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Dinner at Bice 1/29/2010

Hmmmm . . . it's often the little things that make or break a restaurant, and therefore the evening. Let's take Bice, which doesn't rhyme with "dice," but rather sounds like the whore in Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria" calling someone a "bi(t)c(h)e" in a heavy Italian accent . . .

In San Diego for a conference, we delve into the Gaslamp -- where parking can indeed be a bi(t)c(h)e -- and are greeted with $20 valet parking. OK, to the best of my recollection, your honor, the most I've ever paid in San Francisco for valet parking is $12. AND the valet wants to be paid NOW, rather than having the charge added to our bill (as is often -- though admittedly, not always -- the case in San Francisco).

Minus 1 star for exorbitant parking fees.

We walk in five minutes before our scheduled reservation time, having driven in straight from the airport. First impression? We're in the wrong place. Not only is there a horde (12+) of people crowded in front of the doorway, all smoking like chimneys, but walking inside, it feels like a rave! The throbbing pulse of the music makes conversation all but impossible, and there are too many $400 pairs of shoes and $200 silk blouses paired with too many faded jeans -- oh, wait: that costs extra, too. OK, but the crowd around the hostess' desk is three deep as I wait my turn to check in. No one is moving. The hostess picks up some menus and leaves; no one follows her as she disappears into the throng. The manager comes to the front desk and, seeing no hostess, shrugs his shoulders and leaves -- perhaps to find her. (This happened at least three times that I saw.)

When I finally am able to say "I have a reservation," it is now five minutes *after* our reservation time. "Twenty minutes," the hostess tells me, and disappears through the bar and into the dining room.

Twenty minutes pass. I ask the hostess -- when I can find her -- how much longer until we get a table, she tells me there are three more tables ahead of us. When I ask her what's the point of having a reservation?, she calmly explains to me that they seat people in order of their check-in (not their reservation time?), and then seats another party.

Minus 1 star for poor staff training in the front of the house.

Plus 1 star for good cocktails, however.

Hostess comes over and says our table "is now empty, they are just cleaning it; it will be three minutes" as she seats another party. And another party. And another party. FINALLY, more than 40 minutes after our scheduled reservation, we are shown to our table.

Minus 1 star for over-booking tables, and having no mechanism for dealing with irritated customers.

We are seated, and given menus, but no wine list -- this for a restaurant that prominently features wines both in its design and on its award-winning list.

Minus one-half star for needing to ask for the wine list.

The prix fixe menu for "Restaurant Week" was unappealing, so we waded into the regular menu. We started with two antipasti -- an Eggplant Parmigiana that was excellent, and a stunning 24-month aged Prosciutto with a beautiful burrata that was outstanding.

Plus 1 star for the great food.

Sadly, the food went downhill from there. The Caesar salad was mediocre at best; boring, lifeless -- and what's with no pepper (either on the table, or with a pepper mill)? The restaurant was out of the Veal Chop Milanese, and so I opted for the steak to accompany my Barbaresco. It was "good," nothing more than that, and ultimately it, too, boring -- no spark, no "twist" to enliven it and make it stand out. The steak was apparently for people who don't like Italian food, rather than being an Italian classic -- it was steak and mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, nothing more than that. The sauce did nothing for the steak, and the thin slice of foie gras was tasteless.

Minus 1 star for the boring food. (Bad food is someone was having a off night; boring food is someone who doesn't care.)

One of the often highlighted features of this restaurant is their "cheese bar." It *did* look great. But we had to ask to see the list of available cheeses twice. Minus one-half star.

I don't know why this restaurant is so highly rated. Too much was wrong here for it to be just an off night. Perhaps if I lived in San Diego, and friends wanted to go here, I'd give it another chance, but in town for a conference? I won't be back . . .

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BICE - San Diego
425 Island Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101

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  1. Interesting review, and I would say it wasn't an "off night" more like business as usual in the gaslamp.

    One thing that always shocks people from SF is that san diego is many times as expensive or more expensive than SF. Which considering the quality, is one of the common knocks against our beautiful city.

    The front of the house mis-steps and lack of wine list are pretty standard operating procedure. If you dine out in san diego, you just realize it is commonplace.

    "there are too many $400 pairs of shoes and $200 silk blouses paired with too many faded jeans -- oh, wait: that costs extra, too."

    I think you are giving too much credit here. Those shoes are most likely $80 pair that appear to be $400 shoes.

    As far as the silk blouses, was it men or women wearing them? Straight guys in san diego wear glitter on their T-shirts, so all bets are off these days.

    "stunning 24-month aged Prosciutto with a beautiful burrata that was outstanding."

    Agreed, that is the only dish I have had there, and it is very good. Quality ingredients are the key to that dish, not cooking wizardry. Really its just throwing some prosciutto and burrata on a plate and serving it.

    The only thing I will use Bice for is that app and a glass of red.

    1. Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. I guess I'm not too surprised with a lot of the negatives given it was in the Gaslamp during Restaurant Week, but that's still no excuse for their failures.

      Where did you see this restaurant as so highly rated?

      1. I've been wanting to visit this place since it was under construction for what seemed 2 years but I think unless I happen to be in the area I won't make a special trip. I do love Burrata, so that sounds like something I could convince myself to head in for if I'm down the street.

