SHO - Disappointing....(Long)
My girlfriend and I traveled to the hinterlands of late-night Wall St. for a belated birthday / early Valentines Day celebration at SHO. After reading all the reviews on CH, we were excited for a meal that, if not in the league of EMP and other pinnacle restaurants, was still deemed by many to be among the better executed in Manhattan. We left disappointed, in part by the food, which was fine, if lacking "soul" as others have written, but more so by the service, which was comically inept.
We arrived for our 8:45 reservation and saddled up to the bar after the host informed us that it would be "just a few minutes." No problem, we didn't have anywhere else to be, but after 30 minutes without further notification (and with seeing several other diners-to-be waiting in similar circumstances), we grew puzzled. Was this arrogance, an attempt to create "buzz" by making people wait? Was this an effort to boost bar sales? We gave them the benefit of the doubt and chalked it up to inefficiency on a busy dining night. Still, when we were finally shown our table 45 minutes after our reservation, and with not even a contrived apology for the wait, we couldn't help but think that this was SHO's standard procedure - at the very least, not an uncommon occurrence.
We arrived in the well-appointed dining room through an impressive wine storage walkway, and the service errors began almost immediately, if not yet egregiously. One waiter asked if we wanted still, tap, or sparkling and filled us with the requested tap. Another came by shortly thereafter and inquired again about our water selection, blind to the full water glasses already on the table. We told him we were fine with water, but that we could use some menus (it now being 5-10 minutes after having sat). This waiter brought the wine list, though, curiously, no food menu. We had already decided to order red, but I would expect most people would appreciate the opportunity to view the wine and food menus together in order to pair appropriately.
We still had no menus, but the sommelier arrived to help us with the wine list. She was excellent, a positive note in an otherwise discordant serving ensemble. She spoke with knowledge and without snobbery about several different options, and in the end guided us towards a moderately (for here, at least) priced California Cabernet. She decanted the wine and kept our glasses filled throughout; professional service from start to finish.
We again requested a food menu and it finally arrived (courtesy of a different waiter). We opted for the 3-course prix fixe. i ordered (from yet another waiter) the red chili and coconut quail followed by the squab, and my girlfriend ordered the rock shrimp followed by the short rib. The quail was fine, if not memorable, with a sauce reminiscent of a grown-up red curry sauce at the corner thai joint. I can't tell you much about the rock shrimp, because by this time, my girlfriend was so hungry and the portion so small, that it was gone before I had a chance to look up from my quail. She seemed happy enough with it, though also thankful that the bread server was nearby and at the ready to satiate our hunger (good bread, by the way, olive baguette, ciabatta, and multi-grain, all warm and served with a decent French butter and a far-better-than-decent truffle butter...a nice touch).
Keeping with the theme of the evening, we waited a while for the main dishes to arrive, assuaging our hunger with bread and truffle butter. They finally arrived and were...fine....my girlfriend enjoyed the short rib more than I enjoyed the squab, though neither alone was worth the trip downtown. Our sommelier was the one to deliver the dishes and sauce them at the table, an unusual twist, but since she was our lone competent server so far, we weren't disappointed.
Then it was time for dessert...and here it got interesting. I asked if it would be possible to order the chocolate souffle from the 6-course tasting menu (cliche, I know, but I'm a sucker for warm chocolate insides...). The waiter told me it shouldn't be a problem, but that it would take "10-12 minutes". This was fine, as we ordered the cheese course in the interim. As soon as this waiter left, another one came by to deliver our petite fours. They looked good, but we informed him that we hadn't yet received our dessert, so perhaps he was a touch premature. The cheese course was very good - a large portion, with some interesting options and with what appeared to be an artisanal honey on the side. Tasty.
The wait for the souffle continued well after the cheese course. The table next to us was having similar dessert issues, as they brought their dessert without the coffee they ordered and still hadn't brought the coffee after repeated requests. The coffee finally comes out...and gets delivered to our table. We laugh it off...and then they bring the rest of our dessert, only it isn't our dessert, but a dessert intended for another table. At this point, we just start laughing. The manager sees that something is wrong and comes over to inquire. To his credit, he seemed genuinely concerned and was sincerely apologetic about the initial wait and ongoing miscues. He implied that it had been this way all night, leading me to believe (hope?) that this was a one-time glitch. He poured us an interesting dessert sake on the house that had a nice hint of banana, and which complemented the souffle, and also comped our pre-dinner drinks waiting drinks at the bar - both gracious touches. He asked that we return for another visit so that he can make it up to us, though I probably won't take him up on his offer - there are too many other excellent restaurants in the city with more memorable food and better service, without the inconvenience of a trip to Wall St.
Perhaps SHO does a strong lunch business. I can see it being a popular business lunch destination for the financial district crowd. However, I can't see it being worth an evening trip downtown, past all the better options along the way.
My experience at SHO was completely different from yours. We went on a weeknight right before Christmas and the restaurant was only about 1/3rd full. Actually, the most memorable dish in my mind was the rabbit loin, not the much-praised quail.
The only person who I found off-putting was a gentleman who was either the sommelier or the wait captain... or maybe the manager. I found him a little condescending, but otherwise everyone was really great. The staff was very pleasant.
One potential huge gaffe though... we ordered a bottle of wine recommended in another CH thread (not being a real oenophile myself). As it turns out, their wine list had two different wines with the same Bin #. Now, I saw that list, and there were many bottles which would have exceeded our 3-course by several multiples. I sent it back (of course) and ordered it by name.
Only after I got home later did I verify that their online PDF of the wine list did, in fact, have duplicate numbers. The price difference wasn't that great, so it wouldn't have been a huge problem. But it wouldn't have been the bottle I ordered.
Over all I enjoyed SHO and I would recommend it. I'd go back, but at the moment my budget doesn't allow more than a few "special occasion" places per year.
I'm sorry that you faced such a comedy of errors. At least, you have a sense of humor and were able to end up laughing about it.
Our dinner experience was very different from yours. We were there mid-week, and it was not very busy, though in a restaurant of SHO's caliber, it should not matter when you are dining. In our case, no wait for our table and spot on service throughout the meal. We loved the food. The quail and the squab were delicious as was everything else.
As for those who hold the opposite opinion of Hergatt's cuisine, all I can say is, "Chacun à son goût!"
SHO photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...
Sorry to hear about the service problems. I have been there 3 times, twice on weekdays, which were not extremely busy, and on a Saturday when every table was filled. Other than a 15-minute wait at 8:45 on Saturday, we had no service problems whatsoever. The sommelier is indeed a gem. Perhaps the food is just not to your taste, but IMO it is creative and delicious, right up there with other high-end places like EMP, The Modern, etc. and less expensive to boot. I also find the ambience very soothing and the seating extremely comfortable. I would encourage you to try it again, as sometimes service problems can affect one's enjoyment of the food.
The one meal I had there was full of similar, ridiculous service problems, amateurish servers, and soul-less, unmemorable food, and no graciousnes in service or attitude. Add that to the absurdly overpriced wine list....I see no reason to go back. Plus the food and the atmosphere...you could be in any Asian style hotel restaurant in the world and it would be identical. This place has no soul, no identity. It's an utter bore.