Restaurant O, Greenville, SC
I'm back in town for work again from San Francisco and decided to keep trying different places. (see my previous posts on 33Liberty and Pho Noodleville). One of the reviews (http://www.restauranto.com/NewsAndEve...) about Restaurant O was somewhat comical in that the critic gushed about the water service, the amuse bouche, and the clearing of plates and silverware. But more on that later.
Short story: Good food with some Asian twists, but hiccups in pacing and service can bring down the experience. Wine list had some good values across the board.
Decor-wise, it's a very pleasant, dimly lit room. It has a modern, young edge to it, although the room was mostly empty during the night with the diners around middle-aged or older.
The menu that Restaurant O presents offers many dishes with Asian ingredients or preparations. One dish in particular which caught my eye (but I didn't order) was the ahi tuna which comes with a Chinkiang vinegar reduction sauce.
(Side note, if interested: Chinkiang vinegar, is a black rice vinegar which originated in Jiangsu, an eastern coastal province in China. It's widely used in southern Chinese cooking. Flavorwise, it has an unique "smoky" kind of sweet, sour taste. The recipes I've seen for hot and sour soup, use chinkiang vinegar)
While my coworker and I were deciding what to order, the waiter took our drink orders. I ordered a vodka martini straight up and the resulting drink arrived with many slivers of ice, the result of very vigorous shaking. It wasn't slushie-like, but it certainly impeded the drinking. This was mildly annoying but not that big of a deal unless you're very picky about liquor. $7.xx for a Ketel One martini, pretty cheap compared to peer restaurants which would charge $10-12 for a martini.
The wine list has a good selection of wines by the glass ($7-$20) and half bottles. Bottle selections varied from across the globe with some very interesting wines which I wanted to try, but since I had to drive and my coworker not much of a drinker, I settled for a glass of Brandborg pinot noir ($15). From a brief scan, the markups seem reasonable at around twice what you would pay retail at a store.
We placed our orders, where the waiter was helpful in explaining the contents of various dishes to my coworker. I decided to go with the three course "tasting menu" which offers several selections for each of the three courses. The waiter mentioned that the dishes in the tasting menu could also be ordered a la carte if so desired. Pricewise, for $38, the tasting menu doesn't offer much savings over ordering a la carte, but I was drawn to the dishes it listed. The desserts are the same on the tasting menu and the regular menu. I then picked a glass of Brandborg pinot noir ($15).
After we ordered, an amuse bouche was presented to us. The manager jokingly assured us "that the other dishes will be much LARGER in portion size." His tone was friendly but it made me wonder why he would need to make such a joke in the first place. Perhaps some previous diners thought all their subsequent dishes would be very small as well?
Our first dishes arrived in good time, although it looked like the runner didn't immediately know who ordered which dish. My first dish was the almond crusted scallops. Two hefty scallops rested on leek ragout with the "potato terrine" on the side. The potato terrine looked like a large fry cut in half and arranged delicately together. The scallops were cooked well but I don't think the leek ragout or the potato matched well with it. The texture of the almonds and the flavor of the scallops could have benefited from some other ingredient for that extra dimension. Something acidic maybe. The scallops were still enjoyable though.
My coworker's blue crab and onion soup, I didn't taste, but it looked like a light bisque which he enjoyed very much.
Our plates were cleared when we were done and at this point the waiter poured my glass of pinot. Although I forgot to request the pinot to be poured with my main dish and not before, it serendipitously worked out for me. I could envision other diners being annoyed that their glass wasn't poured immediately after ordering, so the waiter probably should ask the diners when they would want their glass(es) of wine poured. The glass was a "proper" sized burgundy glass of spiegelau quality (I forgot to look for a mark on the base).
Our main dishes took a while to arrive. Often, chatting with your dining mates will seem to make time fly by so the dishes seem to arrive promptly or within the "flow" of the meal, but that was not the case here. There was a brief lull in our conversation, and I noticed that some time had passed since our dishes were cleared. We chatted some more, and by the next lull, the dishes still had not arrived. It took around 20 minutes between the clearing of the appetizer dishes and the arrival of our main dishes. Now this probably wasn't the waiter's fault; some hiccup probably happened in the kitchen, but at this point, there appeared to be only a couple of four-toppers occupied in the dining room.
My main dish was the duo of pekin duck. Not to be confused (as I originally was) with Peking duck which is a dish versus the breed of duck. The duck breast was tea smoked (another Chinese cooking technique) with a curried white bean puree and mulberry syrup. The duck leg was braised with plum-ginger chutney, cippollini onions and a shiitake-soy nage sauce on the side. It looked and smelled great and I was ready to start when I noticed I had no fork!
The "salad" fork was used for the amuse bouche which was cleared. The main dinner fork was used for my scallops which was also cleared. The waiter seemed truly apologetic and quickly rushed to replace my fork.
