Quingdao Garden or A Visit to the Dentist
Had to comment on our dinner tonight at Quingdao G.
The dumplings (vegetarian our favorite) were more than fine, as always,
some PK. raviolis (not their specialty?)
were Doughy &, charitably, 'average',
Their full menu is, absurdly extensive and, in a kitchen the size of a closet
they can't be expected to do everything right. so we'll give them a pass there...
But, there is simply no excuse for the wait staff
(this evening consisting of one, quite surly, tall, thin woman,
Who (I think) stopped just short of being annoyed by our presence. if we would politely ask for something, typically she would walk away without acknowledging us, and just generally did all she could to make our experience an unhappy one. I guess that, together with an ambience just a notch above an institutional cafeteria,
makes (for us at least) for a way less than pleasurable eating experience.
And yes, I suppose for the $8- a dish of potatoes
a non gulag like environment might provide, they could really do better.
If it weren't for their (sometimes) truly unique food
we wouldn't even bother with our once or twice yearly visits.
(a couple of years ago a young, male, graduate student was handling the wait-staff duties. He was very friendly and helpful - that alone made up for the bare white room, with the glass door fridge of coke cans as centerpiece....
but taken together this evening, it sucked.
Would like to hear of other similar or divergent experiences.
I've never been there on a Weekend night; I'm told that it's horribly crowded then. When I go during the week, I'm pretty much the only person there, and I've always dealt with the owner, who's quite friendly and always glad to see me (even when I don't show up for a year at a time, since they're closed Tuesdays, dammit.)
One time I went with my friend Chris Patti, and we were the only table in the place on a Sunday night The owner sat down briefly to say hi, and despite his protestations that we should have our meal by ourselves, we had a great time talking with him--we see each other all the time, after all, and we see him only rarely--so we asked him about how he got started and so forth... he told us about his experiences coming to the US, and spent a very pleasant evening in conversation.
Much the same happens when Mycroft and I go to Sichuan Gourmet in Framingham--we always go at off hours, and the manager or the owners come over to take our order and see that we get enough flower-pepper and Yibin pickle in our food.
So I guess the lesson is, go on a weeknight when they're not busy, and take the time to get to know the owners or managers, who usually seem to be behind the desk (in a Chinese restaurant, anyway, which rarely seem to be owned by their chefs) instead of out taking orders.
Is Qingdao's owner the person who is often sitting in the rear (away from the kitchen) left table, working on a laptop?
I visited Qingdao last week for their Boiled Fish in Red Sauce -- which was great as always. My mouth was tingling and fizzing from the flower peppers for about twenty minutes after I had finished.
The regular server wasn't there, but the lady who took my order was familiar with both the menu and the customers' ordering habits. She told me about "someone else" who orders the boiled fish "all the time."
I do agree that no need to give AG Dude a hard time, but simultaneously many of the better, off-the-beaten-track restaurants, Chinese and otherwise are not huge on the warm and fuzzies of service.
It does not bother me, because frankly for me it is about the food. Some do smile and are into me loving their food, others crash the plates down on the table and leave the water glass empty.
For me, getting authentic chow off the beaten track is not about the service, it is not about the decor, it is not (gulp) about a liquor license, it is about the food. In my experience when one eats at off the beaten track places of any ethnicity the service is sometimes a crap shoot. I'll fill my own water glass if I have to, smiling all the way. I'll get my own extra napkin, or the silverware that was forgotten the third time. And sometimes, even with the toughest curmudgeon of an oblivious waitperson, the seventh or 8th smile breaks the ice.
And if it does not, but the food rocks, I don't care. It's about the chow baby!
I've posted before about my fave meu items and my love for Qingdao, so I won't go into that here, but I will say that we've never had anything but kind service. Sometimes I wish I were better able to bridge the language divide, but we tend to manage just fine, and have had some truly excellent meals there. The atmosphere isn't the selling point, but I wouldn't call their prices anythng but reasonable.
I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience, but it sounds like you're really looking for something Qingdao isn't. I'd probably be disappointed too if I only went there twice a year and didn't invest in finding the menu items that really knock me out (you're correct by the way, the ravioli aren't a specialty, but the dumplings are).
Instead of slamming them, though, why not try something that may be more what you're looking for, like Shangri La in Belmont? It's a lot more "restauranty," if that makes any sense, and while the menu isn't a necessarily the same as Qingdao (S.L. has a Taiwanese bent), Shangri La has its own share of terrific specialties and unique dishes.
Thanks Lit, you make some good points, Their food is indeed often excellent,
which is why I return, I do detect a small hostility from Bob D below (Its just plain mean to recommend Kowloon bob.)
To amplify though,
Was not looking for a high end experience, I just simple courtesy.
It seems brusk &
(what's is the opposite of solicitous, rude?) service is so often tolerated or expected in some Chinese or Korean establishments?
It doesn't have to be this way, and there is no reason it can't be improved.
Just a few blocks away, at another Chinese restaurant : Sczchuan Bay,
the owner couldn't be more sweet or caring
and THAT makes the (similarly simple and unadorned) room a warm, friendly,
and inviting place to eat !
