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Bravo! Nader - He had to say it, we can't

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Did you ever feel there was a joke you weren’t getting, something inside that you needed to know to understand what everyone was laughing at? Well we just had that experience at the clearly misnamed Bravo! Nader. There had to be something we were missing because this was one of the worst dining experiences (which says a great deal) we’ve had and it was at a restaurant that a) has a great rep and b) was packed out the door. We’re foodies and this is a place we’ve looked forward to for a while, we didn’t expect to leave vowing never to return.

Where to begin … ah yes the wine list. As we sat a gentleman with a nice Italian accent delivered a wine list. There was just plain juice on the left and special juice on the right (as they store the just plain juice on a ceiling height shelf that runs around the restaurant which was about 80 degrees tonight, I guess we could call it cooked wine and, hopefully, refrigerated wine). I wasn’t familiar with a lot of what he had so I told him I wanted something dark and earthy, not fruit forward. He said ‘ah, Brunello di Montalcino” and pointed to a $150 bottle. As our fellow diners had not arrived and as I didn’t want to start by adding $150 to the check without asking them I told him so and asked what on the left side might be a good selection. Sadly at that point the gentleman with a nice Italian accent went deaf. No response at all. I asked again and he said “Eh, they’re all the same”. Honest, that’s what he said. He clearly had no interest in assisting if I was buying just plain wine. Sadly, it got no better.
Our companions arrived about 5 minutes late for our reservation. They sat down, menus already at their places and about 2 minutes later we were told the specials, before anyone even had a moment to look at the menu. We listened and asked a few questions and the waiter left, but good news, we were not to be alone for long. Literally less than 5 minutes later he was back asking if we were ready to order. We barely had time to say hello and sip the Rutherford Cab we had ordered (not bad) and they were on us to order. They made it clear we were here to eat and not to dine. If you had theatre tickets, this is the place to eat, too bad Broadway is so far away.

With the specials in the rear view mirror we ordered, some things were off the menu, some from the list of specials. I got the meatball and spaghetti appetizer that the menu touts highly (I believe it says ‘fabulous’ next to the selection, not as a part of the name), my wife the baked clams. Both were just food on a plate. Neither had anything at all to recommend it. The entrees came (quickly) and I had the duck in a chocolate chestnut sauce (a special0 and my wife the bronzino (another special). Who would have dreamed how badly chocolate sauce would actually be with duck and now, having had it, I can only wonder what on earth the chef was thinking. Sure, it sounds interesting and trying it in the kitchen was a good idea but the dish was so cloyingly sweet, the chocolate flavor so overpowering to the duck that he managed to kill two great flavors with one dish that should best have been left in the test kitchen. To be fair a stuffed pork chop special ordered by one of our friends was moist and tasty. They cleared our dinner dishes as we put the last forkful of food into our mouths. None of us has ever felt so uncomfortably rushed at a good restaurant ever.
We were asked if we wanted coffee but were never given desert menus or told about deserts. The growing crowd waiting for tables in the very small room made it clear that this was a plan not an accident. We’d had 2 bottles of wine , apps and entrees and we felt like we were being swept out the door as an inconvenience not as patrons most restaurants welcome. We asked about dessert and were read the menu. We ordered cannolis and the check arrived without anyone asking. It sat for about three minutes before the gentleman with a nice Italian accent came over, opened the folio, demonstrated consternation that it had not yet been filled and closed it again making clear his displeasure. On the bright side by that point we wanted to be gone as much as they wanted us gone. I took a bite of the canolli and, almost as if to mock us, it a) was the worst cannoli I have ever eaten by a country mile and b) had some unique flavor note that had no place in a cannoli and could not be removed even by copious amount of after dinner mints. I began to waive the white flag of surrender.
The moral to the story is word of mouth can’t cook good food, you can try to turn a table too many times and you can create a dining experience so unpleasant that it will be remembered for quite some time, even after the mediocrity of the food has been forgotten. The ultimate test is always “Will we return”. The answer should be clear, not for a free meal with the President. Now it may well be that on a Wednesday night with fewer rezzies this would have been a different experience but there was just nothing here to make me want to come back to find out. There are way too many good, small, chef driven, restaurants on LI for another visit.

