In January, I placed a call to Vincent’s on Camelback to secure a reservation in February. The person who answered my call said that the time and date I was looking at was available and I thanked her and asked for a romantic table as J. and I would be celebrating our fourth anniversary of being engaged. We chatted a few moments and I confirmed my reservation for 8:30 PM on a Saturday evening in February.
Vincent’s on Camelback has been a Valley powerhouse for fine dining for decades. Vincent is considered one of the premier chefs and restaurateurs in Phoenix metro and his awards and accolades speak volumes about his ability to create a warm atmosphere with great food and stellar service.
What occurred from the onset of our visit to Vincent’s on Camelback until we left the restaurant campus still has J. and I scratching our heads, venting our frustrations to friends, and wondering how our excursion to one of Phoenix’s prime dining experiences turned out so poorly.
In order to give a full accounting of what occurred, I have asked J. to add running commentary and observations. J.’s comments are set below in brackets.
We pulled into the parking lot of Vincent’s at 8:26 PM, just a few minutes shy of our reservation time. The valet handed me our ticket and we entered the restaurant. Directly ahead of us was the tiny hostess station sitting directly in front of the bar which spanned the wall. We approached the station and I thought we were going to have to wait for the hostess because the only person in the area was someone we thought was a patron at the bar. It turned out that the person at the bar was actually the hostess. We were a bit caught off guard by this as the hostess looked like she was wearing a jogging suit, which is why we thought she might have been a patron. The bartender and the waiters were all in tuxedo wear, which is why we thought she was a patron. Honestly, she looked like she had just come from a tennis lesson.
She asked for my name and I gave it to her. She scanned the reservation book and then marked my name. She suddenly looked up and abruptly said, “Take a seat in the lounge!”
[I do recall thinking that she wasn’t particularly “hostess-like” in her demeanor as well. That, combined with the fact that she looked like she was at the bar as a patron, rather than there as the hostess, was the first thing that made my sense for trouble start to catch my attention. - J.]
There was no invitation to take a seat in the lounge. There was no invitation to get a drink at the bar. There wasn’t even a simple explanation as to why we were not being taken immediately to our table, but were instead being ordered to sit in the lounge.
[The lounge was pretty typical for a lounge, with the exception of the wall against which the piano was settled. It was a cement-and-grey brick wall, with random spots of wood popping out. I commented more than once to Seth that it looked like the wall of a castle to me. - J.]
We took a seat on a love seat in the lounge and listened to the piano player. We waited for the Maitre d’ or the hostess to show up to seat us. And then we waited some more and some more. At 8:50 PM, a gentleman stopped and asked us if we were waiting for a table. I told him we were waiting for our table and he departed. About five minutes after that, another gentleman arrived and told us out table would be ready “shortly.” By this time, other couples were now sitting in the lounge waiting for their tables as well, one of which also had an 8:30 PM reservation.
[It felt like we were being ignored, frankly. I thought that maybe the hostess or someone decided to make us wait extra long, as I know at least two couples who arrived after us were seated before we were. - J.]
We were finally directed to our table at just past 9:00 PM, more than 30 minutes past our reservation. There were no explanations and no apologies. I am not someone who expects something gratis when reservation times are missed, but not having anyone even offer assurance that they were aware of what was going on was beyond the pale.
[Both Seth and I were wondering if we’d mistaken our reservation time. My trouble meter was starting to make its presence known at this point. And yet… - J.]
As we were seated at our table, I noticed that the table was still being set. We had two forks, two knives and two mismatched wine glasses. After we sat down, the other pieces of the table were delivered piecemeal. Three different people visited our table before we had bread plates, napkins and the rest of our stem- and flatware.
[Of the four glasses on our table, two matched. I thought to myself “Those must be the water glasses, and the other two are a red and white wine glass…odd, but I can see the logic.” Which was great, until one of the wait staff filled the two mismatched glasses with water. All sense of logic flew out the window, and I mentally rolled my eyes and decided to just go with the flow, in hopes things would even out once the food arrives. - J.]
