie stuffing, that I wish that I had ordered, or the oven-baked salmon in a cranberry-thyme crust, or the center cut pork chop in a cranberry port orange sauce . Alas, I will never get to try these other dishes because we will never be going back to Second City Bistro, nor will we endorse it to any of our other "foodie" friends. Yes, most of our displeasure was the poor service, and yes, we realize that everyone has a bad day, and yes, our server could very well have been having one-of-those-days, but like the old saying goes: "You only get one chance to make a first impression", right? And, after reading some of the other reviews on Chow and Yelp, I believe the patrons that had a negative experience at SCB had the same server! Unfortunately for SCB, the food was not impressive enough to overcome the service issue, and I think all you Chowers out there would agree, it's about the whole "experience" that can make or break your enjoyment of a meal. And after being teased by the prospectus of warm apple pie with berry compote and vanilla bean ice cream, and then leaving without having had it, is just a serious, serious buzz kill!

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  1. Scott is the owner, I would call him and let him know. He is always there for the Monday Night Wine Tasting which by the way is gratis.. Do you live in the Southbay or came with a little Westside vibe..

    3 Replies
    1. re: Foodandwine

      Hi Foodandwine! Yes, I'm a Southbay Beach Cities gal (lived in all three beach cities), but I know what you mean about the "Westside Vibe", and I don't believe that I am that nitpicky about restaurants (at least I hope!). I think Scott may have been there that night, does he have blonde hair and is kind of on the short side? I know the host's name was Phil, but that's all the info I got. Do you think that I should e-mail them this link? Also, a co-worker told me about the Monday night wine tastings, and I was all jazzed to go... until we had dinner that night. Anyway, thanks for the suggestions! Are you a Southbayer or a Westsider? Do you have any restaurant recommendations? Thanks again!

      1. re: kealoha

        Kealoha, I would call Scott and let him know of your experience. He is a wine love as well and I would let him know that you liked the wine on his list. he is not short per se and is dark hair kinda black/brown.. I am in Manhattan Beach and I attend the wine tastings and dine there ever so often. On the same side of the street down the block (south) is the Richmond Bar and Grill.. Hmm Think Blue Cheese Bacon Burger with home made chips washed down by a pint of some carefully selected microbrew.. Many more recs. perhaps you will let me know of your outscome if you decide to call Scott. Personally, I would..

        1. re: Foodandwine

          Thanks F&W! I've tried 4 times now to try to get Scott on the phone, but to no avail,... and I've called at all different times of the day and night. Anyway, I like the idea of Richmond Bar & Grill! Any other MB or HB or RB suggestions? Have you tried Sosta (sp?) on Manhattan Avenue? Want to try it, but I've noticed some split reviews.

    2. kealoha, wondering if you ever got in touch with the owner of second city bistro, and if your mind has been changed, and if you will ever give it a second chance. My gf and I are thinking about trying it there, but don't want to waste our time.

      4 Replies
      1. re: ilike2eat

        No, i tried calling three different times of the day, and the owner was never there, he has no e-mail address, and the restaurant has no e-mail address. So I just gave up. However, I suppose I would try it again, with the hope that I was just there on a bad night,... or if someone else was paying and insisted on going there! If you're set on an El Segundo restaurant, my husband and a group of us are going to be trying Chef Hannes this weekend (oh, forgot about it being Labor Day Weekend... maybe the weekend after that then), and I can report back. The Chowers have given CH their blessing, and I'd like to see/taste for myself. The Chowers are rarely wrong!

        1. re: kealoha

          Scott is there on Monday nights. I've always had great service there. I've almost always had bad food there.

          1. re: slacker

            If the food is always bad, do you still go there?

            1. re: kealoha

              I was only eating there bc there we already were, after wine tastings, and my friends usually wanted to eat there, plus there aren't many options within walking distance. It's not like I ever made a special trip for their food.

      2. We just had dinner there this weekend for the first time. The food was great and the service was outstanding. It was my friend's birthday and they had specially printed menus and made a special dessert. I did notice that it was not busy for a Saturday night. Maybe our service was great because of the lack of crowds or maybe the crowds have disappeared because of the bad service. Anyway, we enjoyed ourselves!

        1 Reply
        1. re: tbrown

          Good to hear because I really, really wanted to like Second City Bistro... but as I said before: "First Impressions...", and as a former-waitress/server myself, I unequivocally know that this particular waitress/server did not have her "A-game" going on..., and as a former waitress/server, I always give much latitude to servers because I know what kind of crap they have to deal with every night. By the way, I just tried Chef Melba's Bistro in Hermosa Beach, it was incredible! I'm going to be posting my review on this board very soon, maybe tonight!

        2. We used to live walking distance from Second City Bistro, and our impression after eating there twice was similar to yours. The food is okay, but not often worth the price. We felt that we could cook meat and simple vegetables at home just as competently at home for less out of pocket. Also, we found the service to be very flaky and a bigger turn off of the entire experience. I appreciate what the owner did by bringing the concept to E.S., but the waitstaff of non-ambitious E.S. bar servers just did not do it for us.

          In comparison, we found Chef Hannes as hit and miss as well.

          1. I used to work at Second City a bus boy and would agree that the service at times was flakey, being that I would often have to pick up slack for some of the servers and do parts of their jobs that wasnt really part of my job description, but overall I thought it was pretty good. Scott the owner is awesome but the head chef, the woman (cant remember her name), was really tempermental and not easy to work with at all (one moment getting pissed at the wait staff for "insert generic grumpy chef complaint here" and then saying great job the next while your still miffed at her), which i think has ALOT to do with how the servers act, as they know they are just waiters and the food quality isnt so much a representation of them but of her. That was my experience at least, but I do have to say that Scott and his wife are awesome people and if you have a problem tell Scott on a Monday at wine tasting and he always takes care of it.

            1 Reply