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Nov 19, 2009 06:31 AM

Jfood hits Seven Steak House (MSP) - Fabulous Steaks, mediocre rest, totally intrusive service (Warning - long service rant)

Jfood and a few colleagues wanted a steak and decided to try Seven in downtown MSP. A quick reservation on Open Table and off they went. The bottom line was that the steaks were better than outstanding but the rest of the food did not live up to the expectations. The worst part was the server; she was easily the most annoying server Jfood has unfortunately experienced in a very long time. Jfood apologizes in advance for the server-rant in much of this post but she ruined the meal in many respects.

Jfood was given a nice table on the first floor and the female server immediately approached and asked if anyone would like to order a drink. A bottle of wine was desired. Unfortunately the host did not leave a wine list when he seated the table and the server brought a copy of the list. She next explained that the restaurant was changing wine lists on December 1 and there were many bottles listed that were not available. She further explained that they were also waiting for the new list to come back from the printer. They ordered a bottle of red wine. The server returned and informed them that their choice was not available. A second bottle was ordered. A different server brought a bottle of wine to the table and explained that they were also out of choice #2 but the one delivered was only a couple of dollars more than the ordered bottle #2. The three who were drinking wine agreed that the substitute would be fine. The server next returned and apologized about the second bottle and told them that the manager had agreed to take a “substantial discount” off the bottle and sell it to the table for the same price as the bottle that was ordered. OK, a couple of bucks was now a “substantial discount.” Now Jfood was beginning to lose confidence in the server’s approach.

But more important to Jfood was he was there for the steaks and he now moved onto checking the menu and ordering the meal. The server did a nice thing and asked if they would like to order a salad while they looked through the entrees. Jfood ordered 6 West Coast Oysters.

Between the order and the delivery the server returned several times, even though the delay was not even noticeable, to give a blow by blow of the progress, interrupting the conversation each time. The oysters arrived on a bed of ice with a tomatillo sauce, a cocktail sauce and some grated garlic. Jfood took his first bite and he was very disappointed. They were not creamy, they were not dense, they had very little flavor and they were not a good start to the meal.

While the table was engaged in the appetizers and conversation, the server returned to the table, interrupted this course and began to describe the entrees. She was now moving well into the annoying category. She rambled on and on and on about drivel and junk.

She finally took a breath and asked for the order. When Jfood asked about the grass fed steaks that were on the website, her response was that they removed those from the menu nine months ago. When Jfood mentioned that they were still on the website. “Well we’ll have to tell the manager.” OK the webmaster was the same person as the wine list printer. The server went back to her sales pitch, stopped, bolted to another part of the floor and wheeled the steak trolley to the table and then started again with the descriptions, this time with visual props. Please, just let the table order. She was now 3/4 into the annoying category.

Finally, she kept quiet and the table could order. Jfood ordered the bone-in ribeye, medium rare, while sides for the table included onion rings and some mushrooms and asparagus and they asked if the order of fries could be half truffle, half sweet potato. The server said, “I bet after all the problems with the wine I can convince the chef to do a mixed order.” Just say “yes” and move on. In addition, the steaks in this restaurant are expensive >$40. Underneath the steak choices are sauce choices, each of which you can order for $2. Yes, $2 for a sauce. C’mon Seven restaurant that is HORRIBLE and cheap. Jfood looked at the server and asked, “Are you telling me you are going to charge $2 for a sauce on a $50 steak?” She went on to describe the sauces. She was now fully in the annoying category.

After they ordered, they returned to their appetizers. As the dishes were being cleared she interrupted the conversation yet again, “OK the steaks are starting to get cooked now.” Inhale and breathe slowly.

The entrees arrived and Jfood's steak looked great. Jfood always immediately checks for doneness and when he cut into the meat it was absolutely perfectly cooked. OMG it looked great. His first bite confirmed that this was a GREAT steak. Then Jfood decided to check the sides. The onion ring was 95% breading, blech, the sweet potato fries were OK, but not great, the truffle fries were somewhat better. The asparagus were limp and overcooked but the mushrooms were nice. The down side to each was they sat too long before bringing them to the table and they were all delivered luke-warm. Another ding to the service. The great news was the meat was perfectly cooked, the flavor was outstanding, tender, juicy, as good as any steak Jfood has ever eaten.

The server arrived and said, “Can we all please check the temperature of your steaks?” Good idea but her tableside manner had already set Jfood in a bad way and her sing-songy approach hit another nerve. Jfood only wished she would disappear and let them enjoy their meal and each other’s company. Halfway through the entrée she returned. Now what? “Make sure we leave room for dessert.” Then she went into a detailed description of each dessert, while the table was eating their entrees and sides. And her crescendo was “…and the Bananas Foster will be made tableside by you know who?” Jfood was voting for Lord Voltamoor. Please just leave them alone.