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  1. All I can say is, it sounds about right, and it's a shame you didn't visit the restaurant a few years back when it was warmly welcoming with a greeting by Nader every visit, followed by a fabulous meal, often fish that he'd just caught. It was always a treat.

    Up selling, though more subtle, always was in evidence, but service was always polite, pleasant and never obnoxious.

    Our biggest complaint used to be the noise and crowding, but it was pretty empty on our last visit and our plates themselves, and what was on them was underwhelming. It was just a sad meal and visit and our last unless we hear things have improved.

    Sad to see another one of our former favorites sink so badly; first Bistro Cassis, then Bravo! Nader. :-(

    9 Replies
    1. re: mcf

      And here I am, never been there, and always meaning to. Since I know you by CH reputation, I'm confident if you won't go back, I don't need to go. Sadly, I haven't been to Cassis in a year, but used to like it. From what I'm hearing, it's downhill too.

      Oh well, at least Maize Cantina is around for something interesting and new.

      1. re: sbp

        I didn't eat the starches at Maize Cantina, but loved what came in them. My husband was less impressed, but I thought the flavors and the friendliness of the staff were really enjoyable.

        It's been a couple of years, and I still haven't gotten over being heartsick about Cassis; like a death in the family!

      2. re: mcf

        mcf....interestingly, you mention Bistro Cassis. I assume you're referring to the otherwise charming little place in Huntington. There's only one thing to say about Cassis, and unfortunately, it's the same thing I say about most one-of-a-kind, or "seemingly" one-of-a-kind restaurants on Long Island: Foodiness has become too chic. I can't wait for the fervor to die down. On the surface, popularity would seem a good thing, but too often it's not. The masses have made food the new Hollywood.

        When things become popular they also fall prey to becoming cliche and faddish. Ten years ago, a cooking show on prime time could only exist on PBS. Today, kids in study hall discuss what happened last night on Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen. While it's wonderful that culinary arts institutes are filled to capacity with student wannabes who envision opening their own little Cassis one day, sadly, hyperdrive has made most new entry restaurants a big nope.

        I've eaten in many of these little charmers and most of them just plain suck. They suck not because the owners have lost passion, although that may be the case as well. They suck in the same way that wannabe guitarists today don't bother to learn to really play their instruments before attempting to be American Idols. They suck because shorthand has become the law of the land in everything.

        Once upon a time, people learned their craft. They patiently put in their time and studied. It doesn't matter whether it's cabinet-making or being a restaurateur. And at a decent restaurant, that meant working as a working line chef in a busy, well-reputed kitchen and learning everything there was to learn, certainly for chefs. Can an owner not be a chef? Certainly, but again, he should learn the hospitality business from professionals.

        I hate to continue to invoke TV as an example of anything worth discussing, but I saw a particular episode of Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares." It featured a very nice middle-aged couple failing (of course...I mean, that's the show, 'eh?) at their life's dream--their restaurant. The amateurism is what seems to make these shows airworthy, apart from the insults that Ramsay dispenses and the antagonism the chefs, maitre d's and proprietors feel toward him.

        Not funny, though, was the notion that these people had never worked in restaurants, never owned a restaurant and did not even COOK!!!!! What made them reasonable candidates to present the innocent, unsuspecting public with of all things, a restaurant? The chef was horrific (used frozen foods, especially proteins, cooked the dish entirely and then FROZE it, only to be microwaved on order and served!!!). The place wasn't cheap either (somewhere in the midwest, but I don't mean that disparagingly). For a true cynic, the place was entertainingly horrible.

        But, the very idea that someone would want to own and run a restaurant with no prior knowledge and no affection for cooking themselves is beyond me, and I think that this is precisely the problem. These people haven't LOST their passion. Worse, they've INVENTED their passion. We're foodies here. We all know that, like perfect pitch, this love we have for things culinary isn't something one can teach. It's just in us.

