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My Experience at Osteria

saturninus Aug 31, 2007 06:30 AM

I wanted to follow up on a negative experience I mentioned in another post about my dining experience at Osteria about 2 months ago.

I did not post about this originally because I was under the impression one of the people I dined with was calling to complain, but I believe she never did and too much time has passed.

I realize that this post would be more useful if I wrote my review after complaining to the manager, but since I did speak to one of the managers that evening, I feel the post is still valid.

We arrived for our reservation about 15 minutes early, and were delighted to hear they could seat us. We expected to have to have a drink at the bar first, which we did not mind at all. We were seating in a back room that lacked ambiance. There was very little decoration or personality, and the room was empty. When our server arrived, we asked as kindly as possible if it would be possible to move to the main room, we didn't mind if we would have to wait longer. (It was a special occasion and we were looking for something more lively and inviting, especially since we don't often go out and spend a lot on meals)

She got a manager, and they said it would not be a problem at all. We could go to the bar and get a table in about 20 minutes.

All was well at the bar, we ordered cocktails and wine, all expertly chosen and enjoyed our time chatting.

When our table was ready, we sat down and our server came over and told us about the specials. The menu looked lovely. When we were ready to order new glasses of wine, our server immedietly reccomended the sommolier come by and make reccomendations that will work with our meal. One of my companions appreciated the offer, and the sommolier went to bring her a small sample of wine based on what she was looking for. Unfortuantely, she wasn't crazy about it, so she asked if she could try one more. She enjoyed the second wine and ordered it, but the sommolier acted as if she was being unreasonable and rude. Normally, I am overly polite and just take what is first offered, even if I am not crazy about it. But as a sommolier, is it that big of a deal to offer a second small sample? It wasn't even as if we were bothering our server asking her to do a million things when she needs to take food orders from the other tables. Her job is to assist tables in chosing wines. It seemed like a reasonable request.

But we moved on. The sommolier was annoyed but we were there to have a lovely time. We all ordered, and two of my companions ordered a $36 special - a 1/2 pound of lobster and pasta.

Appetizers came and were delicious, although the antipasta is charged per person and was not a lot of food.

When the entree came, the two companions that ordered the lobster dish looked suprised. They were literarly fishing around to find lobster. Soon, the four of us were trying to assist, to try to find the lobster because we were so afraid of asking for the server.

All in all, pieces that add up to about 1/2 the size of my tiny palm were found. We did not ask for the server or even steal glances across the room to find her. She stopped back to see how things were and we said everything was very good, and they hated to complain, but there was barely any lobster in the pasta.

Immedietly she became very annoyed. She pointed to a small piece and said "There it is!"

My companions said they understood, but they have ordered lobster many times in their lives and 1/2 a pound never looked so small.

She said there was nothing they could do and if they wanted she would get the manager.

What were we to do? We said OK.

The manager arrived and said basically the same thing. He said they weight each lobster and it is always 1/2 a pound.

My companions decided they had to let it go and just ate.

Then things became incredibly embarassing. I was facing the room and saw our server, the manager, the sommolier and the bartender talking and pointing at us. I felt like that "nightmare" table, like I was in some kind of Twilight Zone episode. I always consider myself to be a great restaurant customer. I myself worked in the industry for two years. I know what they deal with.

When the check arrived it was tossed at us. She did not look our way at all, just got close to the table and tossed it in the center.

We paid, but only left a 15% tip, which is something we never do.

So that was my experience. I realize that perhaps if I had called we would have received an apology. Obviously to many this is an amazing restaurant. But I can't return. We spent over $260 there (not including tip) and I have received better service for a lot less.

  1. b
    Bigley9 Aug 31, 2007 06:39 AM

    wow - that sucks. (Sorry I can't think of another way to say it.) It is totally opposite my experience there, but I can certainly understand that you would never return, and it makes me hesitant to refer others.

