Starry Night Cafe, Ferrisburgh VT review
My wife and I had heard lots about the Starry Night Cafe in Ferrisburgh, but never dined there previously, so Saturday night we decided to try it. We booked early reservations, and had the main dining room pretty much to ourselves for the first 45 minutes or so. However, that had its down side: the wait staff didn't have much to do, and so we were privy to their mundane conversations about their private lives. This seems to be an increasingly common trend in restaurants that I visit. Such conversations may be okay in the back, in the kitchen, but in the dining room? No, it's very rude to the paying customer, especially in a restaurant like Starry Night, where the 'ambiance' of the dining room is part of its appeal.
Our waitress, fortunately, did not partake in the employee gossipfest. And she was very efficient. We asked if the wine list had any French bottles, and unfortunately, it did not. So instead, I ordered a Vista Hills Pinot Noir that somewhat mimics a good Burgundy, at $60. I'd had Vista Hills once previously elsewhere, and enjoyed it. Starry Night listed it as "HIGHLY RECOMMENDED" on their wine list. On sampling, it was immediately obvious that the wine was too warm, that Starry Night's wine storage in a summer environment is deficient. I asked that it be chilled a bit, and when it subsequently returned 15 minutes later, it was perfect.
On to the meal, which was very good and very creative.
My wife had a Beet salad appetizer, with gold and red beets, shaved fennel, green beans, toasted hazelnuts, mixed greens, and a champagne-blue cheese viniagrette. She loved it. Her only (minor) disappointment was that she would have preferred some crumbled blue cheese bits on the salad.
I had the Maine crab and parmesan cheese souffles, with creamed corn and sage oil. It was unlike anything I'd ever had before, a roughly 4 inch tall cone souffle of nearly pure Maine crab. It was delicious.
The portion sizes for both appetizers were larger than we expected, and fortunately there was a suitable interval between courses that allowed us to pace ourselves a bit. Some restaurants rush the main course out as soon as the apps are done, and whether by accident or by design, we needed and got some time on Saturday nite before the main course.
My wife's main was the pan-seared organic Scottish Salmon, with a smoked mussel buerre blanc and roasted tomato and olive tapenade. She skipped the mashed potatoes and asked for summer vegetables, which she got. She called the salmon "perfectly cooked", succulent and tasty.
I pondered ordering the duck, but lacking a unique nightly special that interested me, I ordered the grilled Black Angus NY strip steak, medium rare. I didn't really want to order a steak, but there wasn't much on the menu's mains that appealed to me. What sold the NY strip to me was the interesting side added to it: "smoked beer-battered onion rings". Smoked onion rings?!? I'd never had such a o.r. before, and it was intriguing enough to make me want to order something as hum-drum as a steak. Suffice to say, the smoked onion rings were wonderful, every bit as flavorful as I'd hoped. Those were onion rings to die for! The steak was very good, perfectly cooked as ordered, and tender. However, the roasted fingerling potato salad was a loser, the potatos obviously had been sitting a wee bit too long, they were tough and rubbery. The pancetta (I think) and onion bits in the red wine sauce, though were very tasty.
We skipped dessert, we were both very happy with the food.
Unfortunately, we were not at all happy with the atmosphere and ambiance of the place. The tables are rather closely set, and about 45 minutes into the meal, a couple was seated next to us. She was a very loud talker, and it was really rather obtrusive. But the coup de grace was the music on the house sound system. I guess I have to say that when you go to a restaurant that allegedly has a romantic ambiance, you really aren't interested in hearing the 70s band War perform "Low Ri-der, ride a little lower" to accompany your meal. Worse yet, you don't want to hear the customers and the wait staff congregated around the bar sing comically and loudly along with that very chorus, either. That might be funny and entertaining in a karaoke bar, but we left Starry Night Cafe baffled by the schizophrenic great food/lousy ambiance approach.
Total bill: $159 ($67 food, $60 bottle of wine, $12 taxes, $20 tip)
Our verdict: we're glad we went once, the food lived up to its billing, but we'll never go back. There are too many restaurants that respect their customers enough to give them a dining room ambiance to match the quality of the food. Starry Night Cafe isn't one of them.
I received a reply this morning to my e-mail to the Starry Night Cafe, from a woman who identified herself as the Front of House Manager. Honestly, I thought it was a thoughtful and constructive reply that reflects well on the Cafe. Here's what she wrote:
I am very sorry that your evening at Starry Night was not as enjoyable as you hoped or as it should have been. I am grateful for your feedback and will of course have a discussion with everyone on the front of house staff. It is rather unlike our staff to be seen in such a light as we pride ourselves in knowledge and professionalism while maintaining a fun, up-beat atmosphere. Nonetheless, we all need a reminder now and then to not get too ahead of ourselves as I think this was the case that evening. As for the music, understandably we cannot please everyone and certainly there are some selections better suited than others. I do recall taking your reservation and selecting the specific table for the two of you as you had requested something 'bright', thus I thought the table by the window would be perfect. Alas our seating is not the best, I wish there were more space for everyone to be more intimate and comfortable, but we try our best to make up for that. Unfortunately this Saturday night did not demonstrate that to you and I again apologize. I am very glad you enjoyed your food and hope you will remember us more for that than our woeful atmosphere. Again I appreciate your feedback and we will try much harder in the future to respect the experience of our guests!
Sign-I hear you about the lack of professionalism you came across, unfortunately it happens everywhere these days. I think a call or letter to the restaurant manager/owner would be a good idea.
We live equidistant between Starry Night & Black Sheep....we for some reason always end up back at the Black Sheep. Sounds like we've been making the right choice.
I put the responsibility completely on the owner/manager. This approach is certainly losing more customers than it is gaining. Not much they can do about loud customers (although seating two parties that close in an empty restaurant makes little sense) but they need to educate their staff about proper conduct (or fire them). I expect that at 99 but certainly not when spending $159. Unacceptable.
I was going to send the chef/owner David Hugo the url to this thread so he could read the review, and the responses...alas, Starry Nite's website offers no contact info e-mail addy that I could find.
But thank you Bri and TonyO for echoing my concerns about this. There have been times when I wondered if I'm the only one less than enthralled by wait staff who share their personal lives in the dining room in earshot of the paying customers.
Thanks suzannep, I didn't notice the e-mail address. I've sent a note on to the manager, if I receive a reply, I'll let folks here know. And if I don't, it either means the restaurant doesn't read/reply to e-mails, or the dreaded ISP spam filter prevents them from ever receiving it. (The latter happens a lot to me, e-mails sent are no guarantee of delivery these days)
Personal drama conversations are a HUGE pet peeve of mine and I'm finding that it happens almost everywhere! From diners to high end eateries, I have been subjected to waitstaff conversations about sex, significant others, generally mean-spirited gossip, you name it. I'm so sick of it.
And Low Rider on the sound system? Bar environment - yes, cafe/fine dining - no.
The good news is that I can get amazing salmon (they'll even cook it so that its med. rare in the center), steak and other great food at my local pub in Putney and my total tab only goes above $80 when I order martinis. Last Saturday we went for the $25 3-course Prix Fixe special.