Disappointing experience at Saturne - your comments?
I just returned from a meal at Saturne (Oct 3, 2011) and enjoyed it much less than I did the wine bar Au Passage, where I ate on the 1st, & Hidden Kitchen, where I ate yesterday. Reviews of both of those great places to follow. The worst aspect of my meal at Saturne was grit in my mushrooms in a dish that also included foie shavings, parsley, and egg yolk. When I told the waitress, she was apologetic and had the kitchen prepare me another, which was grit-free, and she and another waiter apologized later on in the meal, but nothing else was done to make up for the unpleasant experience - no comped wine, no extra dessert, nothing. It was only the 3rd dish and left grit in my mouth for quite a while. I'm a New Yorker who's been living in London for 3 years and have been to Paris a few times but have never had to complain in a Paris restaurant before, and rarely in NY or London - could someone more experienced with dining in France tell me if Saturne's reaction is standard for Paris?
Also, I found the flavors of the food in general too subtle for me. Maybe I got a less-tested menu, or maybe just a less exciting one - it sounds that way from reading about other hounds' experiences - but for me it was bland and often mushy, with servings being oversized.
The meal started with tuna, radish, and a clover-like herb called oxalys (wood sorrel), which was nice from the bitterness but rather one-note. The beet, fresh goat cheese, and wild fig dish that followed was pleasant, with a nice sweetness to the beet balanced by the cheese and salt, although the fig was shaved too thin and got lost. The next dish was the gritty mushrooms. Then a pollock with rutabaga and black olives sauce, which contributed a nice salt, and the texture of the fish was lovely with the rutabaga having a complex vegetal flavor with hints of broccoli stem. Then pigeon with potato and pear - tasty, but not enough pear or potato to balance the meat. Then a lovely picodon, a dry goat cheese, with honeycomb. Then "oiselle framboise," or sorrel sorbet on a bed of ricotta with raspberry paper and raspberries - nice, but forgettable. Then a bowl of what was basically chocolate pudding with "foin" - hay? on top.
None of these dishes were memorable or could compare with anything at Hidden Kitchen or Au Passage, where small dishes are 8 Euro a plate and the service is low-key and friendlier. I was also disappointed that instead of 2 menus to choose from at 39 Euro and 59 Euro, there was just a 60 Euro menu.
We had 2 nice wines, a Quartz 2009 de Claude Courtois (sauvignon) and Eponna 2009 des Griottes (chenin). Maybe if we were more into wine we would have appreciated Saturne more. I'm not saying don't go, but if you are into bolder flavors, and I am, take their local sourcing policy into consideration! It is admirable, but it means few spices. This works for me at The Ledbury, my favorite restaurant in London, which has dishes like celeriac baked in ash, but not here.
Your comments would be appreciated! More reviews to follow.
I would have thought quickly replacing the dish with a freshly cooked one and apologizing twice was fine. Not certain why you feel a restaurant should pay a "fine" in terms of comped dishes for an error quickly rectified, after all there are many that wouldn't acknowledge or try and resolve the problem. I would have been happy with the response.
As to the food did you really expect a lot of spices? Paris is about ingredient quality and classic or traditional techniques. A few places push the envelope but it isn't the norm.
I think you'll like Septime much more. The Ledbury is also my favorite in London -- that's a rigorous standard to measure other venues. (As an aside, on holiday, I prefer dining in London compared to Paris, at least given the places that I tend to choose).
Thanks to you both for your thoughts. I should have mentioned that at a recent dinner at the Modern Pantry, one of the best of the Antipodean places in London and more casual than Saturne, they prepared the wrong fish dish for my friend, realized it themselves, apologized for the slight wait this error would entail, and comped us another bottle of the wine we'd ordered. That to me is good service, but perhaps this isn't done in Paris. The grit in my mushrooms (and there was a lot) made for a far worse experience than a slight wait for a dish. As a kid I hated eating on the beach because sand would get in my food - I don't need that to happen in Paris restaurants.
I was with my sister at one of the nicest restaurants in Wilmington, NC, a few years ago and because one of the dishes was sightly delayed (according to them - we hadn't noticed) they took it off the bill. This is above and beyond, but still, great service.
