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Oct 31, 2010 07:21 AM

Bad dinner at EVOO

I went to EVOO for my birthday dinner, and was initially very excited. I'd never been before, but have wanted to try it for a long time. My boyfriend made reservations.

We showed up and our table wasn't ready. This hasn't really happened to me before at other places, but ok, things happen, this was probably out of their control. 20 minutes later, we can see two two-tops set and ready for customers, but the hostess is getting coats for someone, then leisurely helping set a 4-top, then getting another customer her coat, and by then my boyfriend and I are standing up, wondering if she's ever going to seat us, because the small waiting area is pretty packed.

We get seated and the hostess mumbles, "sorry for the wait," and she's off. Because we've had so long to look at the menu while we were waiting, we both already know what we want to order. Eventually a waitress kind of ambles by, walks past our table, then stops short and turns around and comes back to us and says she'll be our waitress and do we want still or sparkling water?

We make our water selection, and I tell her we're ready to order. She does not write anything down as we order, which for some reason appears to be de rigeur at "nicer" restaurants, but always makes me paranoid they're going to get something wrong.

I am lactose-intolerant, so I need to check if the sides that come with my preferred entree have cheese or cream in them. I ask if the chicken chorizo risotto is made with Parmesan cheese. She says no. I ask about the "creamy tomato salad" and if there is a way to have it without the cream, and before I've even gotten out my question, she says there is no way they can make it without cream. But they can give me a different vegetable instead.

When she comes back with the water, she tells me the risotto does have cheese and they'll give me more vegetables instead. Then she says that the bread basket will be brought with some oilive oil, balsamic vinegar and cheese, but that she'll be right behind the bread guy with a dip without cheese. I don't hear this part clearly, and it's my own fault for not asking for clarification, but I'm so confused as to why they can't just bring me the cheese-free thing in the first place that I don't really hear what she's said until she's gone.

Bread arrives-- bread sticks with some cheese and salt on them, which the bf pronounes very good, and some plain white bread. Dip arrives with it, and I eat it anyway because we're both initially under the impression that the white flecks in it are garlic, not cheese.

We consume the entire bread basket and my boyfriend has finished all his water before we spot the waitress again. She confirms she meant to bring us cheese-free dip and says she will get us some immediately even though I say not to bother anymore since I've already eaten it.

Appetizers arrive and are set in front of the wrong person by a server, not our waitress. Not a big deal, but when entrees are brought by a different server and again set in front of the wrong person, this seems weird to me. I mean, even Applebee's gets this right.

Pete and Jen's pig pate is fabulous, though I could have used twice the amount of bread that comes with it. Pate is perfectly seasoned and the dollop of grape jelly that sits on top of it goes very well with it. Appetizer of 3 different spring rolls is unremarkable. Cute idea, cute presentation, but we had no idea what most of the fillings were, and the boyfriend appeared to enjoy the garnishes (parsley, mint, basil, lettuce) more than the actual spring rolls, and normally he shuns all vaguely-vegetal items.

Entrees arrive. My arctic char has the creamy tomato salad sitting on top of it, and so I go to the manager and explain, as nicely and politely as I can, that it is my birthday and this is my birthday dinner and the service has been bad so far, and that I would like this night to be salvaged, if at all possible. The manager does everything right-- she immediately takes my entree away for a re-do, even gives us a new waiter though I say that's not necessary, apologizes profusely, and later comps my meal.

Boyfriend finishes his meal before I get my new plate. Chicken breast -- tender, yet lacking some tiny flavor that would have put it over the top (perhaps a sweeter, stronger sauce?). Broccoli rabe which he ignores, though I think he picks out and eats the bits of bacon scattered throughout, polenta which he says is very crispy on the outside, smooth on the inside, and good.

My arctic char returns, accompanied by bacon-less broccoli rabe, a piece of fried zucchini, tomato salad minus the cream (look at that, it CAN be made without cream!). Everything tastes fine, and it is not the manager's fault that by now, my stomach has twisted itself into knots of anxiety from having to say anything, from having to say it in front of my boyfriend, from having made the birthday take on too much importance in my mind, from wondering if I have totally overreacted.

We leave after I've taken a few bites of my meal, and skip dessert, because I just want to go home.

Lessons learned: tell restaurants about my lactose intolerance ahead of time by making the reservations myself, and don't risk trying a restaurant for the first time on an important occasion. I'm kind of wishing I could have a do-over on this one.

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  1. WHAT a bummer. I am so sorry you had this experience, and at EVOO of all places. (we've been regulars there since they opened)Their regular staff at their old place- was always very efficient, friendly, reliable, professional, as they were when we ate at the new spot this summer. This waitress sounds like a bad hire. i am so glad you alerted the manager about her; when people don't report problem servers, they are really just passing on a bad experience to the next unfortunate customer. But i hear how awkward it was for you. Why not ask your BF to take you to a casual spot and each order a good drink or glass of wine and 're-celebrate' your birthday? it might give you a good memory to replace the bad one.

    EVOO Restaurant
    350 Third Street, Cambridge, MA 02143

    1. Sorry about your experience and I hope the owners read your post and take it to heart.
      To that end, I tried the new EVOO for the first time and ordered one of their signature dishes that they serve in the Chinese take-out box - I forget the name.
      It was so over-salted as to almost being inedible. The service was so frenetic that we were just happy to get our check and leave, and I never told our server, nor the manager about such a major miss on a signature dish. I hope they read this.

