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Aug 8, 2010 05:52 PM

so disappointed in Evangeline

We went to Evangeline in Portland on Saturday, August 7. We had read some very positive reviews and were deeply disappointed in both the food and service. First, the food. While it was good for the most part, the menu was limited and didn't reflect at all summer tastes, and some items were just off-base. Appetizers were average to good, including overbreaded goat cheese on a beet salad, and a strange chopped salad that was just shredded beyond recognition. The vegetable chowder was delicious, but rich. For entrees, some options were blanquette de veau, lamb navarin, roast pork with white beans.....not very light and summery. It was actually hard to decide what to order because not that much jumped out at us.

However, what really made the evening a bust was the absolutely terrible service. To start, the waitress brought the wrong bottle of wine twice; when my husband noted that the second bottle was the wrong year and clearly wanted to look at the wine list again, she continued to open the bottle. When he stopped her after she had started to cut the top away, she actually said to him, "You seriously don't want this bottle?" Her dirty look pretty much set the tone for the night. She never came over to ask how our courses were, the service was spotty and cursory and generally a noticeable disaster. At the end of the meal, we ordered three desserts; when two of the three came, the pot de chocolate was an empty plate, and we waited ten minutes for the final dessert to arrive. The crowning glory was when our friend ordered coffee with cream and not once but twice, the cream she was given was sour and curdled in her coffee. At this point, my friend said forget it, but they proceeded to bring her a third cup at which point we asked where the rest of the pot de chocolat was. Finally, the original waitress came over and said the woman who brought the coffee wasn't actually a waitress but was helping out because the other waitress had phoned in sick. She then plopped a big dollop of chocolate (don't know where the "pot" was) on my friend's plate, and after waiting ten minutes, the last dessert finally arrived and we could finish the meal.

After all that went wrong, we were disappointed to see no acknowledgement in the bill, including a charge for the coffee we had not wanted after the curdled cream experience. It was bad form and really unfortunate to not have recognized a simple gesture that could have set things a little bit right. I also want to note that we did not hound the waitress, were pretty patient and friendly considering how badly the meal was going, and expected more. At a bare minimum, she could have told us at the beginning of the evening that they were short staffed, instead of copping an attitude and providing uneven and rude service. The restaurant was 1/3 full, so its not as if they were slammed with a busy summer night.

We go out every August with these friends when they visit, and have had consistently wonderful meals at many great Portland restaurants, including Bresca, Fore Street, Hugo's, 555 and more. Evangeline is our first bad choice. Next time, we will start with a drink at Local 188 across the street and stay for dinner.....

Fore Street
288 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04101

111 Middle Street, Portland, ME 04101

Local 188
685 Congress St, Portland, ME 04102

190 State St, Portland, ME 04101

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  1. You're correct, they were short staffed by one last night and had people fill in at the last moment. You, unforeseeably, hit a bad night. This doesn't excuse your overall experience, but I could see a waiter being in the weeds and being called out on a vintage (on the third bottle) just wanting the bottle opened and poured and getting back to the kitchen because the owner/chef is stressed from having a no call/no show staff member, etc. This is the real world of a restaurant. I'm not demeaning your experience in any way, but you should let the owner know and turn a negative into a positive. It's still a gem in a gritty NE town.

    7 Replies
    1. re: bewley

      I get the whole bad night thing, but the service was bad from start to finish, in a restaurant that was 1/3 full. As no one said anything to try and explain why things were screwed up, we had no way of knowing, and as I said, we were pretty patient throughout. We thought about asking for the owner/manager/somebody at the end of the night, but at that point, it just felt better to be done with it all. Its amazing what a smile and an explanation will do, even when the night is going badly, and it would have gone a long way with everyone. I have since read other posts about bad experiences there with service, so I don't think this was a one-off, but appreciate the encouragement to contact the owner. I never like to leave on a bad note.

      1. re: bewley

        I hardly think of Portland, with its Whole Foods supermarket, upscale boutiques and array of fine restaurants a "gritty NE town", compared to say, Manchester NH, where I live. At Evangeline's price point, service this bad is inexcusable.

        1. re: whs

          I live near Somersworth and Rochester, NH and those are real gritty NE towns. But, though Portland has a lot more going with regards to food than Manchester, NH, it still has more homeless on the streets and it's port town feel. Portland has almost half the population and almost the same amount of crime. Here, check the stats:

          whs what your hometown lacks, unfortunately, is enough "foodie" inhabitants (and tourists) to warrant culinary bookshops, high end eateries like Evangeline & Hugo's or even a Flatbread, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, etc. Manchester (along with most of New Hampshire) is behind its NE neighbors with regards to food because . . . well I've been trying to figure it out ever since I moved there . . . but I guess NH lacks a certain degree of sophistication that it's neighbors enjoy.

          I mention the "gem" aspect of Evangeline primarily due to it's being in a shitty area of Portland.

          1. re: bewley

            Whs is correct in stating: "At Evangeline's price point, service this bad is inexcusable." The paying customer should not have to suffer due to a restaurant's misfortune.

            1. re: bewley

              Griity,maybe Shitty Hmm? next time you visit our fair city I suggest you take a stroll down Grant Street. Still Evangeline is a gem,regardless of the neigborhood ,sorry to hear of the service debacle .