        So, my wife and I took my mom to Cassis one sunny Sunday morning for brunch. My mother thinks she is discerning about food, but has few innate talents for it, unlike some mothers. She's just as sucked in as most of Americans and can be sold a good presentation based on fluff. This particular morning, the fluff began on our arrival. The obligatory French guy came around with tongs and carrying a tray of bread and a basket of sweet rolls. I didn't buy it. The omelet looked unprofessional, the service was the same, the tables were crammed together so you could rest your elbows in front of the guy beside you. It was fake and it was kind of lousy. It was like visiting France at Disney's Magic Kingdom, but not as good.

        There's something about the hospitality biz that is attractive to people. Does that mean we should flock to their little blooming expressions of mid-life crises, their little experiments, and lay down our credit cards for crap food at $20+ entree prices and be impressed with the fact that they have Cinzano ash trays and gingham tablecloths?

        Consider this my pet peeve. Dreamers who want to own restaurants and have too little experience should be required to hang signs above their doors that read: "We Want To Be Your Favorite Joint, But We Don't Know What We're Doing."

        To all people who fancy themselves restaurateurs:

        LEARN THE BUSINESS before you try to take my hundred bucks. And if you can't afford to hire a sommelier, and you don't know wine, then serve less "important" food and don't FEATURE the damned wine. Offer a few decent tried and true reds and whites and knock off the pretentiousness.

        Beyond that, we're all good at something in this life. Stick to what you know. If you don't know food service, please...don't open a restaurant.

        1. re: Clambelly

          Perfect!

          1. re: Clambelly

            Well said!!!!!

            1. re: Clambelly

              Wow, that was quite a dissertation, LOL! To be fair, Bistro Cassis has been around a very long time through numerous fashion changes and for most of that time earned its reputation and the loyalty of bistro food lovers such as moi.

              What made it so successful and popular was the heart and soul that went into the homey food, and the impeccable service. It was all about what was on the plate.

              You just missed it by two or three years. It was my all time favorite place, despite feeling a tad cramped and awfully loud, because the food was well conceived and beautifully prepared, seasoned to perfection, and wonderful every time. Til it wasn't any more.

              1. re: mcf

                Damn....sorry I missed that. Thanks for the reply though, mcf.

              2. re: Clambelly

                where is this restaurant new jersey, upstate ny, CT??

                1. re: intrepid

                  Bravo! Nader and Bistro Cassis are both in Huntington, NY

            2. You forgot to say anything about the people at the next table having to sit on your lap to eat. We always wondered what happened there if a waiter gained a few pounds.
              I think our experience was similar to yours. Will positively never go back. There are many more good places to go in Huntington.

              5 Replies
              1. re: robinsilver

                Probably for just a couple of bucks more, you could get an awsome 12 course sampler meal about 10 minutes away at Maroni Cuisine in Northport village.

                Definitely a top favorite of mine.

                basic wines which are included but the food is to die for.

                Go hungry and expect to be totally stuffed when you leave!!!

                1. re: dougnash

                  Maroni Cuisine is quite a bit pricier from all reports. As I recall, top dollar specials at Bravo! Nader were usually $29. I keep meaning to go to Maroni; one acquaintance thought it was far from worth the $$, but I eyeballed his meatball recipe from Throwdown and they're my only house recipe ever since.

                  Robin, you're quite right about the crowding, but I found it worth the squeeze in its hey day, cozy and friendly. Never did get a waiter's butt or gut in my face, but the danger always was lurking...

                  1. re: mcf

                    Yes Maroni Cuisine is more expensive, just remember their pricing includes
                    12 courses including dessert as well as all you can drink vino!

                    If you go to nader or other places and get
                    appetizers, main courses, desserts and wine the cost difference isn't really that significant.
                    That being said, I believe the cost for the sampler is about $100 per person, cash only...

                    Not a place to go on a regular basis but well worth the money to experience atleast once for a special occasion. imho...

                  2. re: dougnash

                    We booked last minute and Maroni was full. Loved Mir pois, probably couldn't think of a local dining experience more at odds with that at Nader. Next time I'll plan further ahead.

                    1. re: dougnash

                      Thanks for the tip, dougnash. I'll give it a go!

                  3. I clicked on this thread thinking it was going to be a comment on the restaurant chain named "Bravo" and something to do with Ralph Nader! LOL

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: michele cindy

                      Yeah, me too, Michele cindy. Nice to see that it's still human to respond to headlines LOL