      EVOO Restaurant
      350 Third Street, Cambridge, MA 02143

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. Definitely true that off nights happen. It just stinks that it happened on my birthday, and on my first visit there.

          Am probably going to do what opinionatedchef suggested and go out for a much more casual meal at some point. I'm thinking Fuddruckers at Jordan's Furniture in Reading (what can I say, I'm a sucker for their burgers and fries, and there won't be any waiters/waitresses involved.)

          1. re: taterjane

            Plus then you can get ice cream at Middleton's (also in the Jordan's Furniture building).

            We had a wonderful meal at EVOO a few months ago at least as far as the food went. Service, well, not so much but our food made up for it to some extent.


            EVOO Restaurant
            350 Third Street, Cambridge, MA 02143

        2. I visited EVOO for the first time a few weeks ago. We chose EVOO largely on the idea of the home-grown menu which is a 3 course prix fixe that focuses on local/sustainable/organic ingredients. There is a small a la carte menu, but the majority of the offerings are in the prix fixe. That menu changes daily, but the sample menu they had on their website (from earlier in the year) displayed a good variety.

          We had a reservation, but when my party of three arrived we had to wait about five minutes. The hosts were apologetic and friendly.

          We were disappointed by the menu. More than half of the items on the home-grown menu contained asparagus. Of course asparagus is a spring vegetable, so its appearance on the menu was expected, but its domination of the menu was unwelcome. I'm lucky in that there are very few ingredients that would cause me to rule out a dish, and asparagus isn't even one of them (durian is, but I'm also willing to give it another try). I will try almost anything, and I seek out new culinary experiences all the time. I just didn't want asparagus that night. So I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. Normally my restaurant problem is one of narrowing down too many appealing options, not struggling to find something. I didn't like that feeling, and I especially didn't like having to pay for the privilege of that feeling.

          The bread that preceded the meal was delicious. I ordered the clam chowder, the seared scallops and the maple panna cotta and waffle. The chowder was above average. We had to wait quite a while for our entrees. The scallops were fine; nothing special. The panna cotta was quite bland and didn't taste very much like maple. The spiced waffle that accompanied it was also bland, but more importantly was stale.

          I appreciate what they are trying to do there, and it's possible that our experience was an anomaly, but seeing how they got it wrong in several different areas (menu, food, kitchen management) it seems unlikely that if we went back we'd have the completely opposite experience.

          EVOO Restaurant
          350 Third Street, Cambridge, MA 02143

          7 Replies
          1. re: croutonweb

            gee, bummer. in all our yrs of enjoying evoo, we have never had one dish that i would call bland. Wow, and that dish was scallops? that's usually a consistent fav in all its variations (we continue to carry the torch for one of the highlights of our long culinary lives: scallops with foie gras porcini flan!)
            Let's hope this was a blip on their consistently tasty radar. so sorry.

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              The scallops were fine. It was the dessert that was bland. Although the variation that you mention sounds pretty good.

            2. re: croutonweb

              I've had their vegetarian prix-fixe during springtime in previous years, and yes, it was often dominated by asparagus and other in-season vegetables. Given the wonderful job they did with them, I'd jump at the chance to repeat the experience, myself. It's a pity that you weren't in the mood for asparagus that night, but I don't think that's really the fault of the kitchen.

              1. re: Boston_Otter

                Just to be clear, one of my dining companions had the asparagus soup that she seemed to enjoy, so I'm not questioning if they do asparagus well. While I agree that my not wanting asparagus that night isn't the kitchen's fault, I do think the chef is culpable for saturating the menu with a single ingredient. I like beets, too, but a menu pervaded by it would be equally unwelcome.

                If they have a high opinion of their use of a given ingredient it's fine to promote the dish or two that feature it to steer diners to what they think they've done especially well. This can be done with price, menu language, server recommendation, etc. However, cramming it into as many dishes as possible is not a valid method to showcase expertise. I expect that they are aware of this which leads me to believe that they just had too much of the ingredient on hand (or committed to buy too much).

                1. re: croutonweb

                  I'm sad the posts from the owner got deleted because she indicated that you could request to leave out any of the ingredients in any of the dishes, except the asparagus soup obviously.

                  I think that's very good to know. Not all places are so willing to make substitutions or take special requests.

                  1. re: yumyum

                    One of my dining companions did just that.

                    1. re: yumyum

                      agreed; and we've always found evoo to be a very "yes' place.

              2. One note to the OP re: not trusting waitstaff if they don't write down the order at the table...when I waitressed I was trained to rely on my memory; I clearly remember that if I were to screw up it would be when a nervous nelly would repeatedly ask, "Are you sure you don't need to write this down?"....!

                3 Replies
                1. re: Niblet

                  If there were any chance of you screwing up, you should have written down the order every time. It's not the customer's fault. Sorry.

                  1. re: Gabatta

                    Yeah, that is a bit of a pet peeve of mine as well. I find that almost always those who don't write things down are overly confident, and then about 50% of the time they forget something and/or get something wrong. Just write it down and make me feel better about it...;)

                    1. re: Gabatta

                      I know...don't you love it when someone who isn't doing your job knows the best way to do it? That's awesome. And the percentage from twentyoystahs is especially convincing: 50%. I'm sure.