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Trattoria Romana, bizarre service in Lincoln

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Well, that was interesting! My weekly dinner companion and I dined at this new spot in Lincoln, RI, after much anticipation. We had first attempted to eat there last week, but were told at 6:30 on a Tuesday that we'd have to wait at least until 8:00 p.m. Instead, we made reservations to return tonight.

We arrived at 6:20 and found it to be equally as busy as the week before, although it seemed to be much noisier. While waiting the half hour to be seated, I commented to my buddy that, although most of the restaurant was very attractive, there were two areas that seemed to afford less desirable seating - one at the glassed wall looking into the kitchen and the other at the high-tops within the lounge area. Of course, we were seated at the glassed wall. Okay, we'll live with it.

We placed our drink orders - wine for my companion and a martini on the rocks for myself. We were served bread and olive oil - 3 small, but tasty, pieces for the 2 of us...why not 2 or perhaps 4? By the time drinks arrived, we had had the opportunity to determine our selections, so we placed our orders - calamari to split, caeser salad to split, salmon entree for my companion, a tilapia/shrimp entree for myself, with a side of grilled asparagus to split, since the menu was ala carte and nothing was mentioned as being included with the entrees. (Four of the 5 "pesce" entrees featured shrimp.) About 3 sips into our drinks, the calamari, salad AND the entree "side" of asparagus all arrived together. I asked our waitress if it was customary to serve the entree side with the appetizer and salad, and she looked confused and dismayed when we asked her to return it to the kitchen.

Not even half way through our drinks, barely having a chance to touch the salad, and having not even started on the calamari, the waitress returned to inform us that our dinners were ready to be served. We asked her to hold off for a few minutes, commenting that the experience was making us feel extremely rushed. Again she seemed confused by our request. Once dinner arrived, it was okay without being spectacular. The surprise for my companion was the inclusion of mashed potatoes that hadn't been mentioned in the menu description. Unfortunately, we were now subject to the remainder of the evening with an overly-apologetic waitress each time she passed our table.

So now the bill arrives. Now I don't usually over-peruse the bill, but couldn't help but notice the phrase "on the rocks" as it jumped off the page. Yes, in addition to the normal $6.50 for the martini, there was a separate charge of $.50 for the 5 or 6 ice cubes! (Needless to say, when I arrived home, I opened my freezer and bowed to the 10-lb bag of ice therein, thinking it must be roughly equivalent to my retirement fund.) Am I so behind the times that this should come as a surprise? It's ice cubes, for God's sake!

As we were leaving, we stopped at the front desk to ask if they had comment cards available. The hostess, looking somewhat insulted, replied that they had "no need for them as they had been open only since August". Huh? She was so disinterested that she didn't bother to inquire about our dining experience.

Arriving home, I logged on to their website only to find that the "Contact Us" area listed the owner/managers, but did not provide a reply option. Thus, it is necessary to phone or snail mail them with any comments one may have. Interestingly enough, I lingered for a moment to read the bio of Chef Luciano Canova and was struck by the final paragraph: "At Trattoria Romana you will occasionally see Luciano in the dining room, greeting customers and keeping a watchful eye on things. Much to his delight, he has been called upon to HELP (my emphasis) in the kitchen on occasion!. For Luciano, it's all about the food and the people." Excuse me, but if he's "occasionally" in the dining room and "called upon to help in the kitchen on occasion", just what is his function? It certainly doesn't sound as though it's to cook!

Well, rant over. Has anyone else tried this spot? Our final conclusion was that TR is ok to try, but not worth rushing to get there...maybe better to wait until the initial crowd-press dies down.

I'm headed back to my freezer to pay homage to the ice cubes. In the meantime, Alicante in Mendon remains at the top of my list!

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  1. It is getting rave reviews in northern RI. I've only been once, and just for a glass of wine (friend had wine & soup). Service was a bit sketchy for us also. Not much going on in the area so I have a feeling that it'll become a regular spot of mine over the winter.

