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8/09 Gran Gusto: An Inflexible "No" Kitchen

After reading good reports on their food, we tried this place for a midweek lunch. We were most astonished to find that the chef would honor NONE of our requests to add or switch certain pizza toppings. And we were only one of 2 tables eating. I mean, REALLY!! There were already a number of pizza combos on the Gran Gusto menu- that one does not typically see in Italy. Sausage was on the menu but not on the particular pizza we ordered, so we asked to add it. Our server warned us about the chef's inflexibility , and he was right. I couldn't and still can't believe it. It's not as if pizza is some holy grail that only has 4 accepted versions.

The pizza that we did have was excellent and the marinara sauce tasted exactly as it does in Rome, where i once lived and ate pizza. And the eggplant parmesan was the best i have ever tasted in the U.S. ; just great. But I will not return to a "No" pizza kitchen. I can go to Stonehearth Pizza in Belmont , or Regina's in the North End, and get any combo I'd like, and have a terrific pizza.

Someone needs to tell this chef/ owner(?) that pizza is for enjoyment; food fascists have no place there. Can he really succeed with a "No" kitchen in this flailing economy?

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  1. Wow, I am astonished, they are so accomodating about sharing and plating separately I would never have expected this! Glad to hear that you otherwise liked the food but can't blame you for outrage about the pizza inflexibility.

    1. That's truly bizarre. I wonder if there was something lost in translation from you to the waiter to the chef. It makes no sense!

      1. WTF. It's not No. 9 Park. Tell the chef to get his head on straight. It's effing pizza.

        1. Let's get this straight. You wanted to add sausage, not switch it for something or take something else off? Should be a no brainer.

          1. Really? You wouldn't go back because of that?

            It's kind of silly, but endearing. I bet sometimes he'll do it, sometimes he doesn't feel like it. Very "Big Night."

            1 Reply
            1. re: dulce de leche

              "I bet sometimes he'll do it, sometimes he doesn't feel like it."

              I have to agree with the OP. It is a pizza/pasta place, not a particularly high end restaurant (though that shouldn't be a good argument). How difficult is it to add an ingredient or two to a pie? Does it really throw off a finely tuned recipe that will in turn give the restaurant a bad name?

              On top of that it doesn't seem like they were in the weeds. Bad service, even by the chef, is a good reason not to return. Not like there aren't other places they can take their business.

              I got pushed back on by saying this in another thread, but it is still a "service industry." Within reason, if customer does not receive good service that person can always go elsewhere. If the establishment serves a product good enough to still attract customers if this is regular behavior, than they have nothing to worry about. But if not, well that is what happens if you don't take the customer into account (again, within reason as this particular case sounds).

            2. It is an excellent thing that they have not complied and compromised; they are actually doing people a favor by trying to serve authentic dishes from the region they represent.
              I would agree that they should consider to 'adjust' dishes if there are dietary restrictions or religious restrains; but they shouldnt change a thing if this is because you feel that a certain ingredient goes well with something - if that's so stay home and cook it as you please.
              Consider this a favor to this city's dining scene and praise them for trying very hard even when faced with sticky situations like these.

              Restaurants are part of the hospitality industry not merely the service industry : that doesn't mean they should compromise their ideas & beliefs just because stocks have gone down. If you do not like it, dont go : I doubt they ran after you and try to change your mind once you went out the door.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Zabelle

                I know there are two camps on this board about this general topic, so there is no point trying to argue the fine points of the restaurant-customer relationship.

                But I would like to point out that the Webster definition of hospitality is: "hospitable treatment, reception, or disposition."

                The Webster definition of hospitable is: " 1 a : given to generous and cordial reception of guests b : promising or suggesting generous and cordial welcome c : offering a pleasant or sustaining environment
                2 : readily receptive : open <hospitable to new ideas>"

                I say service, you say hospitality...either way I just happen to agree with the OP that what they received does not sound as if it was generous, cordial, pleasant, and especially not readily receptive in terms of what one could reasonably expect for a restaurant that uses the term "made to order" on their website.