              1. re: LeRique

                Sounds like one of those places that works well when you can go often enough to forgive the bumps in the road. With all the good choices in Portland though, we sadly won't be giving it another shot. And honestly, in this instance it was all the attitude, which is a shame for the people in the kitchen who are doing their best to turn out great meals.

                1. re: lesliewh

                  The thing that also bugs me is the wrong vintage thing. On the other hand there are the places that do not even mention vintages which bugs me even more.. We had a bad experience at a place in town that gets rave reviews and like you will probably never go back.. But like you say in Portland there alot of choices .

      2. Having worked FOH for many many years, I from time to time wouldn't mind getting back behind a bar or taking an order at a table as I love customer interaction. So I was very much tempted to offer my help when the open call was made Saturday evening for a server because of an employee was no call no show. I would have done it for free. The thing that held me back was I had to get up early to work at my own place. So, although I feel bad for your circumstance and understand your justifiable anger, I'm very much on the fence at writing the place off outright. Yes, your server was unprofessional, but the night could also have been saved, as you say, by better service.

        1. I wrote on CH some time last year about our negative experience there: for us, it wasn't the service, which was fine, it was the fact that we watched an entree served to a table next to us, ordered it, and ours was maybe just a little over half the size. The server indicated to us the kitchen was running out, which is why our entree was so small, all of which she probably shouldn't have told us, but at any rate, we would have expected some sort of price adjustment. That didn't happen. When I wrote about this here and I think I also made some remarks on the chef's blog, we got a kind of defensive response from him saying something to the effect that no, indeed, they weren't running out, the server was mistaken, blah, blah, blah. Really, it turned us off totally. We spend alot of restaurant time in Portland, but probably won't be back to Evangeline. We go to his wife's place instead, and to any number of other great restaurants when we're in town.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Shooley

            Maybe this belongs on "Not About Food", but Evangeline often lists server positions on Craigslist. For such a small operation, I wonder why they can't keep experienced staff...why they have so much turnover? You can't provide great service when the servers never get a chance to get the rhythm of a place and when you don't have enough of a crew that is able and/or willing to fill in at the last moment.

          2. UPDATE:

            On Tuesday, I received a very unexpected phone call from Erik Desjarlais, the chef-owner of Evangeline. He knew of our negative experience at Evangeline's and was calling to apologize, explain and make it right. What I appreciated right off is that he wanted to take responsibility for what happened, and didn't try and make excuses. He did explain some of what was happening that night, which was helpful to me, and listened to my input about what would have made the evening go more smoothly. According to him, it was one of those nightmare nights where anything that could go wrong did - "worst night ever in the restaurant" (I got the sense that they were not only short a waitress, but also someone in the kitchen?) I did ask him how he knew that it had gone so wrong for us personally, and he said he was aware during the evening, was slammed in the kitchen so couldn't come out to talk to us, and learned more from the waitress on Monday. I believe it was the curdled cream story that was the clincher.... Who knows if he reads Chowhound, but either way, I'm glad he was aware of how poorly our dinner went. We have been invited to come back to Evangeline for a complimentary dinner so that he can show us a different dining experience. Maybe I'm just a pushover, but I very much appreciated the gesture, and we will give it another try. It gave me hope that chef-owners do care in a tough market what diners want, and also confirmed to me that giving constructive criticism, rather than making a scene, can work for everyone.

            8 Replies
            1. re: lesliewh

              Glad to hear that he called as he should of....
              He does read CH regularly...
              Hope you have a great experience the 2nd time around.
              I have never been there, but will wait to hear back from your 2nd visit.

              1. re: lesliewh

                I'm so glad the restaurant is attempting to set things right and that you are willing to let them try. For all the restaurants we have in Portland, there are not many who can get the food AND the service right and even fewer who can do it consistently. Good luck with your "do over" dinner and its potential for excellence!

                1. re: foodquest

                  This dining experience for which there were so many responses should be a huge WAKE UP for Eric. I have heard about so many problems at his restaurant since he opened. We have many foodie friends who have had dinner there since this place opened and will NEVER go back because of: really bad service and pretentious food
                  that does not translate off the menu. Portland is too small to screw up. Too bad! I hope Eric reads all of this.

                  1. re: sopo

                    Vintages on wine lists are very tricky to keep up with. Maine is allocated small amounts of boutique wines, and when one starts selling the vintage changes quickly. Changing and printing out new wine lists is expensive and wasteful, not to mention 99% of diners don't even ask or notice the year. I just ask if I really want to know, and probably wouldn't care unless it was a reserve type bottle. Another glass of white zinfandel please.

                    1. re: simplyput

                      I think a liitle more than one percent care about vintages, especially, when paying 50 dollars for a bottle. Enangeline is a fine dining establishment and should pay attention to vintages, which can make a difference maybe not so much with white zin which is often a rather homogenized product that most chowhounder s I think consider the kool aid of wines

                      1. re: simplyput

                        Nevertheless, the server, in doing his/her job properly, should point out that the vintage is not as stated on menu. Obviously this should be done before the bottle is opened.

                  2. re: lesliewh

                    Huh? How does a restaurant owner get your phone number?

                  3. Can anyone local tell me if Evangeline is still in business? I'll be visiting Portland in a couple of weeks and was interested in trying this place, but the website and phone number appear to be out of service. Thanks!

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: ziggles

                        Walked by the other day. Work going on inside. Heard the chef from 555 was taking the spot. Sign on door said something like "coming soon, blah, blah, blah by 555". Should be interesting.