Saturday, February 5, 2011
Some nights, you’re better off staying home and eating leftovers. For some reason, I felt compelled to dine-out tonight. It was just the four of us, and we decided on the “Wildwood” in Marlboro. Once a pleasant local steakhouse, now, if invited to go again, I would say “Wildwood-not”.
Normally, I dine, I think, I write. The process can range from a few hours to a few weeks. Tonight, it’s been a few minutes.
Let me start by saying that I had some concerns about going there. We went there a few weeks ago for an adult night out, and the service was unbelievably slow. I needed a haircut and shave by the time we were done, and people familiar with my hairline know that’s no mean feat. Not speaking for anyone of the other 7 adults in our party, I was whelmed. It was a harbinger for things to come.
Tonight we went and were seated promptly. That was the best part of the meal. Our tag-team servers also attended us to quickly. Maybe things would be different this time (why do I tease myself like this?). After a reasonable amount of time, we placed our order, and this seems to be where things went wrong. Without boring you with all the details, lets just say that things weren’t complicated. Junior Palate ordered his steak without bacon (it was a topping), and I made absolutely no changes to my order. I ordered the exact same meal I ordered two weeks ago-strip sirloin with pepper sauce, sautéed spinach and plain baked potato.
The food came, and there were a number of issues. First, JP’s steak came with the bacon on top. Not sure if this is a service issue, or a kitchen issue, but an issue nonetheless. You faithful readers know that we don’t dig on swine.
My meal was the train-wreck (of course). Two weeks ago, my steak came practically raw, so I sent it back. When they brought the steak back, it was done beyond “medium”, but most of our dining companions were almost done with the meal, so I choked it down. Tonight, it was the opposite-my steak was way overcooked. Oddly, the spinach was plain…as if it was steamed. No oil, no garlic, no flavor. Just steamed, plain. We let the staff know, and they took it away, and said that they would have a replacement out to me “right away”, with a healthy dose of attitude.
I have come to learn that “right away” really means “after everyone else in your party has completely finished their dinner and now will just be staring at you while you eat.” The lapse in time was so ridiculously long that I actually said to Mrs. Palate that I didn’t care if they came back and fed it to me, I was considering just telling them to take it away so we could out of there.
Right when I had given up all hope of eating a decent meal tonight, a gentleman appeared with my food. He looked like a managerial type, so I thought he might be a good person to discuss my disappointment with my experience at the Wildwood, not just tonight, but from 2 weeks ago. The steak also looked good. I was wrong on both counts.
Now, I’ve had a few of these sorts of conversations before. I know, you find it surprising. Usually, it’s more of a monologue, with some dialogue thrown in. I talk, they listen. Apparently, the modus operandi of the Wildwood is to be argumentative. I thought maybe I was mis-reading his affect, and thought he was being partially inquisitive, but I conferred with Mrs. Palate after he left, and she was shocked and put-off by his affect. It takes a lot to put Mrs. Palate off, so I knew I wasn’t mis-reading this. Having been in the restaurant business and having cooked for hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, I understand that the customer does not always understand what goes on in the kitchen; I assure you kind readers, I am not one of those people. I know all too well what happens behind those closed doors, and sometimes it isn’t pretty.
I was explaining was that 2 weeks ago, my steak came out twice on opposite ends of the spectrum, neither being the way I wanted. Note that I like my steak medium, which isn’t, or shouldn’t be, complicated, especially for a place that has “steakhouse” in their name. Lat visit, the steak was rare, and then well done; tonight, it was the opposite-well done and as it turns out, rare enough that I couldn’t eat most of the second steak (I did eat a portion of the steak, because the edge pieces were done, but as you got to the center, I could see that it was just not done, even medium rare). This is just not acceptable, and really requires some serious re-training of the staff. At least give someone a meat thermometer. I cook with one at home…maybe they should try it.
In addition, I pointed out to this gentleman that the spinach was a puzzle to me. I merely ordered it off the menu…nothing special. But it came totally plain, steamed. He was incredulous…that is impossible, because they don’t steam the spinach, he says. “It goes in the pan” was his refrain. Ok, but in the pan usually goes garlic and oil, and maybe salt. What I was saying is that the spinach was just wrong…it was steamed. I picked it up off the plate and felt it. No oil, no garlic, no salt. It was barely wilted, but you could tell water had touched it, but nothing else. Once again he said but “it goes in the pan. We don’t steam the spinach.” Ok, keep saying it enough and maybe you’ll believe it, but I can only repeat myself so much. This had quickly become a waste of time.
What it comes down to is this: when a customer raises an issue, even if you disagree or think you know better, you say “I’m sorry, and I’ll address this with my staff”. Feel free to ignore me when you walk away, but don’t stand there and try to defend/argue. By the way, you won’t win points, or the argument, with me. I’m a professional.
The manager did come back and check on the steak, but about half way through this second steak, I could tell that I couldn’t eat a good portion of this, so when the waitress returned, I just told her to take it away and bring an end to my misery. She offered a free desert, but for reasons known to most, we passed on that, but when she brought the check, she told me that she had taken the steak off the bill. Uh yeah.
Nothing burns me more than playing a premium for dinner, only to leave feeling underfed and underserved. I always say that I would gladly pay full price and tip handsomely rather than leave unfulfilled. Given this evening’s experience, along with the “whelming” meal from two weeks ago, I see no reason to return anytime soon. Tonight’s meal, coupled with the discussion with the manager, left me realizing why it is better to eat at home than waste time (and money) at places like the Wildwood. Stay away, or at least lower your expectations, but expect to open your wallet.
Once again, for a local, expertly executed steakhouse, head to downtown Shrewsbury and enjoy a meal at Willy’s Steakhouse and Sushi.