    1. b
      bumble Aug 31, 2007 07:05 AM

      Not to excuse their behavior (it was rude), but I have a question - Did the menu say a 1/2 lb lobster or 1/2 pound of lobster in the pasta? There's a big difference. A 1/2lb lobster doesn't yield a lot of meat (probably the amount that you found).

      6 Replies
      1. re: bumble
        saturninus Aug 31, 2007 07:12 AM

        It was a 1/2 pound lobster, so we certainly didn't expect a full 1/2 pound of meat. But what we got was a for the most part a 1/2 pound shell with a few remnants of meat. Certainly not enough for more than 2 mouthfulls.

        1. re: saturninus
          i
          idia Aug 31, 2007 08:11 AM

          I am more upset by the attitude of the sommelier.
          I also am aghast at the pointing and gesticulating of the staff. Very rude.
          I have always been of the opinion that very VERY few restaurant personnel ever want to hear negatives about their place. (Especially when others don't complain)
          When they constantly come to the table to ask how everything is, I have to laugh secretly knowing what their reaction would be to a negative comment (which I rarely give -- what's the point? I know I won't be back.)
          Believe me, they'll know if I love their place because I will be sure to be saying things like, "tell the chef this was absolutely delicious,etc. etc."
          They won't have to constantly ask. We'll tell. And we'll be back!
          Sorry for your negative experience.
          I have a feeling that those that had a positive one was because there were no "issues" to deal with.
          Bottom line: The classier one acts in the face of what they consider customer criticism, the more secure are the staff and owner. It is the responsibility of the manager to see that this is an important part of their training.
          End of lecture.

          1. re: idia
            a
            Alcibiades1 Sep 2, 2007 03:36 PM

            "I have to laugh secretly..."
            If a unpleasant meal is being had, why not bring that to the attention of management? Mistakes happen every day in every restaurant and the only way for yours to be addressed to your satisfaction is to make mention of it. Your "secret" internal quips make no progress toward a resolution of the problem at hand nor do they assist the restaurant in preventing that mistake (assuming the mistake is not yours) from being repeated.
            Speaking as someone who runs restaurants, feedback of all varieties is welcome. It's the only way we get better.

            1. re: Alcibiades1
              saturninus Sep 3, 2007 06:59 AM

              Actually, on that very night, our server asked us if she should get the manager and she did. When we spoke to him, he was just as rude as the server, and was one of the group of people whispering and pointing to our table.

        2. re: bumble
          d
          devain Aug 31, 2007 08:37 AM

          You Can't buy a half pound lobster anywhere, they are not harvested, only 1 or 1 and a 1/4.

          1. re: devain
            saturninus Aug 31, 2007 09:33 AM

            Maybe they were gigantic shrimp? ;)

        3. Chinon00 Aug 31, 2007 07:49 AM

          I really think that you should give them a call. Having said that though the portions are on the small side while the prices are definitely not. I totally understand how that can be a major turnoff for many.

          1. g
            Gertie McDowell Aug 31, 2007 08:30 AM

            I had a terrible experience at Osteria, too. Our sommelier (a man) was helpful and friendly, but everyone else was unbelievably rude. The entire staff, with the exception of the sommelier, acted as though our desire to spend hundreds of dollars in their restaurant was a massive inconvenience for them. I wanted to say, I'm sorry that this is bumming you out so much. Perhaps we should just seat ourselves, prepare and serve our own food, leave some bills on the table, and then skulk away into the night? If you want, we could even turn out the lights and lock the door on the way out so as to save you the misery of dealing with other customers.

            Most of our food was over-salted. My pizza was burned; it looked and tasted like a giant scab. Mid-shift, our server went off duty or quit or something, and the woman who took his place screamed at my dining companion because he had the audacity to ask her to repeat something that she'd said.

