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SD Valentine's Dinner Reviews

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pkt63 Feb 15, 2009 08:34 AM

Anyone have a special Valentine's dinner out last night and want to share the details? We always have an interesting Valentine's dinner. Last year we had a perfect meal at El Bizcocho. Ten fun courses, excellent service, one of the best wines I've ever had. It was sublime. This year was the opposite. Farcical, in fact.

We made reservations at Arterra, having been wanting to go for a long time and their menu looked great. We arrived about 6 minutes early for our reservation and the hostess told us, "Ok, we'll have your table ready in about 5-10 minutes, at your reservation time." We were kind of put off by this. And it might not come through without the tone of voice, but it was almost like we were being chastised for being early. I tried to let it go, telling my husband that the hostess just wanted to be clear that they weren't running late, but it just seemed like it could have been a bit more gracious. I probably wouldn't even remember this now had it not been for the rest of the evening...

So, we sat and it did take a little bit long to get the part started. Didn't have the server come around for a long time, he took our water preference, then we saw him attending to various things with other tables for like a very long time before we had time to bring over a couple glasses of tap water. Again, just a touch too long for good service, but something I wouldn't remember now if it hadn't kept going downhill.

So our order was taken and we decided to have a cocktail before the courses and wine pairings began. We were chatting for a while and bread was brought over and all of a sudden, our first course arrives. So, we have our first course, but never received the cocktail AND we don't have the wines that were paired with that course. Not only that, but I didn't have a spoon for my soup. I had to yell after the food deliverer that I neded a spoon because he jetted out of there really fast. After a few minutes, a woman brought over our wine with an apology for the delay. Something about them running a bit behind - which was kind of surprising given that I would estimate about 1/3 of the tables were empty. Hmmm. We told the lady that we had also ordered a coctail, but since our first course had arrived, we'd like to cancel it.

I had broccolini soup with a Torrontes wine, which was paired very well. The soup was really creamy. Might be too much for some, but I love cream, and the Torrontes complemented it perfectly. It was very pleasant. My husband had a mediocre salad of hearts of palm, artichokes and herbs, paired with a gerwurtzraminer that was ok.

For the second course, I had a trio of ravioli and he had a trio of sausages. The ravioli was one quail egg (a little bland), one oxtail (nice and robust), and one bbq pork (a little sweet and just delicious!). The weird thing was, they poured like a whole pint of consomme on top of the ravioli. It seemed excessive. And then, they forgot my spoon again. I was eating with a fork till about halfway through the course. It was a tasty plate, though, and paired with a really nice German Riesling. My husband's sausages were kind of fun and tasty, and paired with a very nice grenache. Strangely, halfway through, the waiter brought us the cocktail we had ordered at the beginning, explaining that we were't going to be charged for it. A nice gesture, but we just didn't want it at that point.

Third course (mains), the waiter came and asked me if I had had the Riesling with my raviolis. I said yes, and he said I could have it again with the tuna or something else. I guess I appreciate the flexibility, but was just surprised the main pairing for two dishes of different courses was the same. He offered a sake, and I thought that sounded like fun, so I went for it. It was slightly sparkling, but he shook it a bit to mix up some sediment in the bottom...which resulted in like a ten minute drama of trying to open the bottle without an explosion, and pour a glass with enough actual liquid, instead of just foam, that I could try it. It was really interesting. Smelled like candy. It was fine with the tuna, which was steamed. Unfortunately, while one piece of tuna did at least have a rare pink center, the other piece was completely cooked through and looked like slab of chicken. I still thought it tasted ok, but I am pretty sure it shouldn't have been cooked that much. My husband had the chicken sous-vide with black truffle stuffing. He couldn't eat it at all. It smelled and tasted like chemicals. We automatically thought of the plastic bag it was cooked in. One reason was we had just gotten a new shower curtain that day and it smelled and tasted just like our new curtain smelled when we unfurled it and hung it in the bathroom - you know that new plastic smell. How bizarre is that? The poor truffles tasted super plasticky too. Not earthy or bold at all. Just chemicals. So we told the waiter that it was weird and off and not right and how you could even smell it (I kind of wanted him to smell it so he'd knowwe weren't making it up), but he was like, "I don't think I even want to smell it!" and said he'd go tell the chef and see what he said. He never came back, though, and the entree sat in front of my husband for a very long time until a busser finally came and took it away. Our server finally returned to set us for dessert, and then didn't say a word about the chicken. I think we were both so surprised, we didn't ask before he walked away. I thought that was a real shame, but maybe they had just decided to comp a portion of my husband's meal given that he ate very little of it, and we'd find out when they brought the bill.

So, I decided to visit the ladies' room and when I got back, both dessert and the paired wines had been delivered. I was kind of stunned again. Like, I don't mind that at a cafe or coffee shop (in fact, when I was little, I'd always go to the bathroom while waiting for food, because I was hoping the food would be there when I got back!). But when you are going to one of the top restaurants (quote-unquote) in San Diego, they shouldn't serve your food and wine while you are away for a moment. I still don't know what my paired wine was for that course.

