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Jun 15, 2011 09:20 AM

Ladder 15 Disappoints with Middling Food & Horrible Service

I've been reading the Chowhound boards for ages and found it to be a great resource, so I finally signed up to write my first post to report on my recent experience at Ladder 15. While reading about different places in Philadelphia (I'm relatively new to the city), I'd come across others mentioning their love for chef David Ansill, so I was curious to try out his food at Ladder 15's 4-course prix fixe Tuesday dinner menu ($20).

1st course: I had the Shrimp and watermelon salsa. It was fine, but nothing spectacular. The flavours were refreshing, some hotness.

2nd course: Cold sesame noodles. Sesame sauce was tasty & I liked how it was put together: rice vermicelli, sprouts, white and black sesame seeds. It was a very small portion, roughly one bite's worth.

3rd course: I had the Sambal Crab. The "sauce" (it wasn't really a liquid but I'm not sure what to call it) was flavourful with chopped chili peppers, garlic but the crab itself was not so good. The flesh of the crab was flavourless and kind of dry, and had the texture of having been frozen, not fresh. This was served with plain steamed white rice, which was a bit dry, as if it had been sitting around a bit, but this was not a big deal -- I appreciated the fact that there was rice at all, since the portions had been so small throughout that I'd been worried I'd go hungry.

I also tried a bite of the Cheese Ravioli, which was tasty but seemed mushy and overcooked.

Dessert: Chocolate fondant with berries. Chocolate fondant was chocolatey without being overly sweet, which was nice with the berries. However, it was dry and sandy in texture -- I was expecting it to be silkier.

For $20 for 4 courses, I don't necessarily expect big portions and stellar preparation. I might have been curious to go back once more to see what else Ansill could cook up (especially with something other than seafood) but there were serious problems with the service and management that made for a generally bad experience.

We were brought the wrong food to our table, TWICE. My own order was fine, but others in my party were simply brought something different from what had been ordered. One ordered a (vegetarian) tomato/mozzarella/pesto flatbread off the regular menu and was brought a (non-vegetarian) crab flatbread instead. Another friend ordered Cheese Ravioli for the prix fixe dinner, and got Sambal Crab. On top of that, when the bill came, we were charged for the more expensive Crab Flatbread that we did not ask for, and that was sent back. This billing error was eventually corrected when we brought it to their attention, but the server didn't seem very concerned about the mistakes at all.

Our server had even come back earlier (before any food came) to verify part of our order (though not those parts). I really think the waitstaff should be writing down orders so that they have a better chance of getting it right. When a mistake is made, they should ensure they don't charge for the more expensive thing that you didn't want and didn't eat.

Service was generally on the inattentive/inconsiderate side. I got strangely lukewarm water when I asked for water without ice. There was an empty table nearby, but we were seated right next to where the waitstaff were working so they bumped repeatedly into my chair. I don't mind little hiccups if the place is busy (and it was), but some consideration would be nice: offer us another table, move the table 5 inches over, or just express concern and apologize for the inconvenience.

Also, when the bill came, we had a bit of a surprise: we had been charged an 18% gratuity with no warning. It's not written in fine print on the menu, and the server certainly hadn't told us about it. Moreover, the 18% was assessed on the subtotal AFTER taxes. Is this customary in Philadelphia? To me, this is a big no-no. I understand gratuities as being assessed on the service attached to the food and drinks they bring out to us. Charging us 18% on the after-tax amount just seems wrong.

If a gratuity is going to be pre-charged, I expect a) to be notified in advance of the policy, b) that it's assessed on what we actually consume (food and drink) and NOT taxes, and hopefully c) that the service is reasonably acceptable. The service was horrible, and we were charged 18% on the post-tax subtotal without warning (for a party of 5). When I asked about this, the server was unconcerned and standoffish. I wasn't even complaining at the time -- I just suggested that they put the policy on their menu so that customers would know about it. We got the impression that the service was intentionally bad because they knew they were going to get 18% no matter what. I guess if you've decided you're not aiming to give service worthy of 20+% in gratuity, you might as well give your worst.

Normally, service is not a huge deal to me; my main focus is food. I notice when the service is great and I'm not bothered when it's not. But when the service is bad enough to negatively influence the entire meal and make my companions unhappy, it's a problem. I would've been fine with service that was just okay, but as it is, I feel bad for having suggested Ladder 15 at all.

