Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Best can be the Worst

As I’ve been told, I can be a picky diner, but I like to think that I align my expectations to the alleged quality of the place where I am dining.  Obviously, eating at Outback Steakhouse is different from eating at DelFrisco’s…or so I thought.

As the “Summer of Weinsteins” comes to an end (since both kids have been away for 7 weeks), Mrs. Palate and I thought we’d get out for one last fining dining experience.  So, since we had been told some excellent things about it (mostly from my high-end dining son, who went with my mother, and some other charter subscribers of this blog), in celebration of our 21st anniversary last May, we decided to go to the hottest new steakhouse in town, DelFrisco’s, in the new Seaport District.

The experience began with the reservations.  About 10 days prior, I made a reservation, and specifically noted my request for a table on the water, further indicating that this was for a special occasion (anyone who can put up with me for 21 years of marriage, and 24 years total, and counting, is certainly special).  The next day, since I had not received the “Open Table” confirmation, I called DelFrisco’s directly to confirm my reservation, and reiterate my request for a window table with a water view; it was confirmed.  Last Friday, I called to confirm again, and once again, reservation confirmed, with a window/water view.   I figure, I’m set.

So last night, about 2 hours before dinner, we canceled, but with five minutes, renewed the reservation.  When Mrs. Palate renewed it, she once again asked if we could have the window/water view, which she was assured we could.  Off we went, in hungry anticipation.

We arrived, slightly early, and walked along the water for a few minutes (on a boardwalk, because many of you know how much I enjoy sand…not!), and then checked in for our reservation.  We were immediately greeted and taken to our table, which was not on the window, but in the middle of all seating!  To see the water, you needed to crane your neck over and around the people sitting on the window, and the people eating outside!  The level of my displeasure began to rise, and disappointment set in.

Noticing my lack of enthusiasm for our table, the waitress offered to move us, and brought us back to the hostess stand, where we were offered another obstructed view table, this time next to the bar and with its view blocked by a wall, and told that if we didn’t like this table, the wait would be an hour.  So, apparently, they can take a reservation, and promise the water view, but can’t fulfill the request, and heaven help you if you ask for them to…While unhappy, we elect to wait, because a) I don’t want to sit near the bar, and b) I thought an unobstructed view would be nice.

About 10 minutes into waiting, I suggested to Elayne that we leave.  No sooner had I made that comment did “Casey” appear to review what happened, and to discuss how to turn our somewhat negative impression of DelFrisco’s into a fantastic one.  I tell you, she had some work to do.

She told us that we’ll be seated shortly, and she’s putting us into the section of an excellent waiter, “Eric”.  Once seated, Eric came over, and I felt that he would perhaps get this train back on track.  He was loquacious, funny, and knowledgeable, all with an East Boston accent-now we were getting somewhere.  He was very helpful to Elayne, and her food allergies, and offered to get me “half-orders” of the sides I wanted.  When it came time to order my steak, I said “medium”…he asked if I like it “pink all around” and I said “exactly”.  He explained that they refer to their levels of doneness differently, but I was very clear:  I want it pink throughout, as he offered.  I don’t like it red, and I don’t like it brown.  He assured me that it would be exactly how I wanted.  The lesson-do not make promises your kitchen can’t keep.

The bread and salad course was perfectly fine, but unfortunately for me, that was the highlight.  Once my steak was presented, they had me cut into the middle to ensure it was done to my liking…which it was, in the middle.  As soon as I cut into the outer ring (the tastiest part of a ribeye, IMHO), it was totally cooked through and extremely dry.  Immediately seeing it wasn’t done right, Elayne strongly suggested I send it back, and Eric took it back and said he would have them cook me another.  In a prescient moment, I told him to take his time, because Elayne and I agreed that the next steak was coming back rare.

Sure enough, when the server (not to be confused with the waiter) and Eric, the waiter, brought the steak back, and have me cut into it, the big reveal (“bus driver, cut that meat”) shows totally rare on the inside.  Before I can even say anything, Eric says “it’s wrong, take it away”.  Of course, he’s apologetic, but it’s totally not his fault.  He’s working hard, trying to fix this, but the kitchen is failing him at every turn.  A few minutes later, Casey the manager shows up again, and we have the usual and customary discussion when these things happen…”(her) really sorry, yada yada yada… so embarrassed, yada yada yada…(me) how can the premier steakhouse not be able to cook a steak medium, yada yada yada…great waiter, bad hostess and kitchen staff, yada yada yada…”

My steak returns, and anyone can see that it’s changed appearance entirely, and looks totally unappetizing.  Casey is standing there and I say to her that I don’t care how this one is cooked, I’m just eating what I can, because it’s apparent they just can’t do this right.  I showed her the inside, which was on the rosier side of medium (and this is after another visit to the oven), but I tell her that I just want to get on with it so we can leave.  Of course, she’s extremely apologetic, but when it’s all said and done, there’s really nothing left to say and nothing left to do.

Eric comes back, knowing that the meal has been a disaster, and tells us that the entire meal has been comped, and they hope we’ll give them another chance (not sure yet).  He really pushes dessert on us, so we ordered the sorbet, leave him a nice tip, and get ready to go.  But before we can escape, Casey brings a card over for herself and the general manager, and has me fill out a comment card with my name and address, so they can contact me and hopefully convince me to come back.

Now, epilogue, the General Manager did call me, and we had a nice conversation and some email follow-up.    He invited Elayne and me back in to dine with them, so they could prove that they really are the premier steakhouse, both in location and food quality.  Despite the miserable experience, the fact that the GM called and followed-up, coupled with separate apology notes (via snail mail) from both Eric and Casey, really impressed me that they are at least trying hard, and not giving it lip-service.  I will be taking them up on the offer to try it again, and will post accordingly.

Here’s the deal…you want to claim to be the best, then you have to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.  Sure, you have the best view, but if you’re going to charge the price of a tank of gas for an ala carte steak, then you better bring your A-game.  Don’t call yourself a steakhouse and fail to properly cook a steak…don’t take my reservation and tell me I’ll have a window seat and then put me in the middle of the restaurant.  Life is too short to eat bad meals and get treated poorly.

Until next time America…I think I’m staying home.