Sunday evening, after a reasonably tasty but expensive dinner of small-plates at Cafe Tu Tu Tango at the Block at Orange, we all wanted dessert. Some opted for Ben & Jerry's; some went for boba tea at Tastea; one person headed for the gelateria. Me, I went to Eurostation, which had opened the previous day.
There were two people standing outside the patio flogging takeout menus on innocent, unsuspecting tourists; there were five waitstaff for a grand total of maybe 20 tables; and four people in the open kitchen, all ready to go.
I was excited to see Belgian fried potatoes (a former staple of outdoor malls in LA thanks to the late-and-oft-lamented Benita's Frites) served with something like 50 different sauces, from 15 kinds of mayonnaise, to curry sauce, to sauce andalouse and Fritessaus. I was excited to see lots of kinds of waffles, and an astonishing array of sweet and savoury crepes. They have panini, too. Lots of them.
I went up and I ordered a Liege waffle (it's lighter and fluffier than your typical Belgian waffle, which Eurostation calls "Brussels style") and a lemon-and-powdered sugar crepe, to go. I had to meet back up with my friends, you see.
I paid my money ($4.95 for the crepe, which is expensive, and $2.95 for a plain Liege waffle, also expensive but not as bad) and stood to the side to watch the magic of the kitchen in action while my food was prepared.
Except I couldn't see anything because all five of the waitstaff were huddled, shoulder-to-shoulder, in front of the big pass-through, waiting for the kitchen staff to get their orders to them. I looked around the sit-down part of the restaurant and realised that only one table out of maybe 15 full tables had any food. Did I mention that they opened the day before?
Slowly -- painfully slowly -- food trickled out of the kitchen. A server would disappear with the food, long enough for me to see the inner workings of the restaurant, and then come back to wait for the cooks to deign to give them their next "order up".
A pair of European women who had ordered behind me were standing near me, watching as the cook on the crepe station, who had two crepe griddles primed and ready, was only able to keep up with one at a time. The orders were filled in the order received, regardless of whether things were hectic or not, or whether a station would be idle. We observed the crepe station cook lounging against the order wheel.
All the food storage was in refrigerators underneath the stations -- except that where ingredients were shared (meat for crepes and panini, for example) they were only in one place, so every time the crepe cook needed meat for a crepe, the panini cook had to stop what he was doing and move out of the way so she could rummage through the fridges.
Twenty minutes passed, then thirty.
"Mais c'est con, j'ai faim!" muttered one of the European women.
"Ils sont dans la merde, voila le probleme," said her companion, fixing an icy stare on the kitchen staff.
Finally, after thirty-five minutes, the manager asked what was wrong.
"J'attends mes gaufres, vous me faites chier!" huffed Eurolady #1.
I translated the first part, opting to acknowledge discretion as the better part of valour with the second part, and added my own protest.
"Lemon crepe and plain Liege waffle," called the manager to the crepe cook, who ignored him.
"LEMON CREPE AND PLAIN LIEGE WAFFLE!" shouted the manager to the crepe cook, who continued to ignore him.
"I have been waiting for forty minutes," said I, "and if I don't get my order in the next ten minutes, you're going to give me my money back."
"We're working on it," said one of the waitresses.
"Horseturds," said I, "it's like watching one of Gordon Ramsay's bloody Kitchen Nightmares," which I translated into French for the benefit of my cohorts in waffle-wanting.
Finally, after forty-eight minutes, I got my food. Each item was packed in an enormous cardboard to-go box, which was tied, and then placed in an even bigger shopping bag (if you've ever been to Bloomingdale's and got the "medium brown bag", you know exactly what I'm talking about), the handles to which were tied together.
I walked all the way to the bench in front of the restaurant, whipped out my pocketknife, bisected the bag (I've no patience with untying any knot more complex than a slipknot) and cracked open the lid on the lemon crepe.
It was stone cold. Thirty seconds after I walked out of the restaurant, the crepe was as cold as a Norwegian witch in a brass brassiere, and it was doubtful whether a lemon had ever been within a half-metre of the crepe. It was dusted with powdered sugar. The bloody f***ing crepe cook gave me a pre-made crepe with no lemon on it. It was my just deserts as a complaining customer, the Crepe of Wrath.
I didn't go in and complain, which perhaps I should have. I still should. I just couldn't bear the thought of being in that den of incompetence for a minute longer, let alone watching them go through all those motions to make me a fresh crepe. I ate the waffle, which was actually very good -- slightly sticky as it should be, light and airy. Obviously not made by the same cook, since I saw one of the waitresses take a pre-made Liege waffle out of the display near the front and fix it up for me. (I'm not complaining about the pre-made waffle, mind you -- that's how it happens in Belgium and in Montreal, too, unless you get extremely lucky.)
I'm going to go back in a month -- if they're still there -- and see if they've managed to work out the kinks. It's a place that I would like to see succeed, because it fills a niche that's been empty since Benita's Frites packed it in. That said, if these people don't get their act together, the space will be as empty as a politician's promises in no time at all. In the meantime, save yourselves the effort, unless you have the time to kill (it would be a great place to catch up on several years' missed connexions with an old friend).
Eurostation Crepes & Waffles
20 City Blvd E, Orange, CA 92868