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Sep 13, 2009 03:53 PM

Bad Experience at Church & State (long)

I had dinner with 3 friends at Church & State last night. We arrived on time for a 6:45 reservation and they seated us promptly. The waiter came & took our order -- since we're all foodies, we ordered 6 appetizers among the 4 of us, then main courses. They brought out the appetizers in 2 shifts, which was fine with us because we were sharing everything anyway.

After the second round of appetizers, the waiter came over and asked if we wanted coffee or dessert. Uh, what about our main courses? Whoops, sorry, I'll check with the kitchen. About 10 minutes later the mains came out. Foodwise, everything was superb -- all I'd anticipated and more. We also shared a bottle of wine among the 4 of us.

After the main course the waiter came to take our dessert order. Then he vanished, and after about 20 minutes we started wondering, where's the dessert? By this time it was after 8, and on a Saturday night, the place was absolute pandemonium. We finally managed to flag down the manager to ask about our desserts. We also told him the waiter had already screwed up by forgetting our main courses. Another person at the table said the manager told her later that he's had trouble with that waiter before and tries to give him the least crowded tables. Uh, so you put this guy to work during the busiest night of your week? Anyway, we waited, and waited, and waited. We finally had decided to just cancel the dessert order when they magically appeared, along with one we hadn't asked for, as an appeasement. The waiter muttered something about our ticket having gotten lost in the kitchen. The manager said there would be no charge for any of the desserts, and also gave us each a glass of Sauternes on the house. OK, great.

So imagine our surprise when the check came out and we were each charged for 2 glasses of Sauternes, as well as for 2 bottles of wine, when we'd only had one! So again, we had to hunt down the manager, no small feat in this packed restaurant, and wait while he fixed the check. That took him so long that we seriously considered just walking out without paying. But finally the corrected check came. We paid, but left no tip.

I have to say the food was terrific, and the staff clearly did try to do the right thing when we brought the problems to their attention. Nevertheless, for a place as ambitious as this, you'd think they would have this stuff down. Everyone makes mistakes once in a while, but this consistent train of errors makes me think the place has some serious problems with management and/or organization, or maybe its popularity has overwhelmed its capacity. A meal that should have taken perhaps 2 hours at a leisurely pace wound up stretching out to nearly 3. We all had had very high expectations for this place, and needless to say we were quite disappointed.

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  1. I'll be honest. Sit down dinners in LA, in general, are almost always a disappointment and seem to be getting worse. The fabulousness of the food can't make up for bad service. When people's expectations are set high and now with money tight I just don't understand how restaurants can let this happen. What you experienced is typical and seems to be the norm not the exception. My advice is skip the over hyped places, go to the small ethnic or neighborhood places, spend your $$$ on great wine, local produce, local caters, etc and create your own fabulous scene at home with your friends.

    2 Replies
    1. re: foodforus

      While I agree with the posts thus far, we diners who expect decent service when eating out are in the minority.

      As long as the hungry monied masses are eager to fill the pocketbooks of greedy restaurant owners, while overlooking errors & gaffs in service, the owners will see no need to change the status quo.

      medrite was certainly a "cool customer", but he got treated like dirt. Mrs J.L. is European, so 3+ to 4+ hours for dinner for us (lingering over wine, dessert, and coffee) are actually welcome, but I realize that many people have theater tickets, movietimes, etc. after dinner, so I feel that Church&State was definitely at fault.

      Plus, you'd think that Church&State would be eager to "turn the table" a bit faster, from a fiscal standpoint. The manager is as much to blame as the server.

      1. re: foodforus

        I don't seem to have problems with bad service enough to generalize it as an LA thing, but I do agree that Church & State's is pretty bad. Something they definitely need to work on to go along with their great food.

        As far as small ethnic/neighborhood places go, I think the expectation of what kind of service you should receive is very different, so not really a fair comparison.

      2. What you describe is no more than what you should expect when you choose to add to the patronage of hyped and "hip" restaurants. You're sharing space with a lot of people who do not care a whit about the ultimate quality of food and service--they just want to be there. Right now, at least, Church and State doesn't have to do better, because the balance of power has shifted to the house After all, it was PANDEMONIUM in there.

        1. I just had dinner at C and S for the first time. I had the steak frites, my wife had the veal stroganoff. We ended the meal with a cheese plate (me) and raspberry chocolate tort.
          I started the evening with great expectations. After I saw the menu (simple dishes for comparatively high prices), I was excited: they were gonna nail this, great meal, right?
          No. It was very disappointing. The steak portion was very small and utterly without flavor. I know the flavor of good beef when it's cooked right. The frites were...frites. My wife's dish was...fine, okay, rather bland. My companion said the steak was the best thing on the menu. If so, I would be very concerned about the rest of the offerings. (as for service, it was fine: but if the dining room is half-empty, why would you seat two very chatty women next to four newlyweds? We kept having to lower our voices and, well, watch our elbows---and there was miles of room around us.)
          The problem wasn't the food. It was the food and the check. In downtown, it seems like people have talked themselves into believing that we're all rich. You're rich, you came downtown and a very plain, rather small steak should cost $28. I'm not saying that quantity is everything. I am all about clean flavors of the ingredients coming through. People were lined up to get in. I don't think we're going back; I know where better steaks cost less.