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Friday, March 7, 2014

March's Secret Subject Swap - Restaurant Reviews

Welcome to March’s Secret Subject Swap. Again 14 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts.

Here are links to all the sites now featuring Secret Subject Swap posts.  
Sit back, grab a cup - or in my case today, a glass - and check them all out:



                                    
My subject is 

What are the best and worst experiences you've had in a restaurant?




It was submitted by Dinosaur Superhero Mommy - thank you!

Back when I was working for Starbucks we would often discuss customer feedbacks during our management meetings, mainly in order to take action if it was a poor one. Occasionally there was a positive review, but as a rule of thumb the ratio was 9:1 in favor of the "beverage was not right, price too steep and service rude" kind.

I guess this is why I knew immediately what I was going to write in terms of "worst restaurant experience", but it took me a while - and a recent dinner out - to determine the best one.

Here goes:

PÖSTLI MAGDEN (no website, they have gone out of business)

Early 1990s, a time before mobile devices, therefore no food pics. The end of the money usually happened before the end of the month, but for my father's 50th birthday, I wanted to treat my parents to a dinner at a fancy gourmet mecca with some 15 Gault Millau points. The whole experience was influenced, if not clouded, by one lady, I think she was the owner's / chef's wife.

Welcome
"Hi, how are you? Let me take your jacket!" It was a blazer, I was only wearing an airy top underneath, and it was rather cool in that restaurant. "I'll keep it on, thank you." She gave me that look that felt like "don't come crying to me if you get hot."
When I made the reservation for the table, I mentioned that we were going to celebrate a big birthday. They never even said so much as "happy birthday."

Menu
As far as I can remember, there was yummy stuff on it. The only thing I do clearly recall is the surprise dessert that came with the remark "prepared freshly, takes 30 minutes, order ahead". I do remember so distinctly because the lady asked if were interested in ordering it even before taking our beverage order. She would ask again when taking the appetizer order, when bringing the entree and finally when it was actually time for the dessert order. By which time we were even more fed up than curious about what that surprise dessert was all about!

Food Quality / Presentation
Again, as far as I can remember, the food was good. No idea what we had. That's sad, really.

Wine
My father is the most knowledgable wine connoisseur you can imagine. He can smell on a wine glass, take a sip and tell you what country and region that wine is from, what grape species or blend this particular wine is made of and what vintage it most probably is. He and his wine friends will spend hours doing just that. 
So the lady brought wine glasses. They were full of water drops. "What the h* happened here?" Dad asked. "I rinsed them", she said. Yeah, we could see that. How about drying them, too? She got the bottle and opened it at our table. I guess this was to make sure we'd get an unopened bottle. It was an aged wine, and as the daughter of someone who knows, I felt she should decant it first in order to retain sediments, and then let sit for a while, so the tannins could smooth out. Just before she started pouring the wine in the first glass, my father stopped her. "Would you happen to have a carafe?" 


She was grumbling but went and got one. By the end of our meal the carafe was empty. Guess what she did? Poured what little was left in the bottle in a glass that still contained good wine. The whole sediments we wanted to separate so carefully were swimming in the wine now. Her comment? "That's the spice of life." 

Ambiance
Do you know this restaurant where you walk in and feel cozy immediately? Yeah, me, too. But that wasn't one of them. For my taste it was a bit too functional. Everything was neat and clean, but there was no atmosphere, no warmth.

Overall Service
The basics were OK. We got what we ordered within a reasonable time. It's just that a dining experience is much nicer when you feel like your server actually cares about you. Especially when the time comes to ask for the check. The price was stiff. In particular for an experience that was more than disappointing. 

Fast forward 20+ years. Now I know this sounds harsh. We did have excellent restaurant experiences in-between. I was going to write about one that lied somewhere in the middle on the time line, the Yipee-ei-oh! Steakhouse in Tusayan, AZ - you can't miss it if you have  Grand Canyon accommodation:

For tourists like us it's the ultimate Western experience. Haystacks, saddles, cowgirl waiters
If I had one complaint it'd be the tacky tray they use to present the dessert choice
But let's not get carried away, I wanted to tell you about the place we celebrated hubby's recent birthday with friends. It's a hotel / restaurant in the North-Western part of Switzerland. I mention this because I feel the gastronomy in Europe is so different from the U.S. We have tons of restaurants which are independently owned. There is often no "concept" where positioning, training and interior design are concerned. If it isn't an Italian, Mexican or Chinese restaurant, it may be called "Sonne" or "Kreuz", offer a variety of dishes, and the service may be good or not, you can't know unless you go there frequently.


BAD BUBENDORF

Welcome
Upon checking in they wished my husband a happy birthday and mentioned that cocktails were on the house and they'd give us an upgrade on the hotel room. Friendly small talk, smiling all the time. 

Menu
Reasonable variety of dishes, not too "special". It makes me suspicious when there is too much talk about "hand picked, organic sun grown tomatoes from Southern Tuscany", you know what I mean. 

Food Quality / Presentation
No words. Just enjoy this picture:



Wine
Again, no words necessary. Just one comment between you and me: I may have had a little too much! I even confessed that I made a mistake when I wrapped hubby's birthday presents. I used self-made paper with pictures showing his age. Like the number of an interstate freeway or of a hockey player's jersey. Only that I used the wrong number and had to do it all over when I noticed!!! As I made him younger, he was quite amused about it. 



Ambiance
White tablecloths, candles, a few flowers, soft cushions, subtle music, the whole nine yards. There was no crackling fire, though. But it totally felt like there was one! With the amount of wine in my system After that busy week I wouldn't have minded to lie down on that couch-like comfy bench and take a nap.

Overall Service
Most restaurants have a kids' menu, and many bring paper placemats and crayons.
This restaurant asks the kids if they would like to wear a chef's hat and come to the kitchen to see if their pirate pasta was cooked to perfection!


This restaurant lights a candle for the birthday guest.

This restaurant staff goes out of their way to make sure you do nothing else but enjoy your stay.

This restaurant offers the ladies a single rose before going home. 

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Concluding, I think it's safe to say that people can make or break a restaurant's success. I was trying to come up with a restaurant that offers food that is so good that you don't care about the people who serve it. There's maybe that cordon-bleu place not far from our home.



But frankly I prefer to call ahead, pick it up and eat at home, because not only do the waitresses have no clue, and the wait is long, but the furnishing is terrible. In all fairness I'll have to mention that they are probably aware of it. Their slogan is "guet, gnueg, günstig" which stands for "good, enough, cheap " - a promise they keep!

PS: I am getting hungry here. How about you?