The desserts were tasty (it would take a lot for me to dislike dessert) but unremarkable. And when the bill came, there was still no mention of our chicken. I guess we kind of gave up at that point. I felt we had made it quite clear that the chicken was unacceptable and if they didn't follow up at all, I guess it showed how little putting out excellent food mattered to them. Quite a disappointment. Also, there were at least 3 times when my husband's water glass went empty for a while.

So, the night was definitely farcical. I mean, some of it was truly disappointing, like the chicken, and keeping water filled. Other parts were more just laughable like the random late delivery of the free drink and the exploding sake, which I would normally let go had it not been such a confluence of all these events. All I can say is that, clearly, the food, the service, just the culture of the place, did not seem on par with other top San Diego restaurants, such as Tapenade and El Bizcocho, to me. I know this place must not always be like this, not even close, but I just can't believe how wrong and weird it was at EVERY turn.

Hope some of you have some better stories!

  1. honkman Feb 17, 2009 10:01 PM

    Since my wife and I both don't like Valentine's day we thought it would be a good idea to "celebrate" it with somebody who thinks similar: We went to a show from the comedian Lewis Black in Los Angeles and he didn;t disappoint. But we also had some great food on Saturday (lunch with pastrami at Langer's and very late night dinner at Pizzeria Mozza). In addition we had some more great meals/tasting menus in LA over the last few days.

    4 Replies
    1. re: honkman
      s
      stevewag23 Feb 18, 2009 01:50 PM

      What did you like the best?

      1. re: stevewag23
        honkman Feb 18, 2009 06:04 PM

        We go more and more regular to LA and always try to hit some new and some places where we have been before.

        The new places this time: Grace (chefs tasting menu, above average but not outstanding and quite pricey compared to other places for the quality you get), Langers (never understood why some people like pastrami and Langers so much, now I can understand them better. But on the other side it is also not "life changing" like some people write in their reviews. Good, solid food.), LaMills (outstanding coffeehouse (better than Caffe Calabria) which I would love to have in SD but very expansive).

        Places where we have been before: Pizzeria Mozza (great pizza, appetizers, desserts, athmosphere. Again something I really would like to have in SD), Hatfields (tasting menu, one of the best deals in LA, outstanding, creative food), Fraiche (upscale French/Italian bistro, excellent food which reminds a bit of Cafe Chloe but more refined and upscale).

        Overall a lot of hits and no real disappointment.

      2. re: honkman
        stevuchan Feb 18, 2009 03:41 PM

        Funny, recently went to LA for a Laker Game and also ate at Mozza and Langer's. Stoped by the pupusaria on the way back to the car in the Lagner's lot, quite good.

        1. re: stevuchan
          s
          susan3733 Feb 18, 2009 07:46 PM

          We're anti-Valentine's Day, too, and we had friends in town this weekend (visiting from LA). Our party was 3 kids and 3 adults, and although we had planned to stay in, at the last minute, we decided to go to Sab-e-Lee. Late in the day, we made a res for 6:30 (no problem) and when we arrived the place was empty, but by 7 it was full with a line out the door.

          We had a great meal, and our LA friends (obviously, being from LA) know and love their Thai food so we were curious to see what they - they loved it and were still raving about it the next day.

          We ordered a bunch of food although all of us loved our dishes so much that there was not a lot of sharing going on, and also a couple of us were fighting colds. We had two orders of beef phad see ewe (still my favorite dish there - love the smokiness of the beef), chicken wings (the only "miss" - we all thought they were a tad greasy), veg fried rice (pretty standard but delicious), phad thai with shrimp (delicious), papaya salad (incredibly spicy - way more than the "3" that we ordered it on the spicy scale but very delicious), Rahd Na with shrimp (our LA guy tought this was the best he'd had), yellow curry w/tofu for the visiting vegetarian 12-yr old (who kept saying it was the best curry she'd had) and chicken larb (fantastic with the perfect amount of spiciness).

          I think I'm forgetting something, but in any case, it was all truly outstanding (with the minor exception of the greasy chicken wings) and the cost was a bonus - I think it was well under $100 for the six of us. Even the 3 kids loved the meal. It was our kind of Valentine's dinner.

      3. SDGourmand Feb 17, 2009 06:48 PM

        I cooked at home and it was so much better. I did butter poached kobe 3 ways after getting inspired from michael minas cookbook. I attached a picture of the outcome.

         
        1 Reply
        1. re: SDGourmand
          s
          stevewag23 Feb 17, 2009 09:09 PM

          Great move, and Great work!

          Arterra couldn't do that in their dreams.