I just meant the Ledbury is the closest I"ve had to Saturne in terms of preparing regional food simply like the celeriac in ash, but it probably isn't a helpful comparison, I admit!
Clearly different restaurants respond in different ways, I never noticed much difference between Paris and elsewhere. Some place are bad and I don't go back, but if a restaurant replaces the offending dish and apologizes I am happy. If they comp me I am also happy but don't think any less of them if they don't comp me and simply correct the fault with good gracce.
I think you will find it's exactly the same in London and other cities.
First of all, the flavoring at Saturne. I thought the dishes were excellently flavored, better to reveal the ingredient freshness. It would be great if the OP gave us some examples of "bold flavoring".
Not knowing what kind of mushroom it was (and also wondering why the poster failed to name it several times), I would guess it might be trompette de la mort, which is in season and is notoriously gritty. It easily takes an hour just to clean a sufficient quantity for a dinner party.
I love the dozen of mushrooms in season right now, including trompette. Grittiness in trompettes is more excusable, but a restaurant should clean it well.
If a restaurant serves it slightly gritty, I would not mind so much.
If it was distractingly gritty, I would have mentioned to the waitstaff.
If the waitstaff apologized and replaced it, that would be the end of the story and I would not bear a grudge.
Like PhilD, I would appreciate a comp but would not expect it or demand it. A comp is never one's due.
I, too, was pretty disappointed with Saturne when I ate there a couple of months ago. Uneven seasoning on some of the dishes, particularly on a very bland veal carpaccio, made it a lackluster experience. The highlight of the meal was a perfectly grilled spring onion...
In terms of comping policies, I've personally never seen a French restaurant comp a dish, so I wouldn't expect it. In most cases, they will redo the dish or ask you if you would like a different one to replace it. Then again, maybe others have had a different experience?
I am far less experienced a diner than most of you, I am sure, but to me comping implies compensation. Good service in restaurants attempts to ensure that every guest has a consistently pleasant experience, and since I experienced an actively unpleasant one - there was tons of grit in that mushroom, not just a bit - to turn my experience around, in my opinion, they would have had to do something more than just remake the same dish. That still leaves me with a less pleasant experience than someone who had been served all of their courses correctly prepared the first time around, which is not too much to expect from a restaurant.
I am not a French mushroom expert (the menu simply said "champignons du bois"), but I don't think the kind of mushroom is much of an excuse. If you make the decision to serve that kind of labor-intensive mushroom, then make sure you do it properly - and, since no one is perfect, take steps to compensate the diner when you serve them a gritty and inedible dish.
All my other meals were lovely, and this board has been very helpful. Even outside of the grit issue, Saturne was not my kind of place - Au Passage, with a lovely dish like duck heart, pumpkin, pickled onion, and culantro (saw-leaf herb) was for me a great dish, as the onion and herb lent it some punch. More info on the other places soon for those for whom it might be useful - more likely other visitors to Paris with limited time like me who are more invested in each meal and/or who perhaps. like me, are splashing out a bit. 60 Euro a dinner for me is splashing out, making the meal more of a disappointment.
From my experiences, the question of compensation depends on type of restaurant and the country. I can't comment on England since I don't have much experience dining there. For high-end restaurant in France, Italy and Spain, if a similar case of gritty mushroom occurs, most likely the dish will be recooked and you will be compensated with something extra (ie, extra small course, a dessert wine, etc), but not in an single case that I have encountered that they deducted anything from the final bill. In places like Saturne, recooking the dish or offering another dish with a sincere apology are what one should expect and nothing more. These places operates on a lower margin and depends on every euro to make ends meet.. It is different in the US where "customers are king/queen and we will do anything to make them happy regardless how unreasonable it is" has become the standard operating motto for restaurants. In turn, it is now the expectation of the dining public. If one find lots of grit in mushrooms or sand in lettuce, most likely the restaurant will offer a replacement AND not charge for that dish. This is especially true for high end restaurant where they can absorb the cost easier.
And as for the food at Saturne, you summarized the food very well. I enjoyed my dinner there much more because it is more to my style of cooking.