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Jul 14, 2010 05:57 AM

Sam's Bistro in Reading - First Impression.

I was going to hold off on this and wait for someone else to report in but I thought that may not be in the true spirit of this board. First of all, I want this place to make it and I will go back even though my first impression advises me otherwise. Second of all, let's remember it has been open for less than a week.

Two of us went to Sam's last Friday night (my wife and I, but I'm not sure what chowhounder abbreviations fit that!) - day 3 of the restaurant. I expected it to be rough but I was overanxious to try it out. Physically, the best impression comes from the parking lot. They spent some real money on landscaping. The inside of the restaurant suffers from a lack of any decorating imagination. I want to assume that all the decorating touches just haven't been received yet.

We sat on the bar side at the high top tables. The bar itself was full. This is a completely separate room and seemed slightly more inviting than the restaurant side. The menu is hopefully a work in progress since it was a couple of xerox pages. The first thing you will notice is that there are not a lot of reasonable choices if you are planning on dinner. There were only two sandwich choices, cheeseburger and lobster roll. After those two, you quickly move up to a $32 steak or even more expensive pork and lamb. Maybe I'm reading the crowd wrong, but I'm not looking for a $32 steak in Reading.

We decided to split a few things; the antipasto, a cheeseburger and a side of risotto. This was more like it to me. The $12 antipasto was excellent. Prosciutto, sopressata, salami, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts and provolone. I spent a year in Buenos Aires and I'm always looking for a mixed plate of goodies like they always serve you there immediately after you sit down. This was a good assortment of tastes and worth coming back for.

I wish I could say that was the end of the meal and stay positive. However - I have to report that it was a 30 minute wait for the antipasto. It was another 45 minutes after that for the arrival of the cheeseburger. Since we were splitting, we had to compromise. I like my cheeseburger medium rare to rare and my wife likes it medium. We compromised - medium!
As ti turned out, our preference didn't matter as it came out well done. Inedible to me but my wife had some of it.

We were well after an hour and a half into it when I got our server back to the table. Let me digress even further by pointing out that our server was a very sincere young guy who was obviously new to the business. That is just fine with me. I'll take sincerity and effort over pretentiousness any day. He asked how everything was and I was honest. Very nice antipasto, lousy burger, and by the way, have you seen the risotto we ordered? He replied that he noticed the risotto didn't come out so he took the liberty of removing it from the bill. A mention of this to us a little earlier would have been nice.

He also did the right thing by taking the cheesburger off the bill when I didn't ask him for that consideration. I appreciated that and tipped him for what would have been the original total with everything. He was trying and he can't make things come out of the kitchen faster or correctly cooked.

Bottom line - If this was an established restaurant, they would never see me again. I consider this first visit as part of the shakedown cruise and I'll give it some time but I'll return.

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  1. Thanks for the review. I have been watching the construction and Mrs and I planned to give it a couple more weeks for the bugs to be worked out - hopefully. I agree that antipasto at the bar is a good way to get the feel for the place. . . But a $32 steak? There are a lot of places to spend that type of money and have an enjoyable evening. An hour wait for a burger is not enjoyable. So, the question is, is it substantially better than the 99 just down the street? We'll give it a try and let you know our answer.

    2 Replies
    1. re: powerfulpierre

      Based on this, I had to try Sam's. I just returned and I have to say my experience was fantastic.

      Sat in the dining room and was pleasantly surprised by the the atmosphere. Very clean, very neutral, very new.

      Very prompt and attentive service. Server seemed knowledgeable about the menu and mentioned the chef is from the Cheesecake Factory in Burlington (not sure if that's good or bad).

      I had the "Wagyu Flat Iron Steak". It was cooked perfectly to my liking (medium rare), was nicely seasoned and was outrageously tender and delicious. Yes, it was $32, but I kept thinking "this would be $48 at Capital Grill". I got to choose 2 sides and I went with 4 cheese risotto (very nice) and creamed spinach (delicious- well seasoned with salt and garlic and not too creamy).

      I say give it a shot. A bit pricey, yes, but my steak was fantastic. A most pleasant night out, without having to drive too far.

      1. re: Frank Enbean

        I have an update to my original post. Since I live right in the area of Sam's, there is a lot of interest in the restaurant from friends and work acquaintances. I am very happy to say that the reviews have been universally positive this week. A group of friends told me they were at the bar last night and had appetizers, burgers and a steak. The place was bustling; service was impeccable and the food in their words was "tremendous".

        Specifically, the burger was perfectly cooked and the "Wagyu Flat Iron Steak" was the best this person had ever had.

        Now I'm looking forward to going back for that steak.

    2. My question is if it's better than its older sister, Stearns & Hill in downtown Melrose, which is in a beautiful building but has generally underwhelmed a number of local Hounds.

      1. Thanks for the review. Like powerfulpierre, I've been watching the buildout wondering when it was going to open.

        But I think the most astonishing thing I read in your review was "After those two, you quickly move up to a $32 steak or even more expensive pork and lamb. Maybe I'm reading the crowd wrong, but I'm not looking for a $32 steak in Reading. "

        You're saying that PORK is more expensive than a steak at Sam's? Really? Since their website isn't fleshed out yet (although they DID get rid of the horrendous Wayside Bazaar pic and the drawing of what Sam's was to look like and change it to an actual photo of Sam's), I can't figure out what pork dish would be more expensive than a beef steak, but if these are the prices in the dining room, I'll be hard-pressed to go there often.

        1. Oh - another question - do you know the hours? Are they open for lunch at all?

          1 Reply
          1. re: LindaWhit

            I'll check on the lunch options this weekend. My writing was misleading on the pork prices. The steak was the most expensive item. I meant to refer to the price of the sandwiches as a base but I got sidetracked on the price of the steak. Interestingly, someone who was in there as part of last night's group just called and gave a very different review of their experience than I reported.

            My solution is to not relay any comments. This group has always been the best judge of restaurants so I'll be checking to see what firsthand experiences people have there.

          2. We walked over to try Sam's last night. We were extremely disappointed with the food. Our waitress was great though. When we walked in, we decided to sit in the bar area which was nicely appointed. The menu is lacking for food choices because we didn't want a big meal only a sandwich. There were only 2 choices, a burger or lobster roll. The main menu looked ok but real pricey. The menu items came with choice of potato and veggie. The food items ranged from 39 dollars to 22 dollars.
            We asked our waitress if there was a pub menu to which she replied no. We decided to split the crab cakes. They were terrible and almost not fit to eat. For meals we ordered burgers. They were ok but not worth the 10 dollar price. Our drinks were martini's, or lighter fluid. We have been to the Venitian Moon in the square and the drinks there are far superior. The last drinks, we couldn't even finish.
            Unless things change, we probably won't be back. Except for the Venitian Moon, Reading still is lacking a good restaurant. And to make it worse, we have to pay the extra town tax on food....

            1 Reply
            1. re: ikon100

              not till Oct 1st on the tax......