        2. d
          daantaat Feb 15, 2009 07:03 PM

          I've been wondering how Arterra has been faring lately. We were there about a year ago and it seemed like the food had slipped. Our service for a party of 8 went well, however. Too bad to hear about this.

          1 Reply
          1. re: daantaat
            s
            stevewag23 Feb 15, 2009 08:14 PM

            Crazy that the food "slipped" a year ago.

            I ate there 4 years ago and it "slipped" both times.

            I wonder how far it can "slip"?

          2. s
            stevewag23 Feb 15, 2009 05:10 PM

            I have always thought Arterra is completely overrated.

            Take their pricing into account, and it is horrid.

            1. m
              MrKrispy Feb 15, 2009 05:09 PM

              We went to the Better Half last night for V-Tines Dinner, had a great time.
              (Neither of us are to V-Day crap, but we like dinner and liked the set menu. Hardly a night for suckers, sounds like cstr is sour for sitting home alone crying in his martini haha)

              Anyway, this was our first trip to the Better Half, and I would like to go back to try the regular menu. Service was decent, wine recommendations spot on, and dinner was thoughtful, creative, and extremely tasty. The butternut squash ravioli was superb! I don't want to go over all the individual items,too many courses, but they nailed them all. However, if you prefer your good steaks on the rare side, be sure to tell them. The filet was recommended at medium rare, and came out medium rare but personally I find that a little overcooked for that cut. At least I didn't hear anyone asking for steak sauce haha.

              The chocolate bread pudding was complex, almost insane. A guy was literally pounding his head on the wall after trying it haha.

              Lastly, if you are heading to Better Half dress warm on chilly nights - they have to leave the door open for the service and it was chilly in there (and I'm manly lol)

              3 Replies
              1. re: MrKrispy
                4
                4wino Feb 15, 2009 05:25 PM

                MrKrispy, glad that someone did have a nice meal on V-D. You know, I tried a couple of times to go to Better Half and some other Hillcrest restaurant that gets nice kudos on this Board, but alas, each time we had to drive back home due to the parking situation there. I mean, there are so many times we can circle the block.

                If you have some pointers re. parking, please do post. I would very much like to give them a try.

                1. re: 4wino
                  DiningDiva Feb 15, 2009 05:47 PM

                  I've always had pretty good luck finding a parking spot on Front St. around the Masonic lodge or the school.

                  1. re: 4wino
                    honkman Feb 17, 2009 08:43 AM

                    The parking lot close to coner 2nd and University is normally a good spot and the price is decent with $5 for 5 hours.

                2. a
                  araknd Feb 15, 2009 03:56 PM

                  Thank you for your review. My wife and I were thinking about going there a few times, but not any more. Sorry to hear that they have fallen so far since the chef left.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: araknd
                    4
                    4wino Feb 15, 2009 04:10 PM

                    And a few more things I forgot to mention. I got the scallop for a $10 supplemental and it came back with 1 scallop. My wife had the sausages that pkt63 mentioned in her post, and we both tasted and like them, but when I asked our waiter the order of the sausages, he had no clue. And so that we can part ways on one more sour note, when the bill came they charged $275 for the Krug rather than the $180 list price. Of course they had to change it...but at this point, just give me a break!!!

                  2. foodiechick Feb 15, 2009 12:06 PM

                    Your story is exactly why we have stopped going out to dinner on Valentines night and New Year's Eve (especially when they fall on Fri or Sat nights). It seems that even the most highly regarded restaurants suffer calamity on those nights and they are mobbed with rude customers. We now refer to both of those nights as "Amateur Night". Sad but true.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: foodiechick
                      4
                      4wino Feb 15, 2009 12:12 PM

                      I was there yesteraday and I also had the chicken with truffles, left uneaten. Here is my post: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/596370

                      My first and last time at Arterra.

                      1. re: 4wino
                        foodiechick Feb 15, 2009 12:38 PM

                        Apparently Arterra was SO not the place to be last night!

                      2. re: foodiechick
                        s
                        stevewag23 Feb 15, 2009 05:08 PM

                        Well said.

                        1. re: foodiechick
                          kchurchill5 Feb 17, 2009 08:50 AM

                          I never go out either on those nights. Usually cook at home or with friends. Much nicer. Not worth the money. Besides. I have found very few top restaurants that are worth it. Very few I enjoy. Maybe I just enjoy cooking myself more than eating out.

                        2. Fake Name Feb 15, 2009 08:50 AM

                          We went to a regular place of ours, Arrividerci in Hillcrest. We love this place, the food is always good- but last night THEY HAD THE MUSIC UP SO LOUD YOU HAD TO YELL just to have a conversation. I understand they want to move tables- they had a line out the door. And we weren't dawdling. And we politely asked 3 times to lower the volume, and it was. And 3 times it was raised again.

                          Interesting restaurant concept about turning tables- merely punish the diners until they leave- that way, the can turn the table faster.

                          It's true, we did finish and leave faster. But we won't return.

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