January 21, 2015

Why a restaurant deserves losing its Michelin star, part 3

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The boss is in town for a quick stop, and we met up with an investor for lunch.  The client asked for a "quiet place where we can talk", so I figured that L'aLtro would be perfect.  It's usually half-empty, and I always thought the food they serve during lunch was pretty decent.  Today, however, there were less than a handful of tables occupied when I arrived, so the place was really quiet...

Salmone, arance, yogurt e cetrioli - cubes of cured salmon, which was slightly on the salty side.  But texture and flavor-wise very solid - pun intended.  I especially liked the thin sliver of candied orange peel, where the sweetness and fragrance really accented the dish.  The thin strips of cucumber were covered in olive oil - very cool and refreshing.  The yogurt naturally complemented the cucumber, and the milkiness and acidity helped neutralize the saltiness of the salmon.  Overall a very well-thought out dish.

But here's where things went wrong.  It's a business lunch, and the boss was doing a lot of talking - and neglecting his food.  While the rest of us finished our starter, the boss had only had time to nibble on his.  The waitstaff took the rest of our plates away while leaving the boss' plate... and the boss continued talking to the client.

Next thing I knew, the waitstaff brought out the main courses - for all of us.  WTF?!  One of the diners is nowhere near finished with his first course, and you decided to send out the main?  So the kitchen is now telling the diners how quickly they should eat?!  And I couldn't believe that this guy just plopped down the plate in front of the boss nonchalantly... as if it were completely normal to do something like that.  Maybe at a Chinese restaurant, but not at a place that used to have a Michelin star.

A word of advice: in a place that thinks of themselves as a fine dining establishment, the pace at which dishes are served is dictated by the diner.  It's the front-of-house's job to cue the kitchen when it's time for the next course to be fired up.  This is a simple task that even regular places like Dan Ryan's or TGI Friday's can get right.

Finally, even the client couldn't hold it in any longer, so he told the staff to take the boss' plate back and keep it warm.  The offending plate was removed, and eventually returned when the boss was just about done with his starter.

Triglia, finocchio e Martini dry - the red mullet fillets were lightly battered on the skin side, then pan-fried.  For some reason, the fish just tasted a little off.  I did like the quenelles of fennel mash, and the Martini dry foam was interesting.

Decent (but slightly disappointing) food today, and subpar service.  Zero tip given today on top of the customary service charge.

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