Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >
Aug 26, 2009 11:35 PM

Spezie Disaster / Smith and Wollensky Disappointment

My wife and I were going to see John Oliver at the Comedy Club last night. We reserved via OpenTable a couple of weeks before at nearby Spezie, which looked interesting and had a bit of a Roberto Donna pedigree.

We showed up five minutes before our 8 p.m. reservation time, checked in at the maitre d' stand, were seated, received menus, bread and water. We were then ignored for a half-hour, never even getting to order wine. When our waiter finally reappeared, he took the orders of an adjacent table who had been seated *after* we closed our menus and wine list, before approaching us. I asked him why he had taken that table's orders before ours, and he had no reply. That was it. As we left, I asked at the maitre d' stand for the manager, and explained to him why we were leaving. My wife works a block away, but I seriously doubt that they'll ever receive any of our business.

To cap it off, they lied to OpenTable and reported that we never showed up. Nice people, eh?

So we strolled over to Smith and Wollensky, which had plenty of empty tables, and were seated immediately. ( I should probably mention in advance that I generally despise steakhouses.)

My wife ordered from the Restaurant Week menu at $35, having the Wollensky salad, a fillet of beef, and chocolate cake for dessert. I ordered from the regular menu, their signature split pea soup ($7.50), and the "Butcher's Cut" prime rib ($35). Not having enough time before the show to drink our usual bottle, we ordered two glasses of a chenin blanc / viognier blend, and two glasses of an Argentine malbec (or "melbec", as the wine list calls it).

Of course, it being the night from hell, our waiter returned a few minutes later (8:45) to tell me that they were out of prime rib. So I settled for their veal chop rib eye ($36), medium rare, and an order of fries.

My wife's salad and my pea soup were excellent. The fries were excellent. Both meats were disappointing. My wife's fillet tasted fine, and was done nicely medium rare inside, but the outside was an unappetizing uniform grey, with no marks whatsoever. My veal chop had faint marking on the outside, but no seared crust whatsoever. Inside, it was rare or bleu, nowhere near the specified medium rare. The cut itself was small and not of very good quality, riddled with sinew.

As the dishes were cleared, my wife's cake was delivered. I was never offered a dessert menu or asked if I wanted to order a dessert, so I hailed the waitress and asked for a slice of plain "New York" cheesecake.

The cheesecake was not at all New York style -- Lindys and Katz's have nothing to fear. It was good, with a good, straightforward graham cracker crust, though heavier on the ricotta and thus lighter in texture than true New York style. My wife's chocolate cake was decent, although odd in one regard -- for Restaurant Week, (without advising that they were doing this), they took their regular four-layer chocolate cake and only served the top two layers of a normal slice. How cheap -- and dishonest - is that? (Yes, I did view the entire normal slice displayed on their dessert cart in the rear of the dining room.)

So we had the dining night from hell. Coupled with our disappointment with the food at i Ricchi, that area of downtown doesn't look very promising.

Fortunately, John Oliver was incredibly funny, and rescued the evening. Highly recommended if you get a chance to see him do stand-up. Just eat first at one of your tried-and-true restaurants.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I had the opposite problem at Spezie a couple of years ago. I went with 4 colleagues for Restaurant Week dinner and we got the "bum's rush." We were hustled out of there in about 35 minutes. I am not going there again.

    1. For the record I thought New York style was soft and barely set in the middle while becoming increasingly dense towards the outer edge?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Turkeybone

        Yes, but even in the center it's creamy, unlike the airiness of a ricotta-dominated cheesecake. It gets very dense indeed at the periphery, and it's typically around two inches high, rather than the 3-1/2 inches of this version.

      2. Sorry to hear about the disappointing time at Smith & Wollensky. I have been going there for 10 years and have always been pleased by the food and service.

        To be honest, and unlike a lot of people on this board (maybe a new post topic), I run like hell from restaurant week. I find many restaurants do not use their regular menu, or offer portions that are significantly smaller than the regular size. If I remember correctly, the fillet for S&W restaurant week resembles nothing to the steak on the actual menu. Yes, it is disappointing, and I wish they did not do their version of restaurant week.

        How did the management react to your undercooked veal chop? There have been some changes there recently from what I understand. I remember getting a veal chop once that was raw inside. It was whisked off the table, replaced by a shrimp cocktail, a new veal chop was brought, and they comp'd the shrimp and veal. I hope they at least did something for you.

        3 Replies
        1. re: georgetownronin

          I generally avoid RW like the plague as well, but we had to eat somewhere before this show, or be condemned to eating the food at the comedy club. My wife has enjoyed several lunches at S&W in the past year. Her fillet was actually quite large; the sole problem was its appearance.The service there was very accomodating, and they appreciated the fact that by that time we were time-cramped. I'm sure that if I had said something, they'd have made it right, but at that point, we didn't have time, so I ate for sustenance, not satisfaction. 8;)

          1. re: georgetownronin

            Hey georgetownronin, off-topic, but since you're a veteran, if someone else is paying, which steak would you get at S&W?


            1. re: mikeradio

              I normally stick with the Filet. However, if I went with something different, I would certainly order the Cajun Ribeye (which is different from their other Cajun preparations).

          2. I don't mean to be rude but at Spezie- I would think that your question deserved that response- because you didn't say the right thing. If a server is running behind he needs to get to all those tables quickly as they were waiting to I think something along the lines of we have a show to catch and now are running a bit behind could we speed things up- or requesting a manager sooner and explaining the problem. A huff of he took someone elses order first we will never be back seems a bit demanding to me if I were in that managers position I wouldn't know what to do. But a we need to catch a show and we weren't greeted for 30 minutes would be something that could be addressed. The server likely didn't know you were his table, there might have been a server swap on that table or something.

            On the opentable thing- I get that message from places I actually stay for dinner at on an occassional basis, if you contact opentable or the restaurant through the stated opentable procedures on that email they correct it very quickly normally.

            As to IRicchi if you read any recent reviews you would see that it does not get good reviews. That doesn't mean all places in that area are bad.

            Not to be negative Nancy, but playing devils advocate here. A couple blocks away from Spezie are Bombay Club, Equinox, Teatro Goldini, etc...

            2 Replies
            1. re: ktmoomau

              No rudeness inferred. But 1) we had plenty of time -- over two hours -- when we arrived; 2) the server was *not* running behind; they were not that full 3) the server definitely knew we were his table. He had brought us the RW menus, and responded to my inquiry about the regular menu by bringing me that one as well. And he was an older gentleman, which generally means a pro, and portends good service to come. But if he didn't know that we had closed our menus and wine list before the other table was even seated, then Spezie's staff is has a much bigger problem than just that one waiter.

              On OpenTable, there were two problems: 1) Their "no show" entry under your account does not provide any means for you to respond directly from the Web site, and 2) their no-show email, which provides you that capability, was not sent (or at least not received). I had to use their "Help" link to request a re-send on the notification.

              We've done all those others you mention; I just wanted to try Spezie because it's there. Same for iRicchi. You win some, you lose some.

              BTW, Nancy is my wife -- not sure how here name got here. I'll have to check the account settings. -- Larry

              1. re: pltrgyst

                Oh I meant negative Nancy as just a term used when one is being snippy- didn't know that was your wife's name btw, so you aren't worried.