    Have you been to d.carlo down the street? I really enjoy that place.

    5 Replies
    1. re: JaneRI

      Neglected to mention that when we asked our server why everything was ready at the same time, she replied "Well, you ordered it all together so we thought you wanted it all served together." It just added to the what-the-hell? feeling of the evening. Apparently they expect you to order your appetizer(s)/salad and THEN place your dinner order. I'm accustomed to ordering all at once and then having courses served in a spaced manner.

      My friend/dinner companion has dined at d.carlo with her sig. other and enjoyed it, which we actually discussed as a possibility for our next week's excursion. Agreed there's not much more in the area that's really interesting, but the food at Verchelli's in Bellingham is equally as good, the service there is more relaxed and logical, with the ability to walk in w/o a reservation and be seated promptly. We dine anywhere in the Milford, MA, to Providence, RI, area - usually on a Tuesday evening - and thus have many opportunities for a better dining experience than we had at TR. Hopefully things will calm down once TR's honeymoon phase is over. We'll give it another chance after a while.

      1. re: Tunia

        Have you tried the restaurant in Cumberland on Mendon Road, in the little plaza with the gym? I am sorry, I forgot the name. We thought it was pretty good, I know that end of the state is slim pickins! Also we thought that Bella in Harrisville was pretty good.

        1. re: Alica

          Just saw your post after writing one earlier -- you must be thinking of Andrew's Bistro? we LOVE that place. we always leave them happy and eager to go back, and it keeps happening. just fabulous! for the N. RI options, definitely the top choice. Don't know Bella but friends of ours have said it's pretty pretentious (if it's the same Bella I'm thinking of)

          1. re: madgee

            Yes! That is it. We loved it too and the owner was very nice. I thought the food at Bella was very good, I did not feel it was pretentious but who knows. Maybe they thought it was too expensive for the area? It is out in the boonies!

            1. re: Alica

              We dine at Andrew's often, and always enjoy our meals and service. It's also such a pleasure to be so warmly greeted by the owner, and he makes a point of checking on our satisfaction during and after the meal. Andrew's has become our "default" spot when we can't decide on somewhere else to go. Have also been to Bella - good food, but a little pricey for the area.

    2. The extra charge is to cover the extra alcohol that's needed to fill the rocks glass versus the amount in a martini glass. This is fairly standard procedure in some restaurants, especially if they use a measured pour. The normal 2.25-2.5 ounce measured pour will leave the rocks glass looking less than full, hence the extra charge.
      It's not for the ice.

      5 Replies
      1. re: invinotheresverde

        How things have changed..... I never recall seeing this charge in many years on both sides of the bar. Quite frankly, it seems very petty. I guess the days of "make it a double" have been replaced.

        1. re: TonyO

          With the tighter liquor laws, more and more restaurants operate on a measured pour system. While it's bad for the customer (hey, I like a strong drink, what can i say), it's very, very good for the restaurant.

          1. re: invinotheresverde

            I agree. Unfortunately, it is one more step in standardizing service (and not in a good way). As a former manager, I would wince watching some bartenders free pour but it made for regulars that choose our location over some generic, mindless pouring system. This is another reason that I rarely drink anything but bottles of wine when we are out. I just can't see paying $8.00 + for a shot of booze.

        2. re: invinotheresverde

          Thanks for the info. However, I might be more inclined to think this was the case if the drink arrived on its own rather than with the "extra" (almost another full drink) in the individual martini shaker. Maybe it's a case of TMI...had they just charged $7.00 for the martini, I wouldn't have thought twice about it.

          1. re: Tunia

            The extra sidecar was probably a restaurant standard, and the clueless bartender must've thought, "Gee, since we always serve a sidecar with the straight-up martinis, the on the rocks version must get one, too". It's really just a sign of a place (or bartender) that has no idea what they're doing.

