Went to the chef's whim for the first time this evening. Dining after 21:00 as a family would normally be a no no, but with my wife and daughter out of town, I took the opportunity to give this a go. It also gave me a chance to check out the service issues posted on a recent thread, since I had not dined at Craigie for some months.
My reservation was for 21:30, and I showed up just after 21:20. When the reservation was being confirmed yesterday, I was asked if I would like to sit at the 'chef's table', overlooking the kitchen. Since I was dining alone, I said yes. So when I arrived, I was asked if I would mind sitting at the bar since I was early -- and so I could order a drink. I became concerned that my table wasn't ready, and asked when it might be cleared -- at which point the maitre d' said the table _was_ ready, but they like to start the whim service 'bang on time'. I thought this was a cheap ploy to get me to order a drink, and when I looked non-plussed, they did seat me promptly.
Both upon entry, and several times after I sat (when I was eventually asked for my order), I was asked if I wanted the 'standard six course' or 'abbreviated 4 course', the latter said with some disdain. I asked for the 4 course anyway, at which point I was asked which sides I wanted -- the bone marrow or zucchini something. Since I was aware of this upsell scam from the other thread, I just paused, and after a while, the waitress, seemed to crack and confessed that there was a $10 charge/side. At no time was I told the different prices for the 2 'whims' on offer, nor did I ask, since I had already checked it out beforehand. In fact, the whole upselling thing was rather a bore, since it reared its head throughout the meal.
A rather substantial bread basket was brought, and then a server brought me "the first course": which was a tiny portion of squid cut into thin strips. To be fair, it was exquisitely delicious, all half a mouthful of it. The next course, a hamachi sashimi was sl. more substantial, about 2 mouthfuls, but by this time I was getting concerned that the 'abbreviated' meal really was second class in comparison, and I was going to leave hungry -- so I started munching down the sl. stale bread. The third course was 2 large prawns, with a mango salsa or something. I was re-assured that the shrimp were from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, and not from the gulf, which I smirked at. Unlike most shrimp I've eaten the last few years, these were really flavourful and meaty. I devoured them, and mopped up the meagre sauce with bread, thinking I'm paying about $10/ mouthful for this meal!
When they put out a meat knife for the next course, I wondered whether the 'first course' of the squid was rather an amuse bouche, and slowed down on the bread basket. This next course was a duo of veal -- what looked like loin and sweet-breads. This was a complex dish with all sorts of ingredients to it -- it took about 10 minutes to assemble, with 4 different chefs adding a small piece here and there. And it was delicious. By this time, the annoyances were starting to fade, and the food, rightly was taking centre stage.
The final, dessert course, was grits with ice-cream and raspberries. I'm not really into dessert, and less so into grains for my dessert, but it was again, very tasty, surprisingly so. By this time I was full. Satisfyingly full. Although the bone-marrow looked wonderful, I'm glad I passed it up, because it would have been too much (even without all the extra bread). All in all, the meal came to just over $60, including tax and tip, with a 'mocktail' and a tea thrown in, which I thought was good value.
Annoyances: the whole pretentious thing. You're given a card and pencil to write your own 'notes' on the meal, which I did, since there was little else to amuse me. I also planned my week ahead, but still, it's a bit much. The whole 'whim' idea is sold that that chef decides what to cook for _you_ that evening, but in reality, everyone got the same thing -- it was regimented very much like a factory line, and explained possibly, in part, the reluctance to have me seated early. I would rather they call it a fixed price meal with no choices and no substitutions, and let you have a menu. The air of mystique isn't really required.
Secondly, the upselling was really too much. I've dined at pretty fancy places, and paid many times the price of this meal, but never felt I was a second class citizen for ordering less than the most expensive menu except for here. It was irritating to say the least. The service itself was fine -- my water glass was filled frequently, even the butter was replenished without needing to ask. But it was all a bit perfunctory. The servers asked how I thought each course was, but weren't really waiting to hear the answer, just ticking a box. I'm not asking to be their best friend, but especially when I've dined alone at upscale establishments, unless it's clear I'm not in the mood to talk, there has been rather more engagement with the staff, which is part of the fun.
However, the food really was very good. The squid, the shrimp and the veal in particular.
But cost aside, the lack of real warmth from the staff make it difficult for it contend as a place one would like to go as a regular.