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Feb 17, 2008 11:19 AM

Ortolan- Great food, hello service?

I took the SO out to Ortolan for his birthday last night (Saturday). We both did the tasting menu and I added the wine pairing. (He declined because he was driving) I'll start by saying the food was excellent- well prepared and delicious. The foi gras with fig was an interesting combination of sweet along with the usual velvet richness and was paired well with a light white wine (I'm not a wine expert and don't remember what this was). The vegetables 5 ways was also interesting- my personal favorite was the pepper mousse. A few of the other standouts- the venison was cooked well and tasty- normally a somewhat gamey meat and not my favorite but very well executed here. The egg cooked in ash was delicious with a surprising sweet cream touch. The turbot wrapped in swiss chard over white beans and calamari was also delicious. Probably my favorite in terms of flavor was the langostine ravioli in chicken consomme with a quail egg. The ravioli was stuffed to near bursting with sweet langostine meat, again perfectly cooked, the quail egg was just done so that the yolk was just slightly runny, and the consomme had such concentrated flavor to add great depth to this dish.

Sadly, now I have to turn to my issues with the night. We were seated and waited about 20 minutes for our server, after initially asking us what we wanted to drink, to come back and take our orders. After that, we waited about a half hour to receive the amuse bouche. During this time, the server returned to ask if we wanted wine forgetting that I had already told her I would be doing the wine pairing. I had also, as always, informed the server that I was allergic to nuts. She actually made a return to our table to tell us she had left a note with the kitchen about my allergy and that no nuts would be coming out in my food. Then, she proceeded to bring out an eggplant puree with pesto. When I asked her if the pesto had pinenuts in it, she responded no. When I looked skeptical, she went to ask and came back, apologetically answering that it did indeed have pinenuts in it. (The SO reported that the eggplant was delicious) Next, during the vegetable course, the server, a different one, proudly announced that the artichoke ravioli had hazelnuts in it. When I politely told her I would not be able to eat it because it had nuts in it, she immediately took it back and brought back another dish minus the ravioli. I suspect that they had just brushed off the ravioli and smushed the remaining items together on the plate, but I wasn't in the mood to complain. In the meantime, the wines have appeared at least a good 10 minutes before each dish.

Next problem- the turbot showed up sitting in pesto. I had to again ask the server if the pesto had pinenuts in it, since at this point, I couldn't believe that they would make the same mistake twice. (With the pesto) She answered again, no, and when I again looked skeptical, she marched back to the kitchen and returned to report that it did. She took away the offending dish and brought it back sans pesto and also sans the clam that the dish was supposed to come with. I again had to flag down the server to ask if there was a reason why the clam was missing. They acquiesced by bringing me a clam by itself.

At this point, the wine, instead of coming too early, stopped coming altogether and for every subsequent course, we actually had to ask for the paired wine that was supposed to come with the dish.

The venison dish, which was labelled as having chestnuts in it, came out and the server proudly announced that it had chestnuts in it. I realize that she was probably just reciting what normally came in the dish, but I was understandably alarmed at this point and asked her to make sure this one didn't. At this point, the gentleman who had been providing me with the paired wines came to the table to announce that no, the dish did not have chestnuts in it because they didn't play that kind of game with their diners. Um, yah.

The last insult came when the cheese dish arrived with walnut bread. The SO lifted the linen to discover that the bread was chock full of walnuts. Again, we inquired, the server apologized, and brought me some ciabatta instead. We had to ask for the wine that was supposed to accompany this dish and by the time it arrived, another 15 minutes had elapsed.

I could go on about some of the minute details that I thought Ortolan missed on- the lights would flicker every time the heater/AC went on. Early in the evening, they were playing rock music, which though I enjoy, was out of place. And again, the service. Slow and later just plain obnoxiously nonexistent.

Again, I have to say that for the most part, the food was delicious. however, given the slow service, the repeated issues with needing to return items that had nuts in it, and absolute disregard for serving us the wine that I was paying $75 for, I have to give Ortolan the thumbs down for the night. Also, while I was glad to pay the price for the meal, I thought they should have at least offered to comp a part of it given the number of mistakes. I have never been to a restaurant of such supposed caliber that didn't at least offer a free drink for just one mistake.

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  1. Great to hear about the food - but major bummers for the service (and it's inexcusable for all those nutty dishes, no pun intended, to turn up -- you mentioned you had an allergy at beginning of meal and eating some of those things could've given you potentially serious reactions.)

    That being said, send an email (link to this post) or give a call to Ortolan's manager about your experience and maybe they'll partly comp your next meal -- if you dare go back. :\

    And even if you don't get anything out of it, you would've at least brought it to the attention of their management, who will probably (re-)train their staff to pay MUCH closer attention to food allergies.


    1. I find the inattention to your nut allergy to be more than just a flaw in the service, but an alarming lack of consideration to you and failure to communicate with the kitchen. I definitely agree that a letter or email to management or ownership is warranted.

