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Jul 26, 2008 11:09 AM

Small Plates, Harvard Square - Needs to train waitstaff

Last weekend I went to Harvard Square with a friend of mine. We went to Small Plates for lunch. We were the first customers in the restaurant for lunch.

I loved the atmosphere. It was comfortable and light and pleasant.

The food was well prepared, and our waiter was a very nice kid. But he clearly needed more training. There were a number of things that he did/didn't do that leave me with a negative feeling and a bit of regret in spending so much money for a lunch of four small dishes that my friend and I shared, but I didn't leave being full. All attached food pics were of our food before we touched it. These were the full portions.

Having waited myself in the past, I think it's safe to assume that there was no bartender and he prepared my sangria. I've had plenty of sangria in my lifetime, and this was poorly prepared. Not so much in flavor, but in presentation. It was served in a regular wine glass. No ice. It was slightly cool, so I think it was shaken two times before he served it to me. I had asked about the kinds of fruits that were going to be in it because I was considering one of the different sangria flavors. I didn't get the fruits he told me were going to be in it. My no-ice sangria came with a toothpick that had a strawberry and an orange slice on it. That was a $9.00 drink!

The other think that really upset me during the meal was something that happened with the mussels. I know what mussels are, and there was something (actually two somethings) very large and black and unknown in the dish. I had a feeling that it might be snails because I saw them on the menu. But I'd never eaten snails or seen them cooked. So I called my waiter over and asked what they were. He swore up and down that they were mussels. He went into some thing like saying they were "inside out" but he continued to insist that they were mussels. AllI knew is that if they were mussels, they were outright rotton!

It wasnt' till I got home that I looked up on google images what a snail was. Yes, they were snails. So I was equally upset in that had I known for sure that they were snails, I would have tried them. I'm totally open to that and I would have gotten a kick out of it.

I called the restaurant the next day to talk to the manager to tell him or her that this waiter needed to be trained. There was no "manager" on duty - they hadn't opened yet. But I did talk to the sous chef. She told me the waiter was new. She agreed that probably a few snails fell into the mussels.

It was the waiter's pure insistance that he knew they were mussels (though he didn't) that really upset me. I didn't even go into the sangria issue. She said she'd talk to him.

So, to food we had was fantastic, but there wasn't much of it, it was expensive, my drink was not good, and I left without feel full and was pissed at my waiter (though he was a very nice kid). Just thought I'd share.


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  1. Oops! Forgot my food pics. I'm attaching 3 of the four. I seem to have forgotten to take a picture of the lemon crepe. But you can see the others: The mussels, the shrimp and soba noodles, and the rabbit. The rabbit may look like more food than the others, but it was full of bones.

    1 Reply
    1. re: puppymomma

      So sorry about your poor experience at Small Plates. I like the atmosphere a lot, myself, but was also disappointed by the sangria. However, the food was wonderful, at a very reasonable price. I am vegetarian, and I had the spring Napoleon and a wild mushroom app., which were so filling and satisfying, honestly, along with the fresh-out-of-the-oven bread which was filled, gratis, over and over, that I was quite full by the end of my meal. From other reports, it seems that one must be selective when ordering at Small Plates, but I was happy, overall. Stick with the veggies, perhaps (weak smile implied?.

    2. Mrs.Jimbob and I decided it was too hot to cook last night and walked down to Harvard Square to try Small Plates out, after reading all the encomiums. Maybe all the raves led to inflated expectations, but we both came away disappointed.

      We opted to sit indoors rather than out on the patio, hoping that the air conditioning would make it more palatable. Our corner of the dining room was infested with fruit flies and the occasional mosquito, which made for quite a distraction from our meal. The scallion bread and pepper oil dip were both quite lovely, and my pour of a glass of Argentinian Malbec was not bad at all. Then the problems started.

      We had the warm "a partager" plate, which tennisboy has described in the past with enthusiasm. The flavors were striking and good (reduced sliced kumquats, sliced fresh pear, warmed brie with marinated apricots, polenta wedges with a sauteed leek-and-scallion topping, some sort of slightly spicy salsa in the middle), but the portions on everything struck us as parsimoniously small, given the $12 price tag and the limited work that it would take to assemble this plate. The spicy prawns were the three prawns (decently and appropriately seasoned last night) on a bed of corn with a roasted jalapeƱo in the middle -- again, quite tasty, but three prawns for $11? Better value for money came from the salmon ceviche (which came with a lovely lime-infused dip) and the organic wild mushrooms smothered in butter and garlic and herbs (yummy, and a quite well packed plate for $8). The waitress tried to steer me away from the Colombian rice pudding with a shot of Mexican hot chocolate, and I found out why -- the rice was undercooked and underflavored, and the chocolate was thick and tasty, but I wouldn't have gotten the dessert just for that.

      All in all, Mrs.Jimbob doesn't feel a need to go back there. I think it could be a very nice place, but that you have to pick carefully from the menu. I'm with puppymomma in thinking it was awfully expensive for what we got.

      1. I went in for lunch on Friday. I have some of the same comments. The sangria was tasty but not sangria. It seemed to be made with a puree and didn't taste like the peach flavor that we ordered.

        We had the cold partager plate. It was fine but needed salt. Maybe not everyone would find that but if there were salt on the table, I would have been fine. I don't believe every table needs to have shakers but if the server were available to request from, that, too, would be fine.

        Next we had the caesar salad with white anchovies. Flavor was great but should be advertised as "anchovy". The bruschetta was okay but I would have salted that also. Out came the blue cheese raclette and the mussels. The raclette was tasty but definitely needed a bread or crostini to go with it. When we finally got the server's attention to ask for bread, we noticed that we didn't get our bread when we sat down. It took a long time to get any and when he delivered it he went to take the raclette with him. We explained that's why we needed the bread!

        We had the same experience with the mussels. You have to be right! They were snails. I knew they looked like something I had seen before but didn't want them in the bowl of mussels I had ordered!

        When we arrived at the restaurant was fairly empty. I am not sure how busy the patio was. As our meal continued, the restaurant filled. There was only one server and he was definitely in over his head!

        I had been looking forward to trying this place out and now it has just been taken off the list. I don't feel the need to return.

        3 Replies
        1. re: southie

          I am unclear as to what your comment about the caesar salad means? Curious because in my opinion caesar salad is supposed to have anchovies.

          1. re: naughtywaitress

            I think the poster meant that there was only one anchovy on the salad, as opposed to multiple implied.

            1. re: failingwannabevegan

              We went to Small Plates last night for a light pre-concert meal.

              Yes, there was only one anchovy on the caesar salad, even though the menu says 'anchovies'. The salad was shredded into very small pieces which were a bit hard to get onto the fork. We also had the beef satay with an excellent chutney and the soba noodles with shrimp. While I realize that we would be getting 'small plates', I just felt that for the price point I would have liked 1-2 more bites per plate. A second piece of the excellent bread took care of things for me.

              We also encountered the fruit fly episode mentioned upthread.

              For the most part the two of us were the only people in the restaurant during most of our meal. We saw a number of people walk down the alley and seem to be puzzled as to if they should continue on to the back of the building or if this was indeed the entryway. We did this ourselves too. I wonder if they lost some business because of this.