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Sep 8, 2008 08:39 AM

Talula Spice experience - Do restaurants shoot themselves in the foot?

First, a disclaimer. This was not a bad experience, plus I am not the kind of poster who would bash a place this well-regarded on the site based on a Miami Spice experience. I just wanted to share my experience and also pose a question for the group at large.

In my opinion, Miami Spice serves two purposes. Drive buisness during a slow period and hopefully encourage guests to re-visit for a full priced meal in the future. Our Talula experience, however, only encouraged the first part and has put the second part at risk. Let's share some details and then I'll discuss the long-term impact.

I listed Talula as my "can't believe I haven't gone there yet" thread entry that we all shared months ago. Based on the many fans on this board, I had high hopes, especially since the Spice menu was also well thought of on here. We pushed our group to go there over their more obvious preferences of Emeril's and China Grill. The food overall was OK - not bad but I would describe it as underwhelming. I had the crispy pork belly, the grilled hanger steak (this year's Spice equivalent of past ceviches/short ribs/salmon) and the chef's choice dessert of choccolate-banana bread pudding. All was fine, but since I thought this place earned its rep on the food, I was a little disappointed. Folks at the table who got other Spice options also shared similar thoughts. However, it was a Spice menu, so I'll cut it some slack.

The bigger issue was with the service/management. This is a higher priced place, so while I expected the usual South Beach lowering of expectations, I was at least hoping for good. First off, we had to specifically request the Spice menu - that's OK but nice when they offer it up. A pet peeve of mine is when restaurants are out of multiple items, especially on a weekend night early. Some folks at our table were not ordering off the Spice menu, so it was disappointing to hear they were out of 3 of their 5 offered steaks. OK, I thought, there's a hurricane and stuff happens. Then someone in our party tried to order their Spice cocktail, but that was not available either. No big deal, but right after the steaks it seemed troublesome. Finally, one person wanted beer, and they only had Miller Lite, because (this is classic) they "had a large group of men earlier in the week and they drank all their beer" - not that night - earlier in the week. Why not send someone to a liquor store and grab a few cases of Sam Adams or something to make sure you have something beyond beer-flavored water? Ugh. Finally, the waiter. He was polite, but shared no thoughts on the menu. Plus, he rarely checked on us despite our intention to order more cocktails and wine, and when he did emerge from the back to serve an individual table he kept his head down and avoided eye contact with other tables. The timing of the courses was extremely slow, so much so that the runner brought us our desserts and placed them at the table before we even got our entrees. No mention of our wait ever came.

So - bad nights happen, and maybe this was one of theirs. Plus I know it's off season and there was a hurricane approaching. However, this was a place I was prepared and anticipating to go and likely drop over $300 at in the near future based on the raves from this board, but now I am having second thoughts - I will probably go to Sardinia, Bourbon Steak, Palme d'Or, Restaurant at the Setai, and Cero before I try this again, and it would have been top of the list if I hadn't gone for this Spice experience. Plus, I will definitely hit MGFD, Michy's, Fratelli Lyon etc many more times before returning - it's just too risky based on my experience on Saturday.

So what I'm wondering is - if a place cannot deliver a Spice experience near the level of its full priced menu, is it better to forgo the incremental business to protect its rep for the future big spenders plus avoid bad reviews online? Or are those who would return too few and far between to offset the incremental business they earn. And finally, should I go back again once Spice is over?

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  1. I too went to Talula on Spice with high hopes, only to be disappointed and realize along with my friends that we would not be back. It was a shame because I really wanted to like it. I went on a week night and it was not busy at all....service was horrible and took way too long and food was so disappointing. For me I use Spice as an opportunity to try and new restaurant and see if I should add it to my list. Why participate if it only serves to discourage future patronage?

    1 Reply
    1. re: lorilaw

      Same thing happened to me last year with the spice menu... did not go back after that for dinner. I did however try the brunch recently and enjoyed it, although found it very overpriced. I know the place can be very good though...

    2. YosemiteSam, you bring up some very interesting points. First and foremost, I believe that a restaurant should not offer any type of promo, prixe fixe, etc. unless they are planning on serving it to the same standards as their regular meal.

      In the case of your evening, the bar component would have added a premium to you bill if they had decided to stock their coffers from their early week run of beer drinkers.

      As with any place that has an off night, it's usually worth a second chance...maybe not with a group or on a special occasion....and maybe not anytime soon.

      I've been reading the Miami Spice threads with interest, as Orlando is rolling out "Magical Dining Month" in this month. I'll be hitting a few places and will be interested to see if there is a similar lack of interest from establishments in Orlando.

      2 Replies
      1. re: winechic

        Yes that should be interesting. I lived in Orlando for years, and many of the places there also suffer from the "vistor" mindest whereby they don't have to deliver a great experience as the guest is unlikely to return. Make sure you stick to the places locals visit on the north side of town and downtown and consider avoiding Restaurant Row on Sand Lake Road as well as the theme park areas.

        1. re: YosemiteSam

          I'm braced, but optimistic. :)

          I'll be mixing it up with local and hotel, in and out, of the tourist areas. I'll be using this experience to try out some places that I haven't yet, or would not normally, hit. I'll post back on how the experience is at the various places I attend throughout the month.

      2. Surpsing to hear such bad review for a restaurant that I eat at twice a month- must have been the hurrincanes or just a bad night. My partner sells specialty foods and the last few weeks has been screaming that retail clients are not spending any money. I spoke to one of the servers at Talula last Tuesday and he said that the ownerss are revamping the dinner menu & wine list to make it more consumer firendly during the slow summer months and because of the economy- maybe that was part of it? I hear that more aftordable wines under 40 are are going on their menu. Its a good idea since they appeal to the pre clubbing crowd (me) who look for cheaper place to warm up before going to Mokai or that new club right across the street.. I'd go back to Talula if I were you.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Joe Foodie

          Talula's one of my favorite restaurants on the Beach but the wine list is dreadfully overpriced - so much so that it's made me a less frequent visitor there. Glad to hear they're trying to address it. Service is also very much hit and miss - seems almost an inevitability when you're tapping the South Beach talent pool.

          I'm also surprised to hear of a bad Spice experience there, as they have always seemed to be one of the places that actually made an effort to provide a good Spice experience, including updating the menu weekly.

          1. re: Frodnesor

            Had a spice lunch here recently and it was very good. Apparently Talula has an executive or "box" lunch special every day anyway so it's like spice but year round. The spice menu for that day was a grilled calamari salad with cherry tomatoes, a "kobe" hangar steak served with delicious manchego and pancetta smashed potatoes, and some type of bread pudding which was good but a little dry. Also had the mushroom and pancetta risotto which was also delicious, and the grouper.

            Restaurant was nearly empty at that time (2 or 3 other tables) and the service was very mediocre. Overall, a very nice lunch and will do it again when in the area.

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