                But you are correct in that everyone has a choice and in the long run, and for a variety of other reasons as well, they will either succeed or fail at that location.

                Though I'm not sure what favor they are doing by serving "Northern and Southern Italian dishes" as they point out on their website. This town is not lacking in Italian choices. The favor is by doing it well at a good price and (hopefully) providing an experience that is also comfortable and perhaps even hospitable.

                1. re: Zabelle

                  Zabelle, I think you said it best in one of your previous posts http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4478...

                  "I truly think that in Boston there is a major lack of understanding of the industry these ventures belong too : it is about hospitality and this is precisely what they dont provide"

                  While I disagree this is a problem endemic to Boston, I do think that if there's a good reason for not adding sausage (it makes the pizza soggy, perhaps) it's up to the chef to convey that information to the customer in a polite and reasonable way, not in a way that makes the customer feel like they're being treated with disdain.

                  1. re: Chris VR

                    It's his restaurant, he can insist that clients wear tutus and address him as "your majesty" if it makes him happy. Noone is forced to dine there. He will succeed or fail on the overall merits of the place.

                    I think it is silly to not be flexible on pizza toppings for gosh sake, but it's his place.

                  2. re: Zabelle

                    Bottom line: "The customer is always right."

                    Some of the most extremely successful businesses in the world base their service on this concept.

                    1. re: shaogo

                      As someone who has worked with customers my entire business life, while an establishment should work very hard to keep customers happy, or you won't have a business to speak of, the customer is NOT always right.

                      Every business has to draw a line somewhere regarding what they will, and will not do to keep folks happy. Otherwise you may end up dedicating 90% of your resources to 5% of your customers who may not even be profitable.

                      I am not saying it applies here, but some customers are NEVER happy. And occasionally a business has to "Fire" a bad customer that is consuming too many resources and is unprofitable. Like all things in life, customer service in the restaurant business has it's own shades of gray.

                  3. This does sound crazy. People expect to choose their pizza toppings from a list. This is done everywhere pizza is sold in this country. They are really going against the grain here. Putting together your own combinations is part of the fun of ordering pizza. The restaurant can certainly put what they feel are ideal combinations on the menu, but have to expect people to want to choose the toppings they want if they do no like any of the combinations.

                    1. "Someone needs to tell this chef/ owner(?) that pizza is for enjoyment; food fascists have no place there."

                      Have YOU told him? You were recently a customer there. Why not write an email at least, if '"someone" needs to tell him. You're already voting with your feet, but why not relate your experience back to the restaurant.

                      I'm not trying to be jerk (it comes naturally to me?); I happen to agree with you on this principle. They should have accommodated your request which seems very reasonable.

                      I'm having a hard time believing the posts on this thread which say this is an authenticity issue, because you have lived in Italy and you have already said that Gusto's own menu had combos that one does not typically see in Italy. If indeed it was a question of authenticity, the server should have explained that in a pleasant manner.

                      Also, I've always regarded pizza as the one Italian food that should NOT have any snobbery attached! As you said, pizza is for enjoyment.

                      I'd been wanting to try this place....not so much now.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                        I encourage you to try it for yourself. I really like this place and would put the pizza in my personal top 3. I have found the kitchen to be hospitable -- example: splitting shared plates -- but I've never asked for substitutions.

                      2. This post addresses some fundamental issues about food and service on which reasonable minds can certainly differ. I find the subject particularly interesting because I would normally be in the camp that honors the chef and his/her philosophy about what is leaving the kitchen. You don’t like it? Don’t come. Oddly, though, in this case I take the other side, because what was leaving the kitchen for the OP was pizza. Pizza. To me that is just not a plate on which to take a stand.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: StevieC

                          very well said. I've seen chefs and servers refuse to grate cheese on pasta dishes containing seafood. I get that. I don't get it where pizza is concerned.

