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May 14, 2012 09:17 AM

The River Tavern, Chester, CT

I was such a huge fan of this place, but my last couple of visits have been so-so. To me so-so is fine if I hadn't been accustomed to very good/excellent and I am not spending a ton of money.

A few months ago husband and I went and ate at the bar. The evening bartender is wonderful, and they are still using fresh juices and no mixes. We had some apps and hubby enjoyed his main course ( I can't remember what.) What stuck in my mind- and I haven't been back since- was my steak which was ordered rare came rare, but was literally charred on the outside. Ok, took it with a grain of salt, every place can have an off night.
Went back again yesterday for Mother's Day, which again has its own problems. Husband picked a good time (3:30) figured it would be quieter and we would have 'lupper' since we had a late brunch. All was well- no salt and pepper with the bread and olive oil, no biggie. The kids enjoyed their burger, Caesar salad and mussels. Husband had a salad of field greens, strawberries, walnuts and locally- made feta, good. I skipped a starter and had a lobster cavitelle with some fresh peas in a tasteless cream sauce. Nice pieces of lobster, well cooked, dish was crying for seasoning. Husband had a lamb shank with artichokes in a soupy broth, he enjoyed it. When food was delivered we were never asked to refill drinks, husband had to flag someone down. Desserts all around, they were ok.. Generally an underwhelming experience.

I have liked this place for a long time and will continue to go for drinks and snacks (they have great guacamole and chips,) but I feel like I shouldn't have to make excuses for a place that I generally spend $150+.

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  1. dennisl,
    Always one of my favorites and yet in the last couple of years it's hit or miss. Jonathan certainly has his hands full and yet my biggest gripe has been the service, end of story!


    10 Replies
    1. re: raskolnikov

      It was one of the best burgers I ate in this lifetime accompanied by the worst service ever. That was three years ago. I kept saying I'd eventually get over it and go back since people like you, whose opinions I value and respect, really enjoyed it. But boy, you nailed it right there about biggest gripe being the service.

      Both of you--better to grab a burger at the bar?

      1. re: kattyeyes

        We were there about a year and a half ago and experienced the same poor service as mentioned. The wine menu listed a chard we had not heard of and we asked our server to describe it. She had no clue and more annoying did not check with the bar tender or other servers to get an answer. We have not returned..

        1. re: kattyeyes

          *When* I go back, that's what I would do kattyeyes. I've never had an issue with the service at the bar, though I'm still loathe to have a full meal after yesterday.

          1. re: dennisl

            Thanks--I hear you loud and clear, sista! As I said, I was trying to get over my three-year boycott till I read your post! ;) Meanwhile, the scacciata sign is again hanging in Portland, so all is not lost.

            jdgall, I'm with you, too: I enjoy good food, but barring decent service, it really leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

              1. re: thos

                thos, how so--you had a great meal with great service there?

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  Well, again I have to defer to you guys who have been there a lot more than I have, especially you katty. We went on a weekday night before Goodspeed about 10 months ago. The place was full but the staff didn't seem harried. The waitress got us more bread and refilled glasses, etc. without our asking and also warned us to order that signature dessert of theirs ahead since it took longer (good call). I was very impressed with the wine list, as there were actually a few bargains there and it was 2 for 1 drink night. My 3 companions ordered a very tasty and unusual martini (not my drink).

                  We had several apps, including very good mussels, which we demolished, The mains were fine except for a roast pork sandwich, which I felt was too dry. Desserts were good (how many places make "great" desserts? Grant's? Firebox?)

                  I think dennisl is picking nits, but obviously, they are HER nits and important to her. I didn't find the prices to be outlandish either. Maybe it has changed since her first visit, but how many places stay the same? If the owner is jaded, then, as they say, it all rolls downhill.

                  1. re: thos

                    BTW, I always complain. LOL. At the aforementioned Firebox several weeks ago, my stepdaughter (Ag science grad and currently a farmer) thought the beans in her dish were undercooked. At first I argued they were just "al dente", but she made me taste and was right! I nicely mentioned it to the server who said their chef loves getting feedback, especially negative! "How can we ever improve if everything is fine?" Maybe he'll check the beans for doneness next time he's cooking that dish. Sounds like that tasteless cream sauce dennisl had could have used some alterations too.

                    1. re: thos

                      This I'm happy you had a good experience, sounds like its reminiscent of those I used to have there. I usually don't pick that much (honestly!) However, I have been going there almost since it opened and what used to be a great experience has become so much less so, and it disappoints me.
                      Also, I don't think the prices are too high, but generally we are dropping a lot because we do apps, a meal, dessert, drinks and/or wine. Which we choose to do of course, but I would much rather find a restaurant where the meal and service are both consistent, which I'm not finding here any longer.

                    2. re: thos

                      Oh, gosh, no--just the opposite! I went precisely once and had such horrible service I didn't want to go back, though I would like to get over it as I remember that burger being especially great. I may be a tougher critic than most because I waited tables AND tended bar (family biz) when I was younger, and there is just no excuse for being treated poorly. For sure, my experience was one day and one particular server, who, despite the fact the dining room was largely empty, stuck us right beneath the service window to the kitchen (UGH), and it went down from there.

                      I don't head down to Chester much, but I would try the burger at the bar thing as a toe back in the water.

                      With you on "how many places make "great" desserts! I'm sure Grant's does, I know Bricco does, as does La Tavola in Waterbury (ETA: OHHH, and Luce in Middletown, too!), but yes, it's not a lengthy list, generally speaking.

                      Glad to hear your positive report. God knows, this board is so slow of late--I miss hearing what people are up to, good or bad! And it encourages me to try again. When I do, I will let you nice folks know. :)

        2. We went a few times a year or so ago. We thought it was very good in every way. I remember that they had I think it was a date pudding for dessert which i loved. One thing I did hear was the chef from River Tavern left almost a year ago to go to Oyster Club in Mystic, CT. Maybe that explainswhy things are different.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Alica

            Alicia thanks for the info! I hadn't heard that, but I have heard good things about the Oyster Club. May be time be a drive.

          2. So this is interesting...My boys took me here for a birthday dinner on Monday (because Old Lyme Inn isn't open Monday nights.) I have wanted to try it ever since we moved up here 2 years ago because everyone mentions it when restaurants come up in conversation.

            Get this: the food was good, not amazing, not great, but the service was stellar! The staff was attentive but not intrusive, and they made my 6 year old feel welcome.

            My one tiny complaint, and I chalk this up to a lack of experience with children, is that we ordered a fried tofu with noodles dish for my son, with the sauce on the side in case it was spicy. It came as ordered, except it would have been thoughtful for someone to mention that the dish itself was spicy, even without the sauce. They did give him a dessert to make up for it, and he had already eaten bread and the fried smelts appetizer so it certainly wasn't a huge deal, but it may indicate the server didn't know the menu well enough.

            1 Reply
            1. re: eragavanis

              Now that IS interesting--if only they could find a great middle ground! Stellar service can be the cherry on top of an otherwise perfect meal, but it becomes somewhat less important when the food is no longer the star of the show.

              Change in ownership there--anybody know?