            In short: I would rather eat out of a garbage can than go back to this place.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Gertie McDowell
              Chinon00 Aug 31, 2007 09:26 AM

              Now would you really rather eat out of a garbage can? :] Seriously though any restaurant can have a bad night. I guess the question is, is there something fundamentally wrong going on at the restaurant. I've been there three times (late Sunday around closing) and have had a good time. Only time will tell.
              I notice too that for many "how they feel" can dictate nearly everything about what they say about the dining experience. My wife's girlfriend has on many occassions suggested restaurants for us that she claims were "incredible". When in actuality SHE just had a WHOLE LOTTA fun there (for whatever reason [i.e. great conversation with company, cute male waiter, etc]) and desperately wants you to share in how she felt that night. Therefore EVERYTHING that you ask about at the restaurant is again according to her "incredible" down to the color of the soap in the bathrooms. The converse can be true if your night wasn't too fun I guess (i.e. "I would rather eat out of a garbage can than go back to this place.")

              1. re: Chinon00
                g
                Gertie McDowell Aug 31, 2007 10:08 AM

                I think you're right that bad/good service dictates how we feel about a dining experience. But there's no getting around the fact that our food at Osteria was mediocre. I don't think that the snooty attitude of the staff "clouded" my judgement and made me imagine that I had been served a charred pizza, or that my dining companion's entree was so salty as to be inedible.

                1. re: Gertie McDowell
                  Chinon00 Aug 31, 2007 10:17 AM

                  The term mediocre is fair. And specifically pointing out that your pizza was charred is also, along with the salting being excessive to your tastes. It is the "rather eat out of a garbage can" reference that leads me to conclude that you wish to be punitive as well as insulting and excessive because of how you were made to feel that evening.

                  1. re: Chinon00
                    g
                    Gertie McDowell Aug 31, 2007 12:58 PM

                    No, I wish to be punitive and insulting because of what I was made to eat that evening.

                    1. re: Gertie McDowell
                      p
                      Philly Ray Aug 31, 2007 01:36 PM

                      Now hold on...

                      If they locked the doors, tied you down and, force-fed the food to you then I would say you were MADE to eat the food.

                      If the food was not to your taste and you ate it anyway, instead of sending it back, ordering something else, or having it removed from you bill, then that's on you.

                      1. re: Philly Ray
                        g
                        Gertie McDowell Aug 31, 2007 02:07 PM

                        If you'll read carefully, Philly Ray, you'll see that I was parroting Chinon00's language: "... you wish to be punitive as well as insulting and excessive because of how you were made to feel that evening." My comment was supposed to be humorous. I'm sorry that it wasn't.

                        To clarify: I don't really want to eat out of a trash can. I was not bound and force-fed.

                        1. re: Gertie McDowell
                          Chinon00 Aug 31, 2007 04:58 PM

                          Again to clarify, in exactly what spirit was the following original statement by you made: "In short: I would rather eat out of a garbage can than go back to this place."? Was this meant to be: humorous, sarcastic, literal, or punitive (and unnecessary)?

                          Thanks!

            2. m
              Mr_Pickles Aug 31, 2007 08:32 AM

              Saturninus, Thank you for posting about your experience. I was supposed to go to Osteria tomorrow night, but I am going to cancel and go to my usual place instead. I have to admit that I was probably most horrified by your description of the sommelier's attitude. It's most certainly not "high maintenance" to ask for an alternative to a wine the sommelier selected. Even if your dining companion wanted ice cubes added to his/her red wine, then the sommelier should make it happen without any complaints or criticisms. It doesn't matter that that's not the appropriate way to drink wine. The sommelier is there to facilitate the diner's wine experience in a way that makes the diner feel comfortable. If I were you, I'd forward your comments to Marc Vetri as well as the manager at Osteria. Marc needs to know because these sorts of service problems will only tarnish his reputation in the long run.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Mr_Pickles
                Chinon00 Aug 31, 2007 09:27 AM

                What time was your reservation? Maybe me and the wife can jump in?

                1. re: Chinon00
                  m
                  Mr_Pickles Aug 31, 2007 12:26 PM

                  Our reservation was for 8pm, but I flipped it to a friend who is dying to try Osteria (regardless of reviews). His wife's favorite cuisine is Italian so I'll be curious to hear what they think.

