Buca di Bepo kitchen table (long - bit of a rant)
Yesterday, I went to the City Walk Buca di Bepo with several friends. Being a Saturday, and in a extremely heavy foot traffic area like City Walk, we were told the wait was approximately 30 minutes. Somehow, although we did not request it, we managed to get the kitchen table, because of last minute cancellations and perhaps we were waiting the longest in the reservation log. I realized we probably wouldn't get a special treatment and menu like Charlie Trotter's, but I figured it would be amusing to see if a professional restaurant kitchen is as bad as Anthony Bourdain says in his book, "Kitchen Confidential".
The server quickly introduced himself, "Hi, my name is Bob [names changed to protect the guilty], I'll be your waiter [I'm sure he meant aspiring actor] today. I'll be right back, so don't go anywhere", and ran off. We didn't see him for a good few minutes, so the head chef, turned around welcomed us, and asked if he could get anything. We asked for the caesar salad and garlic bread.
By this time, one of the hosts, would constanly lead a small drove of diners through the kitchen, pointing things out like a tour guide. "This is where bake pizzas, and on your left is olive oil, this is our head chef Tony." When he reaches our table, he stops to say, "Hey, Kitchen Table. Say hello everybody", the tour group gawks at us, some say hello, some comment how lucky we are to get the table. I am seriously doubting this, and we haven't even ordered yet.
When our actor/waiter returns to take our order, I also ask if I could get a table setting, since we were short one. He jokingly replies, "No". I realize he was poking fun, but by now, I wasn't in a joking mood, so I did not laugh it off. He did say he was kidding and of course he would get me one. Few moments later, we get our salad and garlic bread from the head chef. I quitely eat my garlic bread since I have no silverware. I didn't really want to pester the busy head chef nor his runners, and since there were no servers in sight, we ask a hostess running around chatting with the staff. She says, "Okay, in a minute.", then takes off. Finally, one of my companion says, "Screw this", gets up and goes around the back for the waiter station. He returns with a place setting, mumbling, "Starving sucks." He later said that when he was gathering the items, the hostess gave him a dirty look until she realized that he was there to get something that she had forgotten to do herself.
Our dinner comprised of a baked ravioli dish, Chicken Cacciatorri, and Linguini Fruitti di Mare. The chicken was covered with a tomato/caper red sauce that all but covered up the fact that it was burnt. It was served on a bed of mashed potatoes with a thick tacky texture, that took me back to my preschool paste eating days. By now, I didn't have an appetite to even try the linguini.
Between the regular tours of diners pausing to watch the human freakshow that was our meal, a lady and her children came up to us and asked us bluntly, "Are you going to take much longer? Because we want this table, and we want to know how much longer we should wait." I'm sure she didn't mean to be as rude as she sounded, and she rather give up regular tables for the kitchen one. But it was quite disconcerting to be asked this in the middle of eating a meal.
To credit Buca di Bepo, the kitchen staff were quite helpful and amusing. They showed us some dishes that was going out, which helped us change the item of one of our dinners. When a manager came to ask us how was everything, someone quipped, "The head chef is a better server than our server!" This was probably taken as a joke.
I realize that Buca's intention is to create a casual family attitude in the restaurant. And only more so in the kitchen table. But coupled with the lack of service attention, it made me wonder why I didn't just stay at home to get that kind of atmosphere. I have to fetch the silverware at home, too.
You may be surprised to know that my companions actually enjoyed the evening there. They were amused with the casual attitude and language of the kitchen staff, they enjoyed badmouthing the waiter to his fellow coworkers, and I'm sure they even liked being center of attention to the lines of diners stopping to look at us, mentioning how lucky we were to have the kitchen table.
This is the third time I've been to Buca di Bepo. Personally, I do not go for themed restaurants, especially in City Walk. But before you flame me for going there repeatedly when I know I won't enjoy it, let me remind you that although we consider ourselves chowhounds, lovers of good food and patrons of excellent restaurants, we may not have friends that have the same views. I have friends that are easily entertained by gimicky themed restaurants. They like to eat as long as it is cheap and fills the stomach. Trying new dishes is a dangerous and unnessary stunt.
So the kitchen table in Buca is not for everyone. Some may think it's the most exciting thing since Disneyland. Conversely, some may find the atmosphere too easy going for a restaurant. I'll let you decide that.
Wavering from topic slightly:
Panoz observes "Some may think it's the most exciting thing since Disneyland". Well, it depends if "since Disneyland" is your standard for excitement. Mid-way through Neil Stephenson's "In The Beginning Was The Command Line" (ostensibly a meditation on Microsoft, Macintosh and the nature of experience and how it bears on merchandising computer software) is a wonderful digression about the nature of "mediated experience": those people who prefer, or are just as happy, going to a theme park which is "just like" [India, New Orleans, Africa, Paris, New York, etc.] to actually going to the thing itself.
I think that difference between those folks and the people who wanna actually go to the real thing is fundamental to what chowhounding is about.
Your experience gives me the similar feeling as to why I ask for the check as soon as they start passing out the song sheets at C&O. Although I'm guessing the food at C&O is much more passable than Buca.
You are indeed a good friend to put up with having to go there 3 times and be subjected to all of that.
You bring up a very valid question with your experience though. How does one get their un-hounded friends and family to be more selective, or do you always just have to go with the flow?
Thanks for sharing your experience (very well done). It confirms my decision to never go to Buca, ever.
Went during opening week of Encino location and it was just like the eating scene from the movie Tom Jones. Chaos was being kind. Food everywhere, but not a drop you would want to eat. And for a party of two, you better want to eat the same thing, or it can be quite expensive as the entree portions generally are for four or so persons. When the food arrives, it becomes anti-climactic!