NOTE: I never write negative blogs. If I don’t like a restaurant or have bad service, I will typically not write about it at all preferring to focus on the positive aspects of my foodie life. There are certainly plenty of other critics out there who do it much better. But in this case, I felt the need to spotlight and critique a recurring experience in the hopes that it might be helpful to all participants involved in the vein of Einstein’s famous quote about insanity being the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Maybe my two cents, combined with the general input across the blog waves, Yelp currents and other food media rumbles will come in handy to the Los Angeles tourism arm that puts so much effort into dineLA.
The Cute Gardener and I avidly engage in the Los Angeles culinary scene as well as support the efforts of its hardworking chefs. You need only take one glance through the archives of this blog to see proof as I tend to write about one or two new restaurants in the area that we visit on a weekly basis. A large part of our combined monthly budget goes towards boosting this sector of our economy and we tend to participate in dineLA when it rolls around twice a year offering set menus at a fixed price for patrons who want to try out new eateries. This year though, we’ve come to the conclusion that we may have had enough of this discount promotional spree after two out of our three experiences these past two weeks have left a bitter taste in our mouths.
To sum up our frustrations, I will begin with the wonderful welcome we received to Stefan’s at L.A. Farm last night, in which we walked up to a truly nonchalant hostess who quite audibly said to the girl who came to lead us to a table: “Put them anywhere.” And that she did, right at the first table in her line of sight, even though we were preferred Open Table diners and then the evening proceeded to spiral downward from there.
To be fair here, we love Stefan, or at least were highly entertained by his rambunctious personality as we watched Top Chef’s last run. We liked his cantankerous humor and his adventurous yet homey dishes and were looking forward to trying out his restaurant. Seeing it on the dineLA roster motivated us to get there more quickly and we were anticipating the tasting menu for $45 a person, something we might not have otherwise tried at this time in lieu of our existing list of restaurants to visit.
The minute we sat down, before we could even look at the cocktail list, a brusque waiter was breathing over us asking what we wanted to drink. When we said we needed a minute to look, he was back in less than a minute, and seeing that we were still looking at the menu, he said, “In my male opinion, you should just get two of everything, that’s the best bet.” He was talking about the dinner menu, which we clearly hadn’t gotten to yet, and when we looked up at him befuddled, he asked, “So should I just get that started for you?” He was referring to the dineLA menu, which was the only offering this evening in the restaurant, which differed from most other LA restaurants that offer the dineLA menu side by side with their normal menu. We felt like we were the contestants with bad body odor at a speed dating event. “Put them anywhere” was our first signifier of this but then it went on to include other things like being served plates at breakneck speed, some coming in the hands of the same person who would retrieve the empty ones on the table; tiny two bite portions of the six course dinner; the absence of our waiter during our entire meal as if to say he didn’t imagine we would want anything else like a second glass of wine or need anything else like a new fork for a new course. At one point, the CG had to swipe a fork off a nearby table, as it was clear there was never going to be a replacement. Although the waiter passed our table many times, I had to physically say excuse me to him for another glass of Pinot Gris mid-meal. He did become rather attentive as our dessert plates were placed down, bringing another bottle of water over to fill our glasses when we had nothing else to eat that would parch our thirst further. It was one of the worst experiences I have had in a long time.
Coming in second to that experience was the dineLA lunch at Café Bizou the weekend prior where we were served scorching stuffed mushrooms that contrasted grossly with the cold and gel-like balsamic glaze on the haphazardly sloppy plate and a bowl of French onion soup with a slab of white cheese across the top carrying nary a broiler bubble and non-caramelized onions.
Again, to be fair, I will admit that we also dined at The Palm Restaurant to kick off this jaunt and had a wonderful meal. But while there, we did have to ask for the dineLA menu, which was not offered up to us upon seating. This is another common trait of restaurants during this time that only makes us diners feel like we are “less” than when we have to ask for the special cheap menu after the server has spent two minutes describing the night’s specials. And even though we usually tip on the price of what the meal would have been without the discount, we may become potentially prequalified in the server’s eyes due to our dineLA participation and treated as such, which is yet another humbling experience.
Whole roasted beef tenderloin with parsley mash, onion ragout
and sauce gribiche and pork tenderloin with dark beer sauce
and apple and parsnip ragout
At the end of our meal last night, we glanced back on the past two years that we have attempted to enjoy dineLA and noticed that the trend continued. Last year there was a bland and unattended to dinner at Chinois that didn’t live up to my hyped up expectations of Wolfgang Puck’s widely touted Chinese and some unmemorable moments at other restaurants that any other time on any other non-discount oriented visit might have pleased me plenty. So I am completely confused as to why chefs, owners and/or restaurateurs of great places even choose to participate in this attempt to put the dining scene in a favorable light when that light is continually dimmed in lieu of unfavorable experiences?
My question to some of these restaurateurs is this:
If it is a pain in the ass to get your server’s to act amicably and professionally when they are expecting less tips based on lower bills …
If it is a pain in the ass to serve people you consider lower than your regular guests because in your eyes they are “just trying to get a deal” and therefore deemed unimportant to impress as you don’t expect them to ever come back and pay the normal price…
If it is a pain in the ass to cook large amounts of certain items on a separate parallel menu for potential new regulars to your establishment for a two-week period …
And if it is difficult to cook food of the same quality that you would normally cook on any other given day …
… then why in the world participate in the first place? If it’s just for the PR, then do you falsely believe that even bad PR is good PR?
Because it’s not.
The saddest thing about all of this is the fact that we loved Stefan’s food so much last night (which is why I have gladly showcased it here to illustrate this blog) but we will truly never go back, not with service like that. And I’m pretty sure that defeats the purpose of dineLA’s mission in the first place – that of showcasing the best food that L.A. has to offer by putting each restaurant’s best foot forward.