        3. "TR is ok to try, but not worth rushing to get there"
          That was our conclusion as well. Went with another couple about two weeks ago, had the most messed up service ever (and we were trying to be cool about it, at the beginning of the evening, since it is a new place..., but the mistakes kept piling up!) and a dinner that went from decent (calamari app. is all I remember) to Not Good (Vitello Parmigiana -- much too heavy on the sauce, veal somewhat tough; pork chop -- meat was fine but the mashed potatoes tasted very artificial and left a "pressurized gas-like" aftertaste; peppers were much too vinegary, inedible; and Porcini rub Delmonico Steak -- there was NO porcini crust to be found at all! and same problem with the mashed potatoes) The espresso remained untouched in the espresso cup: we could have sworn it was not espresso but plain old coffee.
          Yes, the decor is interesting, but that doesn't make a good restaurant does it?
          Now strangely enough, contrary to what you say below, JaneRI, we and our friends have heard the opposite -- not "raving reviews" but lots of disenchanted customers. Different cooks on different nights? Or people who go for drinks vs. dinner? Sadly, our experience was disappointing.

          1 Reply
          1. re: madgee

            Interesting....no, these are definitely people sitting in the dining room having full dinners. One of them in particular is a couple who not only dine out frequently but are old-school Italians who come from families of very good home cooks. I'll have to suss out whether their early comments still hold.

          2. I live very close to this place, but hadn't tried it until last night. I had a good experience, but thought it was a little overpriced for the location. The place was mobbed at 5:30PM with people waiting to sit down at the bar, so make sure that you call well in advance for a reservation if you want to go. The service was excellent, except for a wait for our entrees to come out. The food was not the best Italian food that I ever had, but it was certainly good for Lincoln. The salad was excellent, even the tomatoes tasted fresh which is an accomplishment in the winter. I had a chicken dish served over pasta with a cream sauce and artichokes. The chicken was flavorful and perfectly cooked, and the sauce was tasty. I would have liked more than two little artichoke hearts on it though. My guest had some kind of bolgenese and said it was very good. The wine was priced oddly. Very over priced. A bottle of wine would have cost more than four glasses. I was still trying to figure that out. The list was decent though. I do always laugh when people order a bottle of beringer white zin and pay $20 for it. And it is listed under "Interesting Whites." My final conclusion was that it was a good restaurant, and since it is so convenient to where I live, I will probably return. I would like to check it out for lunch sometime. I think I would still pick d.Carlo over Trattoria Romana. The prices are more resonable and it's less frantic.

            17 Replies
            1. re: Sap115

              I agree Sap, I'll always pick d.Carlo over Trattoria Romana. I have friends who just love Romana and I don't get it. I find it to be fairly typical Italian, like something Pinelli-Marra would have done 8-10 yrs ago (and are STILL sticking us with in Slatersville!).

              1. re: JaneRI

                Well, I went for dinner Monday night and I'm an convert. Our dinner was wonderful. There was one thing that annoyed me....they told me they hadn't seated my mom (it was her birthday) and I stood in the front waiting for her, starting to feel a bit nervous (she's 72 and no cell phone).....finally I point-blank asked them to check and sure enough, she had been seated....the ditzy blonde who seated her stood there w/a grin plastered on her face like she had no idea I was annoyed w/her.

                But the food.....I wasn't starting so I ordered the eggplant rollatini appetizer. I get that pretty often and it tastes the same everywhere. This was SO delicious!!! Smoky tasting, just 10x better than any I've ever had. Since I ordered it as a meal, they brought out a side of that night's veggies (very nice of them). I actually took 1/3 of it home! My mother got salmon oscar which she said was one of the best meals she's had in a long time.

