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May 14, 2011 07:12 PM

Dining in St. Paul on a Saturday night

Admittedly, not planning ahead was our first mistake and me posting our evening is probably going to be my second mistake since I will now tell you the best ending option which will become all of your first options. But that's ok. I'm a helper that way. :)

It's 5:30 on a Saturday (tonight as a matter of fact) and the hubster and I couldn't decide where to eat. The Nook has re-opened and I was jonesing for a a Jucy Nookie in a big way. Headed over there by 6:00 to find a 45 minute wait. Love the Nook, but with the cold and rain we weren't willing to wait the 45 minutes outside.

We decide to try Salut on Grand, by this time it's almost 6:30. It's a huge space, there were parking spots available in the lot - clearly a winner, right? Wrong! Waiting area jam packed full of people. People standing outside, in front of the door mind you, making it nearly impossible to even get in and out of the restaurant. Some other crazy lady trying to take a picture of the door?! Trainwreck. Didn't even wait to see how long a wait that would've been.

We decide to venture up to University. With all the construction, our odds have to be better here. By this time it's almost 7 and we drive by Ngon. We see empty tables through the windows. Score! Ample parking - yes! We get into the restaurant and are greeted by the hostess. "Just two, " I say. "I don't believe I have anything," she says, "but I'll take a look." She comes back and says nope - she's got nothing available. I say, "so these 8 empty tables aren't available?!?" Seriously - there were at least 8 empty tables. "No, they're all for reservations at 7:30 - sorry," the hostess says. No, I don't have anything available right now, but it'll be an XX minute wait. Nothing. Just an I'm sorry and pretty much don't let the door hit you in the a$$ on the way out. VERY disappointing Ngon! Very. When one of your reservations no-shows and there isn't anyone else waiting at the door, just remember the $100+ you could have had from us had you made more of an attempt to keep our business. Not saying she should have bumped the reservations for us, but to not even try to keep us there with a wait time suggestion? Not cool. Not sure when or if we'll be returning after that.

7:15, we decide to swing by Little Szechuan, but the parking lot is jampacked and we're pretty sure they were just as busy as everywhere else so we aborted.

By this time we were literally contemplating frozen pizza at home or Houlihan's in Eagan when it suddenly dawned on me... what about Cheeky Monkey Deli? We hadn't been there in ages. We decided to try it and if didn't work out it would be frozen pizza. Pull up to Cheeky Monkey and discover that not only is there seating, but the Cheeky Monkey Deli is no longer a deli at night. It's now a bistro where you can sit down and be waited on and everything. Awesome! Many of the bistro options were appealing, but I tried the pork tenderloin served on soft polenta with sauteed mushrooms, mushroom jus and asparagus. Hubster had the cedar plank salmon served with mashed potatoes, jicama slaw and mango butter. Both entrees were excellent. We topped it off with lemon/blueberry bread pudding and key lime pie for dessert. Desserts were good, but not as good as the entrees. We used to frequent Cheeky Monkey quite a bit when it first opened and then it just sort of fell off our radar for no particular reason. We were glad we rediscovered it tonight, not only because we were starving, but also because the food is great and we love how they're reinventing themselves in the evenings (it's still a deli during the day). If you haven't been to the Cheeky Monkey in a while - check it out! Don't waste time driving all over the city like we did just to find something great close to home.

Little Szechuan - West End
5377 16th Street, St. Louis Park, MN 55416

Cheeky Monkey Deli
525 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102

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  1. Hostess: Hello, welcome to Ngon.

    Me: Reservations for Kevin for 7:30

    Hostess: Oh, sorry we gave your table away because you weren't here at 7.

    Me: Are you kidding?

    Hostess: No. The table was empty, so we assumed you'd be a no-show.

    Me: I'm going to go kill things now.

    Hostess: Have a nice day!

    4 Replies
    1. re: kevin47

      If you read my full post I said I did NOT expect her bump reservations for us, but I was shocked that her "solution" was just to say "Sorry, I don't have anything" and then look at us like "you can leave now." THAT'S what ticked me off. Of course if you take a reservation, you expect people to show up - I wouldn't be happy to have my reservation bumped either. My point was that she didn't even say - No, we don't have anything right now, but something should open up in 10 minutes or whatever. That way if someone DIDN'T show or if others finish eating, at least she'd have people potentially waiting to fill her table, right? I just couldn't believe that she was literally turning us away without any other options and I wasn't going to ask how long of a wait it was going to be with that kind of attitude. I also think it's odd that at least a third of the restaurant was reserved for 7:30. Doesn't it seem like you should stagger out your reservations a bit more?

      1. re: Seige

        It's graduation season. I could see a bunch of tables all reserved at once perhaps for one group. I could see a restaurant being fully aware that they're about to get slammed.

        1. re: KTFoley

          Fair enough, but not all these tables were together.

        2. re: Seige

          I would prefer a "we don't have anything" over a trumped-up estimate of wait time. She gave you the opportunity to find another dining option. There is no excuse for being unfriendly, however.

      2. I don't think the hostess at Ngon was at fault. A restaurant has to honor its reservations, they can't assume that somebody will no-show.

        In any case, it is encouraging to me to read that all these St. Paul businesses are full on a Saturday night - hopefully it's a good health indicator.

        7 Replies
        1. re: LiaM

          Agreed LiaM - kind of defeats the reservation system if they're not going to honor them, which it sounds like Ngon does. Too often you still have to wait with a reservation at restaurants because they're trying to maximize the number of diners per night - I much prefer Ngon's approach.

          And sorry to the original poster, but I think it's overly critical to post negative commentary about a restaurant because you weren't told 'Sorry, we're booked' in the manner you'd prefer. Perhaps I'm being defensive though, as I'm a big fan of Ngon, but they just can't make extra tables appear...

          1. re: mull0263

            I've been a fan of Ngon too. Have eaten there many times for brunch, lunch and dinner. Have recommended it to tons of people. I'm not slamming it just for fun, nor do I expect them to make extra tables appear. My point, again, was that perhaps they should reevaluate their reservations system and/or their hostessing policies. But hey - if they want to turn away business by not providing a wait time to the people standing before them without losing the business of the reservations they're saving - no skin off my nose. It was Cheeky Monkey's gain.

            1. re: mull0263

              So you're saying that you think it's reasonable that, at 7:00, the restaurant expects to not have a single table available at any time before they close? Because that's the only situation where it would be justified to say, "sorry, we're booked," without any other option presented. Especially for a restaurant that's supposedly endangered by all the construction. They just can't afford to be turning customers away with a bad taste in their mouth.

              1. re: mtullius

                If she'd said, "It'll be at least two hours," wouldn't the result have been about the same?

                1. re: LiaM

                  It's not just about the result; I think the OP would agree that it's also about how the customer feels they've been treated.

                  1. re: mtullius

                    Manners and respect, not to mention courtesy and customer service.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      Manners and respect, not to mention courtesy , seems to have been missing from both sides of the story... 3rd choice probably didn't put you in the best mood. I've never been able to walk in to Ngon during prime time without a reservation. I happen to like their level of service because it gives me a chance to converse with my dining companion without all those interruptions. When I need something I get the staffs attention or I've even gone to the bar myself. Ngon isn't considered fine dining.

          2. Sad to say, because we love the food and beer at Ngon, but I am not particularly surprised. The service has never been stellar there, and it's clearly just not a big priority for them. Which is something that, it seems to me, will have to change if they're to survive the light rail construction....