The entrees were completed, dishes cleared and dessert menus delivered. The server returned and went through her used-car salesman pitch on absolutely every choice, yet again. Major buzz kill. But Jfood ordered an espresso. It was delivered with a small cube of sugar, but no spoon. Jfood flagged the server and asked for a spoon for the espresso. She dropped two plastic swizzle sticks from the bar and left. Jfood just stared at them. Are you kidding? A few minutes later the waitress returned and Jfood said to her, “this is an espresso, not a cocktail and I asked for a spoon, not two swizzle sticks.” She returned with a teaspoon and said, “I could not find a demitasse spoon so here’s a teaspoon.” By this time the espresso had lost it’s temperature. In fairness the waitress did offer a replacement. Jfood cut his losses and drank on.

The bill as delivered and paid and included was a business card. The card was the name of the server, under her name was “Server” with all the restaurant information. Jfood is unclear what purpose this served. Maybe the restaurant should consider getting the wine list printed in lieu of the business cards. That would be a better customer focused move.

Bottom line is the space is wonderful and the steaks are great. Downsides include the lack of a wine list is silly, the oysters were fair at best, and the sides were OK but nothing special. The major downside was the service. At this level of prices, the service should not be so intrusive and ridiculous that it made what would have been a great meal into a bad memory. It is about the food and the people at the table, not the server. This one almost ruined a meal.

SEVEN | The Steakhouse
700 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403

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  1. I know you're a stickler for this on menus, so...Lord Voldemort.

    Good review, I'm impressed that this place got your steak temp correct, something they've improved upon since my last two visits. The website thing would have had me leaving, laziness never bodes well, surely someone has mentioned that it is wrong in nine months. But a good steak is a good steak regardless.

    The business card is likely something they lifted from other steakhouses (Manny's does it because you will actually want that server again, especially if it's Joel "Toro" Miller, our favorite).

    I have to ask; have you been to Manny's or Murray's yet? These are the standard-bearers as far steakhouses go in this town and it seems a shame to let this be your first experience. If not, I hope you'll give them a try next time you're in want of some corn-fed bovine.

    1. You have identified the single biggest issue with the TC dining scene. There are virtually no professional waitstaff in this town. It's all starving artists and students trying to make some extra cash. In Chicago, NY and SF there are people who choose working at fine restaurants as a career. We just don't have that here. The food in TC has gotten really, really good. The service is way behind.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Michael Florey

        jfood does not buy into that reasoning. If you think that there are no starving artists and students in the NY dining scene, you'd be wrong. Yes there are many restaurants that have the "professional career" server but there are also numerous in the other category.

        Jfood has found, with rare exception, that the servers in MSP are fantastic. It took some time to accept the "look" of the tatoo sleeve, but even that does not create a snap-back of the head any longer. The servers at most are a little more layed back, but so are the diners.

        The food in MSP is outstanding and the value is unbelieveable. Don't sell the servers short.

        1. re: jfood

          Sorry guys I'm not buying these arguments. The only restaurants over the years in TC that have shown consistent, across the board high-level service are La Belle Vie and Manny's. Of course you can find individuals elsewhere who are excellent and devoted, but that's not the point. Places like Alma, Lucia's and 112 have cuisine that is as good as anything nationally. But they typically have a couple of long-time servers who are great, and after that it becomes very spotty. The food at 112 is as good as Union Square Cafe, the service from top to bottom is not. Or even a place like Barbette. I love the atmosphere and the food is quite good. Service can range from spectacular to yuck. If Barbette were in SF that would not be the case.

          The worst I've seen is 20.21. Some of the food there is to die for. Last 2 times our server has looked to be about 21 and one day old. Sweet but totally clueless.

          I think a large part of it is simply having the experience and maturity to understand and adjust to special requests. My wife always wants steamed milk to put in her tea after dinner. We go to places that offer latte's and capuccino, etc., so you know they can steam the milk. But when she orders black tea with a side of steamed milk, it always causes a huge problem, she has to explain 3 times that she just wants a little pitcher of hot milk on the side to pour into her tea. It never fails to screw up our entire after-dinner order. At good restaurants in larger cities, she orders and the tea just shows up with steamed milk on the side.

          1. re: Michael Florey

            It could also be your POV Mike. Jfood very much likes a relaxed atmosphere even at Oceanaire or Alma or any other restaurant> And he dos not enjoy the "you should be honored for me to serve you" attitude he has seen at so many NY and CT restaurants in his life. Likewise jfood is not looking at the resume of the server but the two hour interaction. If you are honest, do not upsell, are efficient and keep the timing of check-ins proper, then that is a A+ in jfood's book. Been there 30 days or 30 years, it's your night gig or not, jfood judges on the 2 hour audition, not the CV.