                1. re: JaneRI

                  wow.... wish I could share a single positive experience about TR but really can't... We've tried TR five times, always with friends - it was always a mediocre meal at best. (5 times because we wanted to believe it was as great as the crowds made us believe it was...) The wine and bread were good!! definitely overpriced wines. Just all the food we've had there lacked nice fresh Flavor. the pasta was slapped on the plates in heaps under the entree and it was glued together (every time!) The veggies on the side plate were pre-cut and microwaved, no doubt about it. (you know, those green and yellow zucchini rounds and carrots...) the mashed potato had that out-of-the-pressurized-can aftertaste and weird texture. The decor is fine, kind of a nice draw to the place. Service was impersonal, not knowledgeable, and especially way too low key for the setting/atmosphere TR offers ... and sorry to say we even saw a waitress carrying food to a table and pick at her nose and sweep hair from her face..... So.... no more! Back to the Hill when we want good Italian.

                  1. re: madgee

                    Oh my goodness, that's awful!! I wonder if there are certain cooks on certain nights who are good? Because a friend swears by it, and I have tasted her Italian mama's home-cooking, it's wonderful. She knows good food. Our veggies were fresh & crisp, my mom's mashed potatoes were excellent.

                    You know, I keep forgetting about Andrew's.....I've been 3-4 times and never had a bad meal, why haven't I been back? I'll have to, and very soon.

                    1. re: madgee

                      Mad, I'm definitely not defending TR, as it sounds very hit or miss, but I'm very curious as to which wines are "definitely overpriced".

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        Banfi Brunello, Santa Margherita, Principessa Gavi, Cesari Amarone...

                        1. re: madgee

                          I think the prices are average to good. For example, the same Banfi Brunello is $125 at Pane e Vino, but the Gavi $1 less. At Cafe Nuovo, the Santa Margherita is $53, etc.

                          The wines aren't bargain priced, but they're fairly priced.

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            well sure, but can we be comparing suburb prices to downtown prov.? we were feeling out the suburbs only.

                            1. re: madgee

                              But those aren't really "suburb" wines. You can't give 'em away. :)

                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                yes, but...!! i could swear i've seen some of these priced for less in the Prov. suburbs. let me look into it :-)
                                on another note, i also think the reaction came from experiencing such poor meals and lousy service at T.R., that the cost at the end of the night seemed all the higher too.

                                1. re: madgee

                                  Yeah, I agree that the place sounds like a train wreck. I'll keep getting my eye-tie fix at Pane e Vino on 1/2 price wine night!

                                  PS The Gavi is $2 more at d.carlo. :)

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    My experience has not been train-wreck....I had one small service glitch and our meals were wonderful. If the area works for you, give it a shot.

                                    1. re: JaneRI

                                      Glad to hear. I'll keep it in mind.

                                      Thanks.

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        Just wanted to throw in my $.02 re: Trattoria Romana. Tried it again for the second time, and the food was fantastic. I had the pollo boccocino and it was out of this world. My only complaint about the food is that the risotto it was served with was almost too salty (I say almost because I love overly salty food and it was *almost* too salty for me, someone else may have found it far too salty), but other than that our meals were perfect. My husband had the fettucini alfredo and loved it.

                                        As was the case the first time we dined there, the service was incredibly slow, and they weren't busy at all. But the food is worth it if you've got some time to kill and patience.

                                        1. re: dagwood

                                          Same, I always have a great meal there. Their burgers are out of this world.

                                          Fredg, makes perfect sense on the alcohol pricing.

                  2. re: JaneRI

                    JaneRI: Have to agree with you regarding Pinelli/Slatersville - boring, mediocre food. It's definitely the worst of their locations.

                    1. re: Tunia

                      I should send them an e-mail, and ask if they've got plans to update the menu. I'd be thrilled to see something more along the lines of Twist.

                      I'm also a fan of Bella. But pretentious? No, not at all. I mean, maybe by "deep Burrillville" standards?

                2. Wanted to let you know the $.50 was not for ice. Anytime a drink is served on the rocks or neat it has at least 2 ounces of liquor rather than 1 and 1/4 like mixed drinks. For instance a vodka martini rocks or scotch rocks. The majority of places won't have it on the bill. It will only be seen by the server and bartender so he or she knows how much to pour.