                          1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                            If you are running a culinary school or a Society for Authentic Gastronomic Appreciation, sure, refuse people their parmasean on linguine with clams and their sausage pizza. But if you're running a restaurant where anyone can come, eat and hopefully enjoy your food, I think you would be wise to honor the diner's wishes. Go ahead and make fun of their tastes out of earshot in the kitchen if that makes you feel better, but as a server or restaurant owner I think it's financial suicide and leads to bad press (as in this post...) to treat customers that way.

                        2. Pizza should be eaten with tomatoes, cheese, and salt. No other toppings. It ruins it. Anyway, that's my personal feeling. If you wanted sausage, the chef should put some damn sausage on it.

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: tamerlanenj

                              wow. even the original margerita pizza had basil.

                            2. I agree that this is really poor customer service, but it doesn't fit with my experience at Gran Gusto. The last two times I was there for dinner I requested a substitution on one of my pizzas (artichokes instead of meat, i think) and they obliged.

                              Maybe the lunch chef is more set in his ways than the dinner chef? Maybe they changed policies recently?

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: orville

                                reminds me of Taiwan Cafe telling me, when I ordered braised pork with soft bean curd (as listed on the menu) and it arrived with tofu sheets (tied in knots) instead of soft tofu, that "soft bean curd" is completely different from "soft tofu"-- go figure...they did not offer to change the dish, redo it, or take it off the bill...at Taiwan Cafe, the chef is always right

                                1. re: barleywino

                                  Er...I'm with Taiwan Cafe on this one, I'm afraid. What you received is what I would have expected to get if I had ordered that. That's a fairly common dish -- Fuloon does an awesome version of it -- and "bean curd" and "tofu" are not entirely synonymous.

                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                    "bean curd" and "tofu" are synonymous where I grew up. Tofu is the phonetic translation from dou4 fu4 (and thus sounds somewhat similar).

                                    In contrast, tofu sheets are called bai2 ye4 (or dou4 pi2 in some cases), never soft tofu (except probably by TC).

                                    Perhaps the Chinese names are written correctly, but in English the labeling is wrong.

                                    1. re: limster

                                      I agree with Limster on this in principle, except that the exact same translation is given at Mulan. One of their very best dishes is xue3 cai4 mao2 dou4 bai3 ye4, which is translated as "Soft Bean Curd with Green Mustard". I would call it "tofu skin" or "dry bean curd sheet".

                                      1. re: lipoff

                                        At Fuloon, they label it bean curd leaf, which isn't instructive unless you have the picture menu.

                                        1. re: lipoff

                                          thanks for all the clarifications-- I'll be more vigilant next time! the pork was decent btw although a bit sweet for my tastes...

                                    2. re: barleywino

                                      But either way you probably got a delicious dish for like $7 with enough for lunch the next day, right? Actually, that sounds like exactly like what I need to order next time I'm at TC since I love the dish Barmy mentioned at Fuloon. Anyways, I'm assuming language or translation played no role in the Gran Gusto debacle...

                                  2. I was there recently with a vegetarian friends. They held the meat on one of their specialty pizzas and putting meat on only half of another (my husband wanted a _little_ sausage). Didn't ask if we were vegetarian, didn't make us justify our request, just did it.

                                    It's also _possible_ in your case that the server didn't even ask the chef because he didn't want to have to adjust the price, or didn't want to irk his boss (who might have done it, but yelled at him for it anyway).

                                    That said, almost every place I've ever been to that has specialty pizzas has a "no substitution" rule where if you want something else you have to pay per topping starting after the cheese, which is usually a lot more expensive... which is why the "specialties" are "special." I just moved here and maybe it's different, but it's not shocking to me at all.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: collinsgavornik

                                      Not that it relates to pizza, but I am always in amazement that restaurants serve well done steak. Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer argue vehemently that given the hospitality nature of the business, it is none of their business how the customer wants his beef. I don't understand the Gran Gusto attitude because it will not destroy the dish, unlike a well cooked piece of aged prime beef.

                                      I'm sure it was the waiter who did it.

                                      1. re: aadesmd

                                        I disagree. Adding sausage to the "Quattro Stagioni- tomato, bufala mozzarella, mushroom, ham, olives, artichokes" .......would ruin the balance of the dish.