        I'm surprised why and how so many resturants, not in just SD but all over have inept and ditzy hostesses and hosts. It's the least paid position in the whole resturant with no tips for the most part but maybe one of the most important positions to set a positive tone for the evening and to get things off on the right track. Baffeling to me.

        Regarding Ace Parking, who I assume ran the Valet. They're some real yahoos that own and run the business. While they control most of the parking in DT I do my best not to park in their lots or use Valet's controlled by them. I too don't appreciate the fact that I'm getting screwed rubbed in my face. Souless company for sure.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mjill

          Save yourself a trip to Bice and get burrata at Venissimo cheese. Cheaper and at least as good as Bice's and you don't have to wait 40 minutes!

        2. I wouldn't have waited 40 minutes for a table.....ANYWHERE. even with a reservation.
          I'm married to a restaurant GM and we would never stand for a manager walking up, and not helping the guests. That's just unacceptable.
          You should have went elsewhere.
          Call and complain. You may get an offer to come back, on them.
          It's worth a try

          2 Replies
          1. re: tattud_gurl

            "I wouldn't have waited 40 minutes for a table.....ANYWHERE. even with a reservation."

            I am sure if the original poster knew it was going to be 40 minutes they wouldn't have waited either.

            Sounds like they were strung along.

            1. re: tattud_gurl

              Steve has that right -- we wouldn't have waited if we knew it would take that long . . .

              I, too, have been in the restaurant trade, and I know how (for example) one party lingering waaaaaaayyyyyyyyy tooooooooooooo long over coffee can make the next party wait . . . and wait. And remember we had just flown in from San Francisco, it was 9:15 and -- where else would we go, not knowing the town all that well (I lived there 20 years ago) and having already paid the $20 for the valet . . . .

              As for calling them . . . *IF* my wife and I lived in SD, you can bet I would have called and complained. But quite honestly: not worth the time or the effort. Who knows when I'll be back is SD, and it's not like they're going to refund money to my credit card . . . .

            2. we ate there on 1/22 and though it was quite busy, we were seated promptly. no loud music, excellent service and we all enjoyed our appetizers and entrees, including a couple of hard-to-please diners in our party. strange that our experience was so different.

              there's no excuse for the excessive valet fee or long wait to be seated, but the review sounds a bit familiar - a san francisco (or LA) visitor reminding us of san diego's place in the dining pecking order. we get it.

              11 Replies
                1. re: sdurban

                  After reading this review I looked up the restaurant on open table (not chowhound but more reliable than yelp IMO) and found 90% of the experiences seem to be like yours sdurban even during restaurant week. Not that I am discrediting what happened to the OP. This post did stir my interest in this restaurant and after reading the mostly postive feed back elsewhere I may bgive it a try...though not on a Friday or Saturday night in the gaslamp

                  1. re: chris2269

                    Get the prosciutto and burrata at the bar.

                    You will be happy.

                    1. re: chris2269

                      Speaking of Open Table . . . after all that, Bice claimed I never showed up for the reservation and Open Table refused to credit my account for making the reservation through them!

                      Until, that is, I sent an email linking them to this thread on Chowhound . . . .

                      1. re: zin1953

                        good for you Zin that you sent them the link to Chowhound..

                            1. re: honkman

                              I would trust zin1953 over the UT and Naomi Wise anyday of the week!
                              No offense to Naomi..

                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                I don't think it is a matter of trust as food can only be described in a subjective way. When somebody is looking for ideas/thoughts if a restaurants is worth going to nobody should rely on one or two opinions even if those might be "well known". I think it is more important to read many different opinions for every restaurant you are interested in and this will give you a much better picture about the quality. I am always surprised when people tell others to go to this and that blog to find out if a restaurant is good or not as no blogger has an "ulimate" taste or has the final opinion if a restaurant is worth going to. It is more important for me by reading CH, blogs, SDReader, Yelp etc. to get a "taste profile" from those who post regular so that I can get a better idea how much overlap I have with this person in terms of taste/food.
                                So will zin1953 or Naomi Wise impressions of Bice key to decide if I go to Bice ? - No. Will both impressions be part of my decision ? - Yes. Will I most likely put a little bit more weight on NW impression because I have read more from her than from zin1953 ? - Yes. Will I read many more impressions before deciding if I go to Bice ? - Definitely

                                1. re: honkman

                                  Went to Bice tonight, and we enjoyed it. We'd go back again, though it is a little expensive. If this restaurant were in a less expensive neighborhood rent-wise, I imagine their pricing would be a little more rational.

                                  The food we had was reminiscent of food we had in Italy, but about 20-30% more expensive.

                                  I had a housemade buckwheat pasta dish with chard, potatoes, and cheese, broiled to give it a touch of crust like a gratin. I thought it was quite nice.

                                  The food isn't as fancy as the decor would lead you to believe. I'd like it more if it was in a different neighborhood and had a more rustic presentation.

                                  1. re: Josh

                                    I've eaten at the Bice restaurants in Chicago and Dallas and they are similarly overpriced. I have a feeling that the pricing may be as much about attitude about their brand as it is about the upscale property that they are leasing.