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  1. Foods is subpar & that experience you had with the gratuity is not cool. I would have made have battled it out with the manager. Having been a previous restaurant manager if it isn't to your liking you better let management know right away. The servers at these establishments either one don't care or don't know how to handle many certain situations or they are just droning. Management will be more open to your concerns. Trust me after 1000 of customers complaining to me I have heard it all. Yeah I was at Ladder 15 once last year and that was all the business they were getting from me.

    1. Was your party greater than 6? I frequently see restaurants add the gratuity on top of the check at that point. If it was fewer.. then that IMNSHO is just wrong.

      2 Replies
      1. re: cwdonald

        Thanks for the comments, 808eater and cwdonald. I think I probably should've talked to management now also.

        And nope, we were just a party of 5. I also often see gratuity policies for parties greater than 6 also, but I'd never seen it for 5 before (and still haven't, since Ladder15 doesn't put their policy in writing).

        1. re: Birdlington

          no worries, I eat out often and my buddy eats out often also. I know if I'm having a bad experience I let management know right away. Lots of paying customers are reticient to do so. You don't want to hurt such and such feeling. Yeah right especially in today's economy.

          My friend was a server at Brasserie Perrier back in the day. It's not open anymore now stands an apple store in its place. George Perrier is a monster of a man, his service level is impecabble and all his establishments stand by it. I know this for a fact because one time or another I have had many friends work for mr perrier. i remember a story of how a couple were celebrating a special event. When dessertt was delivered they wrote the name of the person wrong. What do you think happened? The server got canned and the whole entire bill got comped because the special event was ruined. I believe the pastry chef was reprimanded also.

          If things aren't to your liking whether it be dining out, shopping, or customer service let management know.

      2. I"ve never heard of gratuity added for a party less than 6. It should be made apparent to you so that you enter into a tacit agreement to pay. You were well within your rights no to subscribe to the 18% which was calculated inappropriately after tax and with a good amount of hutzpah, if you ask me.
        As for the bumping, the second time it happened I would have insisted the table or the party be moved. Beyond rude while you're eating.
        I also would have recalculated the tip based on the pre-tax amount. They could try to sue me before I let them rip me off without a good fight.
        I guess it's good to know this place isn't going to be long for the world at the rate they're going.

        4 Replies
        1. re: monavano

          Bravo posters! Gratuity calculated on taxes? It almost seems illegal! Thanks for this heads up Bird, all this crap plus lousy food!

          1. re: Bacchus101

            I had the $20 prix fixe a while back and it was very good, especially for the price tag. Our service was perfectly competent. For $5 per course I'm not sure what the OP was expecting as far as portion size. Perhaps if they had any opinions on any restaurants in the city other than Ladder 15 we might know them better.

            1. re: Buckethead

              Ok so perhaps a bad night for both service and food. I had discounted the portion issue as you have noted, $20 bucks? The gratuity on tax does seem to be an offense against god and man, but perhaps a stupid mistake which should have been easily resolved. Seems a confluence of disfunction for Bird, at best!

              1. re: Bacchus101

                I should clarify a few things:

                I wasn't complaining about the portion size in relation to the food. I reported on the size of the portions mainly to give information about it. I also said in the OP that for $20, I didn't expect anything hugely different in terms of portion size/preparation, but maybe I didn't emphasize this enough.

                The food was not horrible. It was okay.

                I suspect I may not have experienced the kitchen at its best, and I would've been willing to try it again (as I mentioned in my OP), had it not been for the service, which WAS lousy. It wasn't merely neglectful, but rather bordered on rude, as well as unethical, given the unannounced 18% gratuity on tax for a party of 5 -- and as a result, exploitative, when the rudeness and the 18%++ are considered together.

                I'm also happy to give opinions on other Philadelphia restaurants I've been to if anyone is curious. CHers, any advice on whether it's more appropriate to post them within this thread, or to start a new thread for each restaurant I comment on, or to find existing threads about those restaurants to add my comments to? Much of what I think is probably in agreement with what has already been posted so it wouldn't be all that interesting.

                e.g. I found out about Zahav from CH reviews, had the Mesibah with lamb shoulder, really enjoyed the hummus and laffe (?) bread, found a couple of the small Salatim dishes excellent though the rest were nothing special (my faves were the double cooked eggplant and red beet-sesame paste). Of the Mezze we were served, the Haloumi with date paste and the fried cauliflower with that wonderful yogurty sauce were the best. The lamb shoulder was not bad but I found it slightly underwhelming (given the rave reviews, I was expecting spectacular, so maybe this was due to over-elevated expectations). Next time I go, I will probably focus on Mezze and hummus/laffe and prefer to try other things from the grill rather than the lamb shoulder. Edit: And the service at Zahav was excellent: warm, friendly and helpful.