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Insalata in San Anselmo...hmmm

  • s

We went to Insalata on Saturday night on high recommendations and wanted to like it more than we did, so I'm posting this to see what other people think.

Overall, we experienced great food and pretty bad service. On arrival we had a drink at the bar and the bartender was arguing with the manager. Kind of awkward. We were shown to our table on time, but the table wasn't set so we had to wait standing between the diners. When we ordered, the salad came before we even got our water. They were out of sync. We asked for water twice, and were ignored by a busboy, before we finally got our waters. The waiter was pleasant, but hard to find when we needed wine refills (we ordered by the glass). Like I said, the food was quite good, but for the price I expected better service. Is this pretty consistent, or did we hit an off night?

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  1. Have always found the food to be at least quite good and the service to be attentive and friendly with no awkwardness such as described. So must have been an aberration. I hope.

    1. i have gone twice, once for lunch and once for dinner. the lunch was great, the food yum, and the service, even though it was quite busy, was good.

      went for dinner and the service, food and atmosphere were great. sorry to hear that you had a so-so experience, but i would give it another go. i think it is quality and i hear that they are re-inventing the menu to reflect a more modern and seasonal menu soon.

      1. We've had the same experience as you on several occasions. And while the food is tasty and the location convenient for me, the service has been uniformly poor. So we might stop in for a Fattoush Salad at lunch time if we're in San Anselmo, but would never again go there with a client for dinner or on a special occasion because the poorly managed dining room ruins the evening for us. It's a shame that the front of the house staff doesn't live up to the quality of the food.

        1. I have to say my experiences (a half dozen or so), have all been similar to yours. The food has been good, but service has been frustrating. On one lunch occasion, the restaurant was near empty, yet it still was 10-15 minutes before we were greeted, even then the server would not take our order. I would have visited the restaurant more frequently if my experiences had been more pleasant, but I always leave annoyed.

          1. We go there regularly with a party of six and always get extremely professional, knowledgable and attentive service from their staff. Interestingly, we always get the lean, 35-ish, sandy-haired fellow. Maybe they have a dud or two on staff, but this guy's been there for a while and is really good at making us feel welcome. He wears a wedding ring, and smokes in the back alley on his break, so perhaps try to catch a whiff of nicotine while you sit at the bar, and then ask for his area.

            BTW the food is always absolutely excellent. Reminds me of Tra Vigne.

            1. My only complaint with Insalata's is a certain inconsistency in the menu. The last time I ate there I had the BEST braised lamb shank ever. It was not on the menu after that. I called and was told that Heidi cooks the shank every once in a while. Others have raved about this dish, and yet it is seldom on the menu. If it were my place, and customers rave about a dish, I would think about keeping it on the menu.

              1. Fancy Italian in Marin County...

                I think I'm going to keep ordering appetizers at the better restaurants I go to. I did it again tonight at Insalata's and every bite was better than the last.

                The occasion was a birthday dinner for my brother in law, and as he’s a local, he recommended this place.

                High ceilings, large paintings behind glass, open kitchen and a funny little retail corner meet your eye as you enter.

                I took a look at the menu and couldn’t get past the great sounding appetizers. I chose 4 because I couldn’t pair down the list to 3. The “Grilled Honey/Sherry glazed Figs, valdeon cheese, bruschetta, hazelnuts, crispy serrano ham” was a salty-sweet joy, although the little ovoids looked like the eggs in Aliens 2. The “Cataplana, manila clams, tomato, chorizo, grilled bread, rouille” was a clam stew with some sausage in a tomato sauce and was delicious. The “Grilled Lamb Riblets, zatar, cumin yogurt” filled the spot that a satay would at a Thai joint. Teeny lamb shanks, simply grilled and served with a rather bland sauce; not disappointing, just plain. I started with the “Heirloom Tomatoes, sundried tomato vinaigrette, burrata cheese, mizuna ” which really came through with extraordinary tomatoes and a tart cheese as a counterpoint.

                My wife had the “Spiced Yogurt Grilled Chicken, Tunisian chopped salad”, which was moist, spicy and the chicken had crispy skin. The birthday boy went for his favorite, the “Sardinian Lamb Stew, fennel, saffron, orange, herb pappardelle ”, which he described as having OK lamb, but the stew was wonderful.

                Service was cheerful, but they couldn’t keep the water glass full. I had to get up from the table once and track down the waiter.

                The bottom line? Insalata is a great upper-echelon Italian joint. You’ll pay a Marin County price, though ($170 for 3, with drinks).

                Food: 8 (Interesting and well prepared with a couple of “Wows”)
                Service: 6 (shouldn’t ever need to hunt up the waiter at these prices)
                Price: 8 (Not out of line for the area)
                Ambiance: 8 (really nice and open)


                Address: 120 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. San Anselmo, CA 94960

                3 Replies
                1. re: ChewChewChew

                  Thanks for the update on Insalata. I've been wondering how it was since the re-model and, IIRC, slight menu change.

                  Thanks for the guide on how to order as well. When a chef I really liked was at a nearby restaurant, Insalata just couldn't compete for my business. Now that there is a new chef at the other restaurant, it seems like a time to give Insalata a try.

                  1. re: rworange

                    What was the other restaurant. Don't worry, I won't tell...:)

                2. I've eaten at Insalata a half dozen times, and always found the service friendly and attentive...I hope it was an aberration...

                  1. We had a delightful 2-hour lunch this week at Insalata; service was excellent, very friendly, and never missed a beat...pouring five different glasses of wine, refilling water glasses, changing out the small plates and bringing fresh plates and flatware, balancing apps and entrees ...espresso and lattes and tea...macaroons.
                    We ordered humus and pita, beet and avocado salad, mussels and frites, mushroom soup, duck confit cannelloni, Middle Eastern Vegetarian platter. All wonderful. I'll return for those mussels!

                    1. I mentioned that issue in my post as well. What is it about that joint that they can't get water service right?