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Jun 5, 2008 06:07 AM

Strange day in Huron Village - Gran Gusto and Trattoria Pulcinella

Sometimes you just have a bad night. It can happen to anyone. Unfortunately, it seems that last night, bad luck set up shop in Huron Village for a little while.

We went over to Gran Gusto, where the host initially met us with gusto, and we were seated at a table for two. I admit that I was starving, so maybe was a little impatient. But we did not receive any menus and water glasses remained empty the entire time we were there. I recalled that some folks have said service is slow, and we failed to spot more than two waiters and no buspersons. Quickly sizing up the situation, seeing that there were apparently several tables with no food on them, and being utterly ignored with little hope for the future, we just decided to go. Will probably try to give them a shot another time when we are not disgesting our stomach linings.

So still jonesing for Italian, we hopped around the corner to this neighborhood fixture, Pulcinella. Have always wanted to try, but never got the warmest of feelings from the place, despite that it always seemed busy whenever I drove by. In this small room, there were three people serving - one of them should have been loaned to Gran Gusto.

In any case, a table was set for us, but our waiter was very brusque with us. We thought maybe it was us?! We were dressed rather casually. He was almost a parody of the rude (Italian) waiter genre - started telling us specials by speaking off-stage (oh, he's talking to us...), then dropped down plates roughly, literally pulled the menu out of my hand as I was looking at it, after ordering. Comedy. It was really more funny and weird than angering.

Anyhow, we ordered the special grilled anchovies. Entrees were special fettuccine with duck ragu and my gf ordered some sort of pasta with seafood.

Ordered a couple of glasses of wine - placed roughly on the table - my red wine had some odd bubbles in it - was pretty sure it was soapy water left in the glass, but a) the wine tasted fine and b) given our waiter, I was a little afraid to upset the applecart further by asking for another glass.

Bread comes with a nice yellow tomato dipping sauce - very light and very helpful to get through the bread which was rustic but not in a good way. But not terrible.

And we're waiting...and waiting...I think I quipped that we were too hasty in leaving Gran Gusto - though finally we receive the anchovies - over a dozen small smelt-sized fish, grilled, on a bed of greens - decent flavor - could have used a little something, but honestly not bad. Again, though, we were starving so that might have affected things.

And then the plate is cleared...and we're waiting....and waiting....
We're watching the kitchen, and the cooks seemed to be hard at work, but nothing came out of that kitchen for a really long time. Finally a dish was born, but it went to a table in the corner that had been there since we had been in the restaurant. This I realized was a very bad sign. But we waited, and waited a little more.

Started to discuss with my gf whether we should just get the check and leave. I don't ever like to do this, but it was not looking like we were ever going to eat. Then another dish comes out and it is for....yet another table that had been in the place since we sat down over an hour ago.

Just as I was about to make the move, our faithful waiter accidentally (I think ;) elbows me in the back of the head, as he is addressing an adjacent table. He immediately turned to apologize, and I asked him for the check.

He said, "No, I am not going to give you the check...I think you should just go." He then went on a quiet but very intense little rant about how he would not charge us for anything, he does not understand what is going on in the kitchen, the chef would promise that it would be just a few minutes, and then nothing....he was clearly very frustrated and changed the entire tint of his attitude throughout the night. We pled with him that we would pay for the food we had eaten and the wine we drank, but he was adamant that we should just leave. I put a tip on the table and we left, our bellies empty but rolling with laughs. If only Jerry had been there...

Epilogue: On the couch watching Top Chef, large pie from Armando's (half pepperoni/eggplant, half Hawaiian), glass of Polar birch beer. All's well that ends well.

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  1. tough evening. I'd give Gran Gusto one more shot. They were slow the first time I was there also. Only been to Pucinella once and I agree that the food is just ok; not spectacular, but not terrible. You couldn't have picked a better story book ending to a rough night.

    1. That is too bad about Pulcinella. My wife and I have taken my parents there on two different occasions and had a very good experience both times.

      1 Reply
      1. re: TomH

        I agree, I haven't been there in a few years but I've always had very good food and service there. I recall an Italian waiter (if not Italian then a good actor) with a shaven head who waited on us.

        The service wasn't lightning fast but it was satisfactory (way back then)

      2. Here's my theory: with the economy toughening up and restaurant costs rising, Gran Gusto laid off a waiter and maybe has a smaller kitchen staff...and then the waiter at Pulcinella had just been told that it was his last night so he comped you to screw his boss. Maybe not, but your great Raymond Chandleresque opening line leads one to exercise the literary imagination.

        I've generally found the waitstaff at Pulcinella either charming or brusque, but worth that inconsistency for the good food. They have definitely had their highs and lows over the ten or so years I've gone.

        5 Replies
        1. re: newhound

          > Here's my theory...Gran Gusto laid off a waiter and maybe has a smaller kitchen staff

          Can't speak to the kitchen staff, but as of last weekend, the same three waiters were tending the room. They just flake out sometimes.

          Bob D, from the second I started reading the part about things going badly at Pulcinella, I knew you were going to end up at Armando's. Glad things turned out ok in the end!

          1. re: newhound

            Thanks for the Raymond Chandler comment - you are too kind!
            I like how you think - that would be a very noir-ish turn of events. Though he actually seemed pained by the outcome - very emotionally invested in the goings-on.

            Finlero, funny that. I made a u-turn in front of Village Kitchen before going with Armando's - how is the pizza over there these days? I haven't been since they were Il Buongustao (sp.?).

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              If VK were in any other neighborhood (except maybe the North End), I'd be pleased to have it as my go-to. But in Huron Village, it's got problems.

              Stylistically, the pizza is about halfway between American-style and Neapolitan-style, using a good-quality simple crust (flour, salt, yeast, water, olive oil) and a pretty good tomato sauce, but shredded mozzarella.

              Personally, if I want great American-style, it doesn't get much better than Armando's. If I want great Neapolitan-style, it doesn't get much better than Gran Gusto. I can't really say I get a craving too often for something in between, so VK has kind of fallen off my list.

              I continue to like VK's cold vegetable antipasto platter a lot, a nice combination of garlicky spinach, marinated carrots, eggplant, mushrooms, olives, cauliflower, and broccoli. Their homemade, fairly healthy soups are great in cold weather as well.

              1. re: finlero

                Wow...that sounds great. Will definitely have to pop in there for that at some point. And to Ortanique.

            2. re: newhound

              Perhaps it's the economy but why would they lay off waitstaff when they are paid mainly tips, not restaurateur's payroll? On the other hand, in times like these maybe waitstaff is resigning en masse because there aren't enough customers to provide tip income.

            3. At least the waiter did the right thing. Sometimes we think waitstaff can be testy and angry but it may not be at us, it's the kitchen! They do put up with stuff at times and afterall, it is their living, they need the tips.

              1. that would have never happened at Big T's

                1 Reply