                                        Perhaps a bit extreme in a "soup Nazi" way but It reminds me of seeing the ever humble Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Bianco) telling Gayle King (Oprah's friend doing best pizza show) she can't change the toppings on her pizza, she must try his combination first.

                                        I guess when your named best pizzeria in the country you can get away with it.

                                        1. re: T.Clark

                                          I'm of two minds on this one... on the one hand, an issue here seems to be the "lowbrow" nature of pizza; we're all used to ordering what we want, and so the apparent inflexibility of the chef flies in the face of our expectations for ordering pizza. But many CHer's have swooned over Gran Gusto's pizza and its "authenticity", so doesn't a pizza chef deserve some respect when combining ingredients or respecting traditions like any other chef? Would you go into an Italian restaurant, order the bolognese, and ask them to mix in some steamed broccoli? (okay, maybe that's a bad example!)

                                          More than Seinfield's "Soup Nazi", this reminds me of Tony Shalhoub's character in "Big Night" when he mockingly asks Stanley Tucci if he should add some " 'ut dog" to the risotto...

                                      2. re: collinsgavornik

                                        there is a big difference between an addition and a substitution.

                                      3. I think YOU should tell the chef/owner.

                                        I can understand a chef not wanting to compromise on a particular dish that they consider their creation or signature dish, but as a chef they should be flexible in meeting their guests needs and preferences and do their best to accomadate their patrons. Well if they want to be regarded possitively that is.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: gyppielou

                                          and another quote from their website

                                          Inform us of any food allergies that you may have so we may
                                          prepare your dish accordingly. Serving you is our pleasure.

                                        2. Just looked at their website and what should I find on the dinner menu. . .

                                          :If you have any special requests, please feel free to ask.
                                          we also offer gluten free pastas

                                          You really should contact the restaurant and resolve this, as the website and the waiter seem to have a mixed message.

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: gyppielou

                                            Can I just say, how is someone who specializes in pizza a "chef". Did this person go to CIA in NY in order to make pizza? Somehow, I doubt it.

                                            Pizza is street snack food in Italy. You get in on the run, or when you want to eat something on a waxed piece of paper. In America, it's something you eat while watching the game or looking for a meal you eat with your hands. "Gourmet pizza" is an oxymoron as far as I'm concerned.

                                            That being said, Village Kitchen in Huron Village gets my vote anytime. Waaaaay better, bigger and less money than that StoneHearth Crap.

                                            1. re: Stellar D

                                              Gran Gusto chef/owner Giuseppe Castellano's hometown is Naples, Italy. I agree he probably didn't go to the CIA to learn how to make an authentic pizza.

                                              1. re: T.Clark

                                                I don't know where he learned how to cook it, but he learned very well. It's darn great pizza. I can understand why the original poster was peeved, but my own feeling is, he can put anything he wants on my pizza, as long as he lets me eat it.

                                              2. re: Stellar D

                                                Personally, I only eat at restaurants where the chef is a CIA or Cordon Bleu graduate, otherwise the chef and food in question could not possibly be truly worthy.

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    Bear in mind we're only hearing half the story. At first read it sounds like someone just asked for "pizza x with sausage", but the OP references "NONE of our requests to add or switch" which makes me wonder just how many of these requests there were. If you've got a table of six people wanting pizza thats half one thing with this instead of that, and another that's half and half of something else but without such and such and the addition of this and that you could go nuts pretty fast.

                                                    You can still make the argument that the customer is always God, but I'd like to know exactly what was refused before I'd throw the chef under the bus.

                                                      1. re: Steve L

                                                        And where is the OP since this topic began? Some questions she could be answering in the meantime.

                                                        1. re: Joanie

                                                          I must agree...OP has not followed up at all on this thread (but has made posts elsewhere since). I'm starting to flip flop like a politician here.