                2. re: Mr_Pickles
                  j
                  JanR Aug 31, 2007 09:39 AM

                  That is a good suggestion. Last I heard the GM was Michael Lehane. I remember him fondly from Pif and I would be very surprised if he didn't respond to your comments.

                3. b
                  Buckethead Aug 31, 2007 08:35 AM

                  On our last visit to Osteria the sommelier was actually the highlight of the service side of things. Not only was she very helpful and friendly in picking out our wines, but when our service-by-committee wasn't getting our water filled or our plates cleared, I caught the sommelier actually picking up a lot of their slack, and not just at our table. If that's a regular occurrence there, her exasperation when she dealt with your table may have had nothing to do with you guys.

                  Was the lobster dish good?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Buckethead
                    saturninus Aug 31, 2007 09:35 AM

                    Good question. The only way I could answer that though would be by answering if the pasta was good, as that was all they really ate! It was, but so it the pasta at Raddichio, and it's about $10 - you know what I mean?

                    1. re: saturninus
                      b
                      Buckethead Aug 31, 2007 09:45 AM

                      I do, but every pasta dish I've ever had at Osteria has been phenomenal, much better than just about every other Italian restaurant I've been to. So even though the boar ragu dish I had there a while ago was $15 and smaller than you'd get elsewhere, I still find it to be a better deal than a good $10 dish somewhere else because the quality is so much better. I was mainly trying to figure out if their complaint about there not being enough lobster in the dish was just one complaint about the dish, or whether they liked it in spite of the small portion of lobster in it.

                      1. re: Buckethead
                        saturninus Aug 31, 2007 10:48 AM

                        We did like it, but just as much as the pasta at Raddichio.

                  2. c
                    Cruz Aug 31, 2007 11:05 AM

                    Since everyone else seems to be criticizing Osteria, I'll jump in with something that happened a couple of months after they opened.

                    Overall, food was mediocre, prices were high, and service was helpful, if a bit unorganized. However, everything fell apart when it came time for coffee and my dining partner added what she thought was cream to her coffee. When she realized it was milk, she asked our waitress for cream. Our waitress soon returned with another cup of coffee and what purported to be cream. However, when my partner added it to her coffee, she realized that the waitress had brought milk again. When we brought this to the attention of our waitress, she finally confessed that they didn't have any cream.

                    This raises two questions. First, how can a restaurant not have cream? Second, if they don't have cream, why did they twice attempt to pass off milk as cream? There is simply no excuse for lying to a customer.

                    As a result of this experience, I've been puzzled by all of the raves for Osteria. I'm glad to see that some folks have finally come around to see that the emperor has no clothes.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Cruz
                      Chinon00 Aug 31, 2007 11:59 AM

                      First there is no excuse for the business with the cream. Secondly, if you could recall and tell us what you had to eat specifically I'd really appreciate it. And lastly to clarify, in your judgment Osteria is actually an "average to below average" restaurant?

                      Thanks!

                      1. re: Chinon00
                        c
                        Cruz Aug 31, 2007 09:24 PM

                        My meal was about 6 months ago, so I can't remember the details, except that, for starters, we had a pizza and the antipasto. I think we also had a pasta entree.

                        Despite the tone of my original post, overall, the food was good. However, given the Vetri pedigree and the relatively high cost, I expected more. Moreover, the creamer incident left a bad taste in my mouth.

                        Despite that, at the request of a client, I'm going back next month. It will be interesting to see whether things have changed for the better by then.

                    2. j
                      JCap Aug 31, 2007 01:39 PM

                      I'll put my two cents in:
                      Saturninus, it sounds like you had a terrible experience.
                      I will say our two dinners there were terrific, service was spot on. The sommelier (a female) was very professional and helpful, even when I told her I was in the mood for (ghast) a beer. All of the food, outside of the dessert which was okay, was terrific. One night we sat next to the prosciutto slicer. When the chef came out to slice the meat, we chatted him up and he gave us a nice plate to nibble on the house. When we made the reservation, we mentioned on one occasion it was our anniversary- they remembered and put a candle in some gelato for us.
                      Funny about the lobster pasta, I can remember they had on special a pasta with lobster in red sauce. I never order shell fish in red sauce b/c I think the red sauce kills the taste of the shell fish. The table next to us ordered it and I remember thinking it looked good and a healthy dose of lobster was in it.
                      Saturninus, if I had your experience at any restaurant, there is NO way I would ever go back. Our two experiences have been excellent though.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: JCap
                        b
                        Buckethead Aug 31, 2007 02:20 PM