            BTW - What is the deal with servers and tea? Mrs Jfood just wants cold milk with her tea, 50-50 it goes smoothly. It ain't brain surgery.

            1. re: jfood

              I'm am very relaxed about the issue. I never complain and am always nice to people, and for some reason I tip fairly well even for mediocre servers. Cafe Claude in SF is as casual as a restaurant gets -- our favorite fun place in the City.

              But I guess like any other profession, I think the resume does matter. Some inexperienced servers are great, but many are not. I'd say the attributes that you list as "A+" to me are "B-B+". The A+ servers offer much more: they know the restaurant's policies on corkage, offer advice about portion sizes, understand the food and the ingredients, offer intelligent suggestions as to what order to bring items out, don't make a face if you ask for salt, etc.

              I just don't see lots of those people working here.

              1. re: Michael Florey

                Where are you eating in this town where the server doesn't know the corkage policy or do any of those things mentioned? My recommendation would be to stop frequenting those establishments to avoid being disappointed. I think examples would be helpful to help the rest of us avoid these as well.

                As I hope is evident from my profile, my wife and I eat out in this town and in many others nationally and internationally, and the service you are describing is something we do not run into often in restaurants that are not bars with food or bistro/cafe/quick serve locales. When we do, we simply do not go there any more.

                If you encounter a server that has no knowledge of the restaurant's wine program and what appear to be the basic rules of service, might I suggest an email to the GM of those establishments to perhaps retrain those individuals or help them move on.

        2. re: Michael Florey

          Alright, I'll take the bait on your generalization. There are plenty of wait staff in this town that have made it a career. They are at places where the per plate charge is big enough that they can live off the tips. For example, Manny's, Oceanaire, Cap Grille and when it was open, Morton's. Many of the servers at Manny's have been there well over a decade. I would hazard to guess that many of the servers up at a place like Jax have been there many, many years.

          Now a place like Seven is not where a veteran server is going to work. Outside of the summer, a server is not going to make enough in tips there so if I were to go there, I'm not expecting the A Team anyway.

          Yes, there are plenty of short-timers in the business but pros too. Fewer can make it a career in a town this size for various reasons over the years: tax law changes, the end of the go-go 90's and the most recent recession. This comes from first-hand knowledge.

          1. re: Michael Florey

            As someone that works in the service industry, I can promise you that there are professional servers (those that make serving a career and take the job that seriously) in this market and I would posit that they exist at the same rate, per capita, as other markets.

          2. pleasantly surprised to hear the steaks at 7/norman are good. i'd thought the entire concept was design-team food, so it's good to hear that there is someone who cares executing the steaks,at least. on the whole though, i'm very biased against "restaurant group" restaurants, and it entertains me to see them fail, particularly when they cheap-out on the executive kitchen staff and go for short-term profits rather than sustainable concepts.

            agree with others that there are many excellent career hospitality workers/servers in msp. i think Jfood's unpleasant dining experience due to server issues has to do more with the establishment's management, and the overall caliber of the restaurant, than it is a reflection on the general professionalism of msp servers. normally i would say that service professionals would prefer to avoid working at places like this restaurant, but there is a horrible recession underway and every server opening gets a couple hundred applicants, even at the corner pub. with presumably a large pool of semi-qualified applicants, whomever hired this server clearly isn't thinking long-term, and probably hired her because of reasons unrelated to her professionalism.

            1. Jfood:

              I am a big fan of your reviews. They are well thought out and very detailed. I have a couple of observations:

              1) I had heard 7 was not doing so well and had some financial issues. That is probably why you had the issue with the wine. They may not be re-buying or cannot re-buy more wine.

              2) As mentioned by others, there are better steak places in town. It is all personal preference. My favorite has always been Murrays. They had a golden butterknife steak (not silver) that was basically almost a 4 pound porterhouse roast (with a big bone). It was the closest thing I have had to Peter Lugers (my favorite steak place of all time). It has recenlty been taken of the menu due to the economy. I also really like Cap Grill. It is consistently good and the wait staff is very professional. They age their steaks which I happen to really love. I am not a Mannys fan although some people love it. I don't think they do a good job of seasoning their meat.

              3) I am less effected by a servers personalty traits. Generally, if the food is great, I am less concerned about the waitstaff as long as the service is ok.

              4) Just curious if you were one of the 3 wine drinkers and what you had?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Latinpig


                1 - jfood's thought as well on the financial situation, and it was actually a dinner topic when the server was yapping away.
                2 - Picking the place was a quick decision and jfood did nto have time to check with others, but the steak was very good. and the steaks were wet aged, not dry aged
                3 - Jfood is not usually either, but when the server is all over the table like a cheap suit and is continually intrusive, it is tough to miss
                4 - nope, and they were fully stocked on tap water. The server brought a merlot, the table said they liked the cab of that vineyard better, but agreed to the merlot

                hope that helps