                                              3. I agree, on the surface it seems kind of silly and it isn't how I'd choose to run a restaurant, but I'm not sure I understand the venom. It seems to me there's a difference between, "this restaurant isn't what I want" and "how dare this restaurant not be what I want!" I suppose the fact that they won't substitute is relevant information that merits a mention, but is a public flogging really in order?

                                                1. According to me and everyone else I know who has eaten them, the pizzas, and indeed all of the dishes at Gran Gusto, are truly brilliant and inspired. Notwithstanding the reactionary opinions of the pedigree-checkers, pizza can be and often is a carefully constructed gourmet dish. If the chef did not feel like building a combo to the specifications of the original poster, I suspect there are sound reasons behind this. Whether they relate to the particular combination being offensive to the refined tastes of the chef or to a larger policy against substitutions, I have no idea. There are plenty of pizzerias of all price ranges in the area where I am sure they will be happy to combine all manner of outlandish things, but I will take GG if given the chance.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: elbev

                                                    Beating a dead horse at this point, but...

                                                    Pizza often is a carefully constructed gourmet dish? Certainly not in Italy. Call me a reactionary pedigree-checker if you like, but that point has a significant bearing on this discussion.

                                                    1. re: StevieC

                                                      Have you looked at the menu of this place? It ain't a sub shop. This guy clearly is chef by anyones definition. A chef making a pb&j sandwich is still a chef.

                                                      We have no way of knowing what was going on in there, but when I was in the business you could have a small handful of customers at the tables while the kitchen is slammed trying to get 3 catering orders together that all need to go out hot at the same time. It's easy to assume the cooks are back there sipping sherry and playing cards, but it might not be the case.

                                                      Someone wanted to order off-menu. For whatever reason, they were politely refused. At that point, you have the option to chew or screw. The OP is pretty particular and has nothing but superlatives for the quality of the food she ate. I'll gladly eat in a non-forelock tugging kitchen if the food is that good and the service is reasonably polite, which sounds like the case here.

                                                      1. re: Steve L

                                                        stevel, i think you represented me accurately. but i don't know what a 'forelock tugging kitchen' is. ?? anyway, i do wish CHs would spend more time posting restnt reviews than quibbling endlessly about my very simple post. The 2 of us had 2 pizzas and an eggplant parm. We asked for ital sausage on one of the pizzas that was not quatro staggione, genuflect genuflect,(and i always offer to pay whatever is needed when i ask for changes to a dish) and the chef said no.
                                                        For that inflexibility and the fact that i have other pizza that i love as much/ more than GG's, I will not return.

                                                        I do hope this is 'nuff said and CHs will expend their energy on some original posts that will add to all our dining futures instead of hacking this thread to death.

                                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                          "Someone needs to tell this chef/ owner(?)"

                                                          should that someone have been you, since you started the thread? a phone call or e-mail about what you perceived as food fascism? just curious...

                                                      2. re: StevieC

                                                        It may not be "gourmet", whatever that means, in Italy, I've never encountered a place that just has a list of "toppings" that you pick from. That's a very American thing. They have a list of composed pizzas and you choose one.

                                                    2. Just read this thread for the first time: pretty heated!

                                                      I guess I'm of two minds. I don't think Gran Gusto is a typical pizzeria; it's an Italian restaurant with a real Neapolitan chef, and I'm inclined to say that if that chef insists on a certain purity of vision for his pizza, that's his prerogative. (It's not clear that this in fact is what's going on; the server may be garbling the message, or the OP's party may have been asking for much more than just adding a little sausage to a pizza.)

                                                      On the other hand, there are plenty of places that are more accommodating to diner's whims, up to and including letting them entirely recreate dishes as if they were cooking at home instead of trusting the chef to put together something tasty for them according to his expertise and creativity, what's fresh, etc. (It's the raison d'être of Fire + Ice, for example.)

                                                      I think it's fine if Gran Gusto doesn't want to be a "customer can substitute at will" kind of place, and also if diners decide that they'd rather dine somewhere else that does. That's restaurant free-market capitalism, not food fascism.

                                                      (For the record, I'm a big fan of Gran Gusto, almost always get the pizza margherita, exactly as offered on the menu.)