Hmmmm . . . it's often the little things that make or break a restaurant, and therefore the evening. Let's take Bice, which doesn't rhyme with "dice," but rather sounds like the whore in Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria" calling someone a "bi(t)c(h)e" in a heavy Italian accent . . .
In San Diego for a conference, we delve into the Gaslamp -- where parking can indeed be a bi(t)c(h)e -- and are greeted with $20 valet parking. OK, to the best of my recollection, your honor, the most I've ever paid in San Francisco for valet parking is $12. AND the valet wants to be paid NOW, rather than having the charge added to our bill (as is often -- though admittedly, not always -- the case in San Francisco).
Minus 1 star for exorbitant parking fees.
We walk in five minutes before our scheduled reservation time, having driven in straight from the airport. First impression? We're in the wrong place. Not only is there a horde (12+) of people crowded in front of the doorway, all smoking like chimneys, but walking inside, it feels like a rave! The throbbing pulse of the music makes conversation all but impossible, and there are too many $400 pairs of shoes and $200 silk blouses paired with too many faded jeans -- oh, wait: that costs extra, too. OK, but the crowd around the hostess' desk is three deep as I wait my turn to check in. No one is moving. The hostess picks up some menus and leaves; no one follows her as she disappears into the throng. The manager comes to the front desk and, seeing no hostess, shrugs his shoulders and leaves -- perhaps to find her. (This happened at least three times that I saw.)
When I finally am able to say "I have a reservation," it is now five minutes *after* our reservation time. "Twenty minutes," the hostess tells me, and disappears through the bar and into the dining room.
Twenty minutes pass. I ask the hostess -- when I can find her -- how much longer until we get a table, she tells me there are three more tables ahead of us. When I ask her what's the point of having a reservation?, she calmly explains to me that they seat people in order of their check-in (not their reservation time?), and then seats another party.
Minus 1 star for poor staff training in the front of the house.
Plus 1 star for good cocktails, however.
Hostess comes over and says our table "is now empty, they are just cleaning it; it will be three minutes" as she seats another party. And another party. And another party. FINALLY, more than 40 minutes after our scheduled reservation, we are shown to our table.
Minus 1 star for over-booking tables, and having no mechanism for dealing with irritated customers.
We are seated, and given menus, but no wine list -- this for a restaurant that prominently features wines both in its design and on its award-winning list.
Minus one-half star for needing to ask for the wine list.
The prix fixe menu for "Restaurant Week" was unappealing, so we waded into the regular menu. We started with two antipasti -- an Eggplant Parmigiana that was excellent, and a stunning 24-month aged Prosciutto with a beautiful burrata that was outstanding.
Plus 1 star for the great food.
Sadly, the food went downhill from there. The Caesar salad was mediocre at best; boring, lifeless -- and what's with no pepper (either on the table, or with a pepper mill)? The restaurant was out of the Veal Chop Milanese, and so I opted for the steak to accompany my Barbaresco. It was "good," nothing more than that, and ultimately it, too, boring -- no spark, no "twist" to enliven it and make it stand out. The steak was apparently for people who don't like Italian food, rather than being an Italian classic -- it was steak and mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, nothing more than that. The sauce did nothing for the steak, and the thin slice of foie gras was tasteless.
Minus 1 star for the boring food. (Bad food is someone was having a off night; boring food is someone who doesn't care.)
One of the often highlighted features of this restaurant is their "cheese bar." It *did* look great. But we had to ask to see the list of available cheeses twice. Minus one-half star.
I don't know why this restaurant is so highly rated. Too much was wrong here for it to be just an off night. Perhaps if I lived in San Diego, and friends wanted to go here, I'd give it another chance, but in town for a conference? I won't be back . . .
BICE - San Diego
425 Island Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101