      That being said, your post indicates you informed your server of your nut allergy when or before ordering. While this is certainly required, it may have been too late. If I had an allergy that could kill or seriously injure me, and I was even considering a multi-course tasting menu, I would acknowledge and ask about it when making the reservation, and again the day before or morning of when confirming. That gives the chef and the kitchen notice and time to alter and substitute rather than just removing items from a dish. Of course, that also assumes that they aren't a hot newish L.A, shooting star that just doesn't care.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nosh

        Point taken- I've gotten by thus far with being able to just tell the servers but perhaps I need to start calling up ahead of time to ensure that the food is definitely going to be nut free.

        I did inform the servers about my allergy. I think the thing that really bugged me is when the same server made the mistake with the pesto twice. It seems reasonable to believe that if the first pesto had pinenuts, the second would too. That, and I wanted my wine in a timely fashion!!!

        We honestly got the impression that the staff just didn't care by the end of the meal. Really too bad, the food other than that was great.

      2. I ate at Ortolan the exact same night as you! It was my first time there and I was really let down. The food ran the gamut from great to totally mediocre. My lobster was rubbery and overcooked and the amuse bouche parsnip and carrot soups (for spring?) were served in test tubes (totally obnox) and were too foamy and just not suited to our meals. It was pretentious. The Foie Gras was superb though.

        And what's with the soft rock/ Dido soundtrack? Not what you want to hear when you're paying top dollar for fussy French food. My European colleagues paid the bill and left a 10% tip (which I told them was in poor taste). But when the check receipt was returned, the management actually asked them to pay 5% more. Is that tacky? I'm not sure. When pressed and told that tipping was discretionary, the mgmt backed down. I prob would not go back to Ortolan and would not suggest it to anyone who wants to splurge.

        2 Replies
        1. re: adamhgraham

          Oh WOW. Agreed, the foie was great. The SO and I were looking at each other asking, was that The Cure they were playing? Again, love the music but not in that setting!!

          Re: Tipping- my SO was pressing me to leave $5. (Our bill was $250 for the two tasting menus plus $75 for the wine pairing and $15 for the bottled water) He was really upset about the repeated negligence about the nuts and the apparent lack of caring about our wine- we were repeated asking for the wine that we were paying for. I couldn't do that but was sort of annoyed by the service and left 10%. They didn't stop me at the door- perhaps they realized that they had messed up with our meal and were lucky to escape with 10%. I knew I tipped in bad taste but for them to repeatedly mess up, ...

          Perhaps they were just having an off night? I hope so, for their sake. That being said, we will probably be going to Providence the next time we want a "splurge" meal.

          1. re: PrettyPlaty

            I'll say this for Wolfgang Puck -- My couple of experiences at Spago, a date at the old Spago, my many dinners at Chinois, even excursions to Granita and the long-gone Eureka -- the service was always good. Often well above and beyond. Some very memorable moments, such as a comped late-Saturday appetizer because "Wolfgang would want you to have it -- you've been waiting so long" at Chinois when we arrived very early for our reservation and were enjoying watching the kitchen.

            Some places make you happy to spend your money and time there; others ride the wave of popularity and couldn't care less.

        2. Just a quick note to confirm that bizarre/confused service is alive and well at Ortolan...went there last night for a celebratory dinner (just my wife and I), remembering the odd decor and the disturbing ratio of incompetent "help" per customer (high).

          We too waited 15-20 min. before anyone approached our booth (we were in one of the padded, Alice-in-Wonderland cells), and when they did, it was to wheel out a cart of champagne choices.

          "But we didn't order champagne"

          "Oh, oui, oui sir!" (vanishes, slowly)

          Next up was an attempt to get water (twice, to two different servers), then about 30 or so min. in, I think the menus appeared, along with a request to see if maybe we'd like to put in some drink orders. Yes, after we have a chance to look at...oh, bye, I guess I'll see you later (scurries off).

          The bread "service" is a sullen guy strolling around w/ a platter every 15 min. or so; the wheat bread was rock-hard, so he poked it, shrugged an apology, and tonged it up off my plate and back onto the platter! : )

          Part of it was the obvious confusion about who was a bus boy, who was a host/hostess, who was a server, and who would bring the food out - think keystone-cops. As for pacing, It was sort of like the someone decided to just look at a children's book illustration about what a "fancy restaurant" looks like, hung this on the wall, pointed to it, and told the staff "now go do this!"

          Anyhoo, the food was, as we remembered, totally over-the-top in terms of combinations (deviled egg w/ bacon mousse), textures (caviar with vanilla-infused whipped cream), and presentation, but somehow sort of thrilling. There have been plenty of reviews on this place on this board, so no need to recap, but the lambchops were done perfectly, as was the accompanying spinach-ricotta gnocchi, and the dessert (a rum-soaked teacake with bananas) was incredibly delicious.

          But, the place was empty (they never called to confirm our reservation, so we just showed up), and I wouldn't be at all surprised if this place doesn't survive.

          I will miss that bread server though...

          1 Reply
          1. re: cant talk...eating

            I was their last month for my anniversary and had excellent service including Chef Eme stopping by our table. We had the tasting menu and overall the meal was good, but there were some misses, Sadly, there weren't many customers. It's too bad a restaurant like Ortolan has such overall inconsistency with their clients and a night to night basis.