August 20, 2011

Poor service ruins the fun

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I was meeting up with some friends who I haven't seen for a long time, and they suggested going to Chef Show Time (阿正廚坊).  The restaurant had moved to a new location, and the design of the space seemed better.  Somehow my vague memory tells me that I didn't like this place so much after my last visit.

My friends ordered a bunch of dishes while I stuck to just three.  We decided to share the first few dishes, which were mostly appetizers.

Yam with fish roe (山藥明太子) - more specifically, yamaimo (山藥) with mentaiko (明太子).  A simple dollop of liquid roe on top of raw slices of yamaimo.  Almost too simple.

Grilled king oyster mushroom with tartar sauce (烤杏鮑菇佐塔塔醬) - this was also bite-sized and OK.

Scallop salad with green olive sauce (鮮干貝沙拉佐綠橄欖油醋) - the scallops were pretty decent, and I definitely tasted the fragrance of the olive oil.

Grilled chicken with fresh green pepper (烤土雞腿綠胡椒醬) - I had one little piece and it was kinda tasty from the grilling, although I wasn't able to taste the flavor of the local chicken.  The kitchen used pink peppercorns today...

Bouillabaisse (地中海風味海鮮湯) - the menu says bouillabaisse in English and "Mediterranean-style seafood soup" in Chinese, but knowing this place I expected it to have been adapted to local tastes.  Sure enough, there was a disproportionate amount of tomatoes making the acidity a little higher, and lots of garlic slices.  I was surprised by the amount of saffron stigmas in the stew, making the flavors very prominent on the palate - not that I'm complaining.  No rouille, though...

Braised pork rice Taiwan style (魯肉飯) - I should have looked up the post about my last visit, because I didn't think this rice was anything special then, and it certainly wasn't today.

...and here's where we ran into serious problems.  My dishes all arrived fairly quickly with no problems.  While I was sipping on my bouillabaisse and chowing on the rice, my friends - who turned down my offer to share - waited for more than half an hour for their next course.  We chased the waitstaff repeatedly, only to be told that the cold capellini had been cooked but needed to cool down.  WTF?  I am not a good cook, but I would have thought one just dunked the pasta into a bowl of ice cold water for a rapid cooling, both to make sure it doesn't overcook and also speed up the process.  Why did it take so long?!

...and it gets worse.  When my friends made the reservation, they had reserved one of only three servings per day (what an absolute freakin' gimmick... Three servings a day?! Why bother to serve any at all?!) of the chef's special curry rice with beef (特製牛肉咖喱飯).    Apparently the beef cheek was really tender.  So my friends told the waitress that we wanted this and had ordered it in advance.  It was two hours into dinner and no rice to be found.  We repeated chased the waitress, only to be brushed off casually with nods and verbal acknowledgements.  It just got ridiculous.

In the end we gave up and told the waitstaff to cancel.  We just wanted to get out.  At that point someone a little more senior came to persuade us to stay and wait for it, saying that it will be only 3 minutes away, and that the waitress did not relay our order to the kitchen. WTF?!  Did we not pre-order when the reservation is made?!  Shouldn't the restaurant already know which customers wanted this dish, since they only make all of three servings per day?  How hard is it to keep track of three customers?  And if it only takes 3 minutes to deliver the dish, why did it take so long?!

We insisted on cancelling and getting the bill, since we just wanted to leave.  The restaurant, of course, wanted us to part on good terms so they tried to make things up for us.  They had delivered small servings of homemade marinated cherry tomatoes, which were deliciously sweet.  Then they insisted on comping us dessert, which was sorbet.  Since I am still recovering from a cough, I declined the kind gesture.  I am also a little miffed that the restaurant's not letting me get out of there when I wanted to.  Two minutes later, the waitress returned with a cup of hot yuzu tea.  Maybe they overheard my conversation about the cough and wanted to do something for it.  In the end the chef did come out to apologize for the mistake, which is a good sign.

So... The food was decent as it was last time, but no upside surprises or creativity - which I thought had been the selling point of this place, but perhaps I was mistaken.  Yes, it's a Saturday night and the restaurant was busy... but that doesn't excuse them for letting my friends wait for more than 30-40 minutes for their next dish.  If the food isn't anything special and the service level was way below par, what's there to draw me back to this place?

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