I went to EVOO for my birthday dinner, and was initially very excited. I'd never been before, but have wanted to try it for a long time. My boyfriend made reservations.
We showed up and our table wasn't ready. This hasn't really happened to me before at other places, but ok, things happen, this was probably out of their control. 20 minutes later, we can see two two-tops set and ready for customers, but the hostess is getting coats for someone, then leisurely helping set a 4-top, then getting another customer her coat, and by then my boyfriend and I are standing up, wondering if she's ever going to seat us, because the small waiting area is pretty packed.
We get seated and the hostess mumbles, "sorry for the wait," and she's off. Because we've had so long to look at the menu while we were waiting, we both already know what we want to order. Eventually a waitress kind of ambles by, walks past our table, then stops short and turns around and comes back to us and says she'll be our waitress and do we want still or sparkling water?
We make our water selection, and I tell her we're ready to order. She does not write anything down as we order, which for some reason appears to be de rigeur at "nicer" restaurants, but always makes me paranoid they're going to get something wrong.
I am lactose-intolerant, so I need to check if the sides that come with my preferred entree have cheese or cream in them. I ask if the chicken chorizo risotto is made with Parmesan cheese. She says no. I ask about the "creamy tomato salad" and if there is a way to have it without the cream, and before I've even gotten out my question, she says there is no way they can make it without cream. But they can give me a different vegetable instead.
When she comes back with the water, she tells me the risotto does have cheese and they'll give me more vegetables instead. Then she says that the bread basket will be brought with some oilive oil, balsamic vinegar and cheese, but that she'll be right behind the bread guy with a dip without cheese. I don't hear this part clearly, and it's my own fault for not asking for clarification, but I'm so confused as to why they can't just bring me the cheese-free thing in the first place that I don't really hear what she's said until she's gone.
Bread arrives-- bread sticks with some cheese and salt on them, which the bf pronounes very good, and some plain white bread. Dip arrives with it, and I eat it anyway because we're both initially under the impression that the white flecks in it are garlic, not cheese.
We consume the entire bread basket and my boyfriend has finished all his water before we spot the waitress again. She confirms she meant to bring us cheese-free dip and says she will get us some immediately even though I say not to bother anymore since I've already eaten it.
Appetizers arrive and are set in front of the wrong person by a server, not our waitress. Not a big deal, but when entrees are brought by a different server and again set in front of the wrong person, this seems weird to me. I mean, even Applebee's gets this right.
Pete and Jen's pig pate is fabulous, though I could have used twice the amount of bread that comes with it. Pate is perfectly seasoned and the dollop of grape jelly that sits on top of it goes very well with it. Appetizer of 3 different spring rolls is unremarkable. Cute idea, cute presentation, but we had no idea what most of the fillings were, and the boyfriend appeared to enjoy the garnishes (parsley, mint, basil, lettuce) more than the actual spring rolls, and normally he shuns all vaguely-vegetal items.
Entrees arrive. My arctic char has the creamy tomato salad sitting on top of it, and so I go to the manager and explain, as nicely and politely as I can, that it is my birthday and this is my birthday dinner and the service has been bad so far, and that I would like this night to be salvaged, if at all possible. The manager does everything right-- she immediately takes my entree away for a re-do, even gives us a new waiter though I say that's not necessary, apologizes profusely, and later comps my meal.
Boyfriend finishes his meal before I get my new plate. Chicken breast -- tender, yet lacking some tiny flavor that would have put it over the top (perhaps a sweeter, stronger sauce?). Broccoli rabe which he ignores, though I think he picks out and eats the bits of bacon scattered throughout, polenta which he says is very crispy on the outside, smooth on the inside, and good.
My arctic char returns, accompanied by bacon-less broccoli rabe, a piece of fried zucchini, tomato salad minus the cream (look at that, it CAN be made without cream!). Everything tastes fine, and it is not the manager's fault that by now, my stomach has twisted itself into knots of anxiety from having to say anything, from having to say it in front of my boyfriend, from having made the birthday take on too much importance in my mind, from wondering if I have totally overreacted.
We leave after I've taken a few bites of my meal, and skip dessert, because I just want to go home.
Lessons learned: tell restaurants about my lactose intolerance ahead of time by making the reservations myself, and don't risk trying a restaurant for the first time on an important occasion. I'm kind of wishing I could have a do-over on this one.