I enjoyed the duck breast the most, although I was annoyed that the meat was cool in temperature, only a bit above room temperature. Perhaps the dish was cooked on schedule, but my coworker's dish had a hiccup which left the meat languishing on the counter, apparently sans heat lamp. I suppose I could have had the waiter to take it back, but if the kitchen is only going to nuke it in the microwave or warm it up in the oven, I'd rather eat tender but cool meat. Besides I was starving at this point, and waiting another five minutes for hot but possibly tough, rough meat, didn't appeal to me. The duck breast was cooked with the skin (and accompanying fat) on so some diners might be put off by the relatively thick layer of duck fat they'd be ingesting. Me, I didn't mind at all. Remember, natural fat is trans-fat free! har har. Anyway, the fatty duck breast meat, with the subtely curried bean puree and the mulberry syrup (for that sweet, acidic touch) paired very well with the pinot. The braised duck leg was a bit awkward to eat as it served in a form of bowl which can make cutting cumbersome. The sauce and onions with the leg didn't combine together as well as the other half of the duo.
My coworker's Thai bouillabaise seemed to be fine but I didn't sample it.
My dessert was a espresso cheesecake mousse, and it was good. The espresso was subtle and the mousse light by very rich.
When the waiter brought out the check, he forgot to split it as I had originally asked of him.
I would have to go back to see if the slow pacing and dish temperature hiccup was an anomaly. If it was, then the kitchen is doing a good job with a solid menu. Service is also overall decent, but that is expected for a restaurant at their price point. Every service detail can matter at this level, and the hiccup of the missing fork is a big one. The wine list is put together very well and deserves more than just a cursory glance at the California cabernets.
Overall, I agree with your comments on service and flow. I have enjoyed many of the dishes at O, including one of the only Gville spots you can get NE oysters. The tuna is excellent if you ever find yourself there again.
Greenville isn't a service town whatsoever. Don't get me wrong, there are some restaurants that try to get it right (and you would find me sitting at the bar at O for much better service), but for the most part, the service industry consists of people working 2nd jobs, or knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone who got them a job that they really aren't suited for, or people just not caring.
It's been an adjustment for me b/c I moved here from a very service oriented city where people are in the industry b/c they love it. I'm a huge believer in service making or breaking an evening out. So, I've been disappointed a number of times when the details aren't attended to. The same goes for a good mixologist - you'll be hard pressed to find someone who makes a great drink or who can tell you the attributes of the wines on a list they have provided.
That said - Devereaux's may offer up better service (dining room NOT bar), with a decent wine list. Be wary of too-warm reds though. Lemongrass (Thai) has always been very efficient as well. Pretty much everywhere else I've had good and bad experiences with service - so it's a tough call.
If you are looking for an excellent dining experience with phenomonal service in an intimate setting, I highly recommend Justin's Steakhouse. He actually owns 4 locations. The original, which is the one I dined at, is behind the K-Mart on Rushmore Drive. He also has one in downtown Greer, one in downtown Simpsonville and he just opened the fourth in Spartanburg. My husband and I ate the original Justin's for our birthday this spring. Their menu is exciting and they are one of the only restaurants that carry Kobe Beef in the area. As appetizers we started off with the smoked mozarella and also the bacon wrapped scallops which were seared to perfection with a peach chutney sauce. My husband ordered their special NY strip where the entire loin was aged for several weeks and then they cut only one steak from the loin and I ordered the bone in filet with the carmelized onions, mushrooms, garlic and blue cheese. The food was mouthwatering. The service was unmatched and we have eaten at almost every restaurant in Greenville. The owner, Bernie, made a point to stop at each table and welcome the guests and was just charming. Their martini menu was excellent as well. At their recommendation, the owner and our server brought us the absolute best dessert I have ever tasted in my life....their white chocalate mousse with the dark chocalate and the rasberries that had just won the Taste of the Nation award. This restaurant is unmatched in the Greenville area. Truely worth every penny (my husband's steak was $70, mine was about $40).
I probably should add as a non-service-related P.S. to my review, that if upon future visits, the kitchen continues to have a mysteriously long wait before the main dishes arrive or the food arrives cool (I'm perfectly fine with warm), then something's going wrong inside the kitchen. I really hope my duck experience was an anomaly.
The service issues generally don't really bother me that much when I'm dining unless it's something egregious (for example, if the waiter had taken ten minutes to get my fork), but in my reviews I'll discuss them, because other diners might want to know. I'm pretty easy to please.
Thanks for posting such a thorough review. I've enjoyed getting your outsiderer's perspective on Greenville dining. Newspaper food reviews around here are hysterical. Often you get a paragraph on the sweet tea. I imagine the server commented on the amuse because many people have never seen one.
Service is like a box of chocolates....There is a waiter that I see every Sunday at brunch at a little bakery/cafe in Saluda that could go work at Daniel. Then you get servers at supposedly high end places that are beyond clueless. Clueless with a pretentious attitude is my favorite.
To ap's comment about Devereaux: a friend of mine's college-age daughter worked at the bar at Devereaux this summer. It was her first ever waitressing experience. To their credit , they spent a lot of time teaching her about the wine list and the liquors, and had began teaching her about food before she went back to school. According to my friend, she actually made herself flashcard that she studied at home. Gotta give Devereaux's credit for instilling that kind of interest in a 19 year old.