Church & State: Great Food, Horrific Service, Hope It Was An Abberation
Four of us went last night. The bottom line was that the food was great, probably the best French meal of its sort that I've had in the U.S. and it would have even pleased me in Paris. That's good, because I'm willing to give it another chance. If we had had the same experience and the food hadn't been that great, none of us would ever go back.
Here's what happened. We arrived about 15 minutes early for a 9pm reservation. There were three tables for four already open and the maitre d' asked if we wanted to be seated early. So we were. The waiter was friendly and seemed efficient enough. He took our drink orders and left us to the menus. The drinks took about 10 minutes, as did water, but that's no big deal - two of them were fancy cocktails that the bartender makes up on the spot and so we didn't expect them to show up right away. Water would have been nice, though. We had asked for it.
Then we ordered. We split three appetizers: rillettes, onion tarte and a frisee salade. The rillettes, which had to have been ready made, took 50 minutes to get to our table after we ordered them. Once they did, they were good, though all four of us felt they were the weakest food of the evening - we prefer a slightly coarser texture and would have preferred the prune compote on the side rather than on top - and some mustard would have been nice. (We'd spent the 40 minutes waiting for them without bread or anything else. We never did get any bread.)
The onion tarte showed up about 10 minutes after the rillettes and it was wonderful, incredibly flavorful, flaky crust, delicious.
The salade showed up another five or so minutes later and it was exactly what you'd want from a frisee salade.
Then we waited a while longer for our main courses. It was another half hour or so before they came out. The bouillabaisse was fantastic, some of the best, if not the best any of us have ever tasted in the U.S. The steak frites were perfect, just what you'd want. The loup de mer was excellent, perfectly cooked, flavorful, the fish very fresh. The moules mariniere showed up about 15 minutes after everything else, but they were also truly superb when they did, fresh, briny, great broth, perfect french fries to go with them.
None of us mind a 2-1/2 hour dinner, but for it to be relaxing and a good experience, it needs good pacing - and it is generally in a different sort of restaurant than a simple, very loud (we all ended up hoarse from trying to talk) French bistro. Our waiter continued to be friendly, although not quite attentive enough to our needs and never once apologetic or explanatory as to why it was all taking so long. (Until the mussels came, that is, when he dropped them off at the table and said, "They dropped your first order, so they had to remake them."
At one point, after the appetizers showed up, the maitre d' was walking by so I politely told him of our wait and asked if perhaps he could find out what was going on, or if the waiter could. He was friendly about it and I did see him go and talk to our waiter, but it didn't seem to accomplish much of anything.
In the end, we asked for the bill before finishing our main courses. We didn't want to wait around for however long it might take to get dessert and we had sort of wanted to go see a band at The Echo - although by then it was hit or miss whether we could make it in time. (It ended up being miss.)
The bill was the only thing that came quickly, like within 30 seconds of our asking for it. And it was all messed up. They charged us for an extra order of fries and a side vegetable, both of which we had ordered but never got; and they failed to charge us for the two bottles of - not expensive but good - wine that we'd had (about $90.)
One of our party grabbed the bill and just paid it (treating us) before giving us any chance to look it over. We found out later, as we walked to the car, about the missing charges and the charges for what we hadn't got. We speculated as to whether or not they had comped us the wine to make up for the service - they should have comped us something - but two bottles of wine does seem a lot more generous than I'd expect. Still, if they had comped us, no one said anything to us about it - which would seem to defeat the purpose.
So, I'll go back, either for lunch or on a quieter night midweek, because the food was so good - better by far than what I've had at either Comme Ca or Anisette, and less expensive. But I'm hoping that last night's service was just an abberation.
Thank you for posting the very detailed review. Church & State is recently becoming a frequently recommended downtown restaurant on this board and a favorite subject for local bloggers. After reading your entire account, I'm not sure your title or headline is fair or accurate -- when I see "Horrific" service, I would expect indifferent and even rude, not just a bit slow. It is a tough read for a new restaurant with fine-food aspirations: Here you were, a party of four, ordering cocktails, extensive appetizers and entrees and two bottles of wine. I'd have thought you were wanting to make a weekend night of your dinner. If you had any plans for hitting a show later you could have (and probably should have) mentioned it when being seated and ordering. One of my brother's biggest restaurant peeves is when dishes don't come out together; I don't mind it if everyone at the table is sharing. I do agree that omitting some items from the bill without mentioning whether the wine was comped is amateurish, and including items that don't make it to the table is a serious problem, but I didn't get the impression they were trying to cheat you, just that they didn't have their act completely together. What did the dinner end up costing, either with or without the wine? Sounds like much of the delay was due to the kitchen -- how much did your party tip?
My friend who paid the bill didn't tell us the total, although he did mention that he had left a very large tip. (He is generally a good tipper and when he says "very large" I take him at his word.)
I did not mean to imply that anything was wrong with the waiter. Although I do think he should have come by the table at least a little more frequently to check up on us and to reassure us as to our order. He took our order, then disappeared for 45-50 minutes until our first appetizer - which didn't need to be prepared to order - arrived. (Okay, so maybe that wasn't such good wait-service.)
When I say the service was horrific, it was the combination of problems, not the fault of only the waiter, but the kitchen as well.
None of us had any real complaints about the total length of the meal, just the pacing. Had we been all that concerned about making it to the show, we would have told the waiter that at the beginning. Then again, we didn't plan on getting to The Echo until 2 to 2-1/2 hours after our dinner reservation time. For the type of place that Church & State is, that shouldn't be at all rushed or difficult. The food's great, but it is hardly Providence or the sort of place that one would necessarily expect to make the entire evening out of dinner.
I don't think they were trying to cheat us. If they were, they ended up cheating themselves. I think the kitchen and possibly the bar were very disorganized.
I went two Saturdays ago. 4 of us and we had a wonderful time. We felt the same way you did about the food - you must get the escargot next time, the garlic juice with the snails makes it the best dish I have had in ages, seriously. But we had terrific service. I will say this... it was a crazy Sat night and the food did not come out quickly. I like a leisurely meal and love a place that does not rush. This almost crossed that line, into too slow, but not quite. At the same time, our waiter was terrific, as was the bartender, who served us drinks at the bar while we waited for a table and even came over to the table to aid with something early on. I am so sorry about your service experience but do encourage you to try again, as we had a different experience. And the food does make it worth another attempt.
I have been going since they opened, partially because I know some of the involved parties. The food has been inconsistent until recently (last 6 months or so), but the service has been consistently poor. The last time I ate in the dining room, the waiter forgot my entree altogether and even after reminded he hadn't brought it for 20 minutes and I canceled it. I have started eating solely at the bar, and always get great service. Not always possible when there are more than 2 people, but for myself and my husband it seems to be the solution to the piss poor floor staff.
I have found the service to be terrible at all of the Steven Arroyo establishments - at least Cobras & Matadors, Malo and that short-lived place that was in the old Cafe Flora space. His servers always have the air of doing you a favor by actually bringing your order and the pacing is glacial.
That said, the food is often better than you think it will be and the bill comes up as reasonable (well, except for Malo). I guess that is his strategy.