I feel no more remorse calling attention to a poorly run front of the house,
regardless of cuisine
than I would praising a great chef in the kitchen,
And I am sorry if I have touched a nerve in sharing my honest and evenhanded report.
re: Ab Goosht Dude
i'm in agreement with the OP. The responses were unnecessarily condescending (chow elitism, dare i say?). Clearly the OP has been to Qingdao before and knew that it wasn't an Americanized Chinese restaurant with chipper service and white linens. There are many other chinese restaurants in the area that have brusque, yet friendly service (Mulan, Wang's, etc.). There is never an excuse for poor service with an attitude, no matter what kind of business you run.
re: Ab Goosht Dude
I'm one of Qingdao Garden's regular patrons and one of their stauncher defenders (perhaps, admittedly, irrationally so). I do sympathize with this notion that there's something hermetic to real-deal Chinese restaurants, in that the people who stick closest to the ways of the Old Country typically aren't all that well schooled in the American way of doing things, and that in order to get entree to the really good stuff, you have to be able to speak and read a language that is difficult even for natives to get really proficient at.
In the two years or so that I've been regularly patronizing Qingdao Garden, I've only ever seen one waitress in the house. She typically handles the entire house, and I have seen situations when the house is packed that things tend to slow up a bit and she seems to get somewhat stressed out. Usually when I'm there, I'm not particularly in a hurry to get anywhere, so that's never bugged me in particular. However, it's also the case that I've been there often enough that she recognizes my voice when I phone in an order, and the food and service are of a fairly consistent quality.
I've grown up going to hole in the wall Chinese places and put up with surly service and sometimes even lines going out into the street for good food, so I for one am willing to put up with some of the issues at Qingdao (though the lack of a liquor license is a bigger problem for me). There are enough other Chinese and Chinese Americans like me that I expect this sort of thing is tolerated, because we keep coming back for the food.
As far as price point goes, I've always been very happy with the value I get at Qingdao Garden also. I spent about 10-15% more on a recent excursion to Sichuan Gourmet (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/43322... for details) in Framingham. The decor is lovely, the service is rapid and efficient, the cuts of meat are a cut above what Qingdao Garden serves. I'd still go to Qingdao Garden in a heartbeat, because of what they do with the food they've got.
Really really good points, Dr.Jimbob. I should have added to my earlier post that we're rarely there at the most popular dining times, so we don't tend to be there when it's packed. I have on occasion seen the waitress get a little overwhelmed when the kitchen is slow, but since we're usually there so late in the evening, it's not often been an issue for us.
Thank you for the great post Jimbob,
I am also a lover of this cuisine in all its aspects, and not only do I agree with you completely about the specifics, (SZ Gourmet (in their more modest original northern location as well) is probably my favorite restaurant of a n y kind in New England. And like you, it may be partly because as a 'regular' the staff recognizes me, is glad to see me, & I them...Also because the food is so damn authentic it hurts (& I mean that in a good, Sichuan pepper sort of way : )
I especially appreciate your perspective and ambivalence as to whether that 'tradition' (if I'm not overstating it) of tending to business
and letting the customer fend for themselves,
are either nostalgic and charming or
perhaps might be abandoned in this flatter more consumer-centric world we are moving into.
I guess when I'm out to eat in Cambridge I'm in the former camp.
Were I visiting Chengdu (or Khatmandu) I might well be in the latter as well.
We don't need impose Starbuck barristas mentality there I don't suppose.
Again thanks again for your thoughts, they way more enlightening than a quick one-liner. : )
I love Qingdao and consider it a blessing to that neighborhood, but I do wish they had beer and wine, or, better yet, Chinese "wine."
I like Qingdao's server -- her recommendations to me of what to eat have been unerring. I assume she's the daughter of the woman who often occupies the space near the "window" between the eating space and the kitchen. They had a succession of other servers (a guy, an older woman, a young girl) a few years back -- back in the time of Qingdao's famous (among Chowhounds) Dumplings Lady.
My experience of Chinese restaurants has taught me that sparse decor and brusque service are, if anything, good signs about the forthcoming food. If the "atmosphere" is American, the food will be, too.
Kenji reminds me of something I *don't* miss from China. I really didn't like the alcohol choices when I was there. The beer was mostly produced by state monopolies and tasted awful (a rumor ran around the expat community in Changsha that Baisha, the Hunan brand, was produced and bottled with dangerous levels of formaldehyde in it, certainly tasted like that). The wine industry in China was not mature, as of 1998-99; there are some areas that have the potential to become a fine growing ground in the manner of Chile, Napa and the Mediterranean, but the know-how to actually make the wines happen wasn't there at that time. I don't know if that's changed. And bai-jiu (literally white wine) was the bane of my existence. It's made from distilled sorghum, and the stuff I got in China went down like a mix of napalm and Robitussin. Blech. Don't miss it at all.
I really appreciate that there are a couple of decent beers to choose from at Sichuan Garden (but then I'm a sucker for Harpoon).
My experience at Sichuan Gourmet did lead me to start musing how much of a restaurant's mystique comes from the actual quality of the cookery and how much of it comes from the relationship of the restaurant to the patron. There are certainly a few places that I started going to in their relative infancy, have developed a soft spot for, am recognized by face or voice by the staff, and where I almost always have a very pleasant experience. It is often the case that a legendary place where I haven't gotten in with the in crowd sometimes leaves me somewhat cold. I don't honestly know what influences what.
For me, I'm content with a Chinese restaurant that puts more energy into the cookery than the presentation. Though Kenji, you might want to take a trip out to Clinton to see the most bizarre juxtaposition of roadside Chinese hole in the wall and sublime Sichuan cooking I"ve ever seen.
Taste of China
233 E Main St, Clinton, CT 06413
Thanks for the rec; Taste of China sounds fantastic.
I'm curious, more than anything else, about bai-jiu, although yours is not the first off-putting description of the stuff I've heard.
The Chinese beers I've had were unremarkable.
Harpoon? I quite like their Munich Dark, and some of the specials that were originally packaged in 22 oz. bottles and now come in six-packs (a smoked porter, a very pale barleywine, et cetera).
re: Ab Goosht Dude