                        My three experiences there have also been excellent, though the service on one visit was spotty as I said earlier. Of all the dishes I've had there, the only one I regret ordering was the truffle robiola pizza. Everything else I've eaten there has been fantastic.

                      2. c
                        Cruz Sep 2, 2007 02:35 PM

                        I'm a little curious as to why you left a 15% tip if you were so dissatisfied with the service. While it may be your practice to leave more than that, 15% is about average. So, in all probability, the message the server got from your tip was that everything was ok. Under the circumstances, I think it would have sent a clearer signal by leaving nothing or a token tip of only 5%.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Cruz
                          m
                          Mr_Pickles Sep 2, 2007 04:27 PM

                          I think the tip for "average" service has increased to 20% from 15% while "outstanding" is 25%, and "less than satisfactory" is now 15%.

                          1. re: Mr_Pickles
                            saturninus Sep 3, 2007 07:01 AM

                            Yes, that is how I tip. 15% for bad service, 20% for average and 25% for excellent. That was my experience as a server. Most people in Philadelphia average a 20% tip, especially at a high end restaurant.

                            1. re: saturninus
                              h
                              howiseverything Oct 9, 2007 09:49 AM

                              As a server, I can say that a 15% tip doesn't send the message that your experience was unsatisfactory. Unfortunately to a server with the level of attitude yours seemed to have, it says cheap. From reading your experience, I get the impression that the service (from manager to sommolier to server) thought they were right no matter how wronged you felt. A clearer signal of your dissatisfaction would have been, 10-12%. Calling and/or writing the general manager is also a must. I'm guessing that your experience was not with a GM, as they usually bend over backwards to please the guest. I also agree with contacting Marc Vetri.
                              Good luck!

                              1. re: howiseverything
                                saturninus Oct 9, 2007 11:37 AM

                                Thanks. It's just hard for me to leave less than 15% no matter what as a previous server. It's in the past now and I probably won't call at this point.

                                1. re: saturninus
                                  rabidog Oct 9, 2007 07:57 PM

                                  now i feel better, because i thought i was missing out on something big having not yet been to osteria! i may hold off a little longer now. your whole experience sounds pretty bad. though i am really curious about their pizza there (and i tend to like mine "well done" - so when the other poster talks about a charred pizza i'm interested in hearing if that's the norm there?).

                                  i too find it very difficult to leave less than 15%. it's a vicious cycle. i think occasionally bad service happens from age discrimination (err, not so much anymore at 24, but have enjoyed a broad range of dining my whole life!). i feel that they THINK you're going to leave a crappy tip because you're younger than all the other patrons, regardless of service. so even when service is horrible, i hate to prove them right in their own minds. i also use the 15/20/25 tipping scale.

                        2. Chinon00 Oct 8, 2007 06:28 PM

                          Just needed to report another outstanding meal/ experience at osteria. For a starter we shared sweetbreads with porcini mushrooms in a cheese fondue. Delicious. Then for mains we both had pasta. She had hers with squab in a cocoa sauce and I had mine with a sauce made with chicken livers. As usual both were just unctuous and beautifully balanced and seasoned.
                          The flavor and seasoning of the food at osteria is for me so profound that it really narrows down what kind of wine to pair your meal with. A high acid wine would seem like a good match due to again the unctuousness of most of the dishes. But the food is so balanced with richness and what must be acidity that my Barbera that I ordered seemed to clash with my first course. A softer Valpolicella matched really well with the rest of our meal playing sort of as lush background music.
                          Well done! Thanks again and you'll see us soon.

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