After waiting for about five minutes, a waiter approached our table and asked if anyone had taken our drink order. [Key words: “A waiter.” - J.] Indicated no one had, he took our order. J. had an Iced Tea ($3.00) and I had a Diet Coke ($3.00). Another five minutes passed and a second waiter arrived offering to take our drink order. We indicated we already had placed an order and he asked if we would like to place our dinner order. That would have been nice. However, I prefer to review a menu first. Since we didn’t have any, that wasn’t possible. He left. A third waiter arrived bringing us menus.
[I don’t have as broad an experience as Seth does with restaurants, so my experience had always been one, maybe two waiters, who worked in tandem to make sure everything ran smoothly. So far, we’d seen three different waiters, and none of them seemed to have any idea what the others were doing. - J.]
A fourth waiter appeared and brought us our drinks and water. He then departed and a fifth waiter arrived [fifth! - J.], delivering us a basket of bread and a ramekin of butter. The basket contained two types of bread: small croissants and thick slices of a chewy baguette. Both were very good, but the croissants were especially tasty. Unfortunately, the butter was rock hard. J. ended up scraping the butter in thin layers to get it to a consistency where it could be spread on the bread.
[Seth can thank his having bought me a book on baking for Christmas, since they discuss how to soften up butter prior to using it in various dishes. It wasn’t the best method, nor the cleanest, but frankly, I’d rather have a slightly messier bread plate and soft butter than a clean plate and bread that’s been torn to pieces while I tried to butter it. - J.]
At this point, the second waiter reappeared and asked if we were ready to place our order. We were, so we made the following choices: For our appetizer, we decided to split the Shrimp Beignets with Lavender Dressing ($14.00). I selected the Pear Salad with Spicy Pecans, Blue Cheese and Garlic Parmesan Crisps ($12.50). J. went with the Lobster & Tomato Salad ($19.00). The entrees we selected were the Duck Confit with Fingerling Potatoes ($30.00) and the Grilled Wild Boar Loin ($31.00). Our waiter departed to place our order.
A sixth waiter arrived about five minutes later and asked if we are ready to order. It was clear at this point that no one in the dining room was communicating with anyone else. Several minutes later one of our earlier waiters asks if we are having wine with dinner. “Yes,” I indicated.
“Would you like me to get you a wine list?” he asks.
Is this guy for real? Of course we want a wine list. Was he expecting that I knew what the restaurant had in the wine cellar or was I just supposed to rattle off a few of my favorite wines until he said they had it in stock? He disappeared and some other waiter returned minutes later with a wine list. Who was our waiter? Did anyone in the entire restaurant know? J. and I still don’t know.
[I’m fuming at this point. Even if all six waiters were sextuplets who had telepathic powers amongst themselves, I wouldn’t have seen any good reason to have all these people waiting on one freaking table for two! I was tired of playing Waiter Roulette, and I was really tired of having to deal with Waiter #4 asking me the same questions than Waiters #3 and #1 had asked no more than five minutes prior. However, I didn’t want to indicate this to Seth, because maybe he was less frustrated with it than I was. He sure looked like he was, at the time. Obviously, though, that’s wasn’t the case. - J.]
We waited about 15 minutes and our Shrimp Beignets with Lavender Dressing arrived. They had split the order onto two plates. Each plate consisted of three large shrimp that had been breaded with a beignet batter and fried golden brown. They were arranged around a small pile of mixed greens that have been lightly dressed with a vinaigrette. A stalk of endive had been set at the top of the greens and held a dollop of a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce for the shrimp. I grabbed my first shrimp, dunked it in the sauce and took a bite. The taste was decent. Perhaps if they had not been cold the flavor would have been more than “decent.” The sauce was flavorless and the dressing on the greens lacked anything resembling lavender. But I did notice one over-arching flavor and that was one of salt. Prior to plating, the dish had been sprinkled with course salt. Therefore, everything was salty. Everything.
[Confession time: I’ve been fighting a cold all week. I had it prior to going to Arizona, the entire time I was there, and I am still fighting off the remnants of it. I frankly couldn’t taste much of anything. Having said that, I could tell the beignets were room temperature at best, and the dressing reminded me of mayonnaise. Texture-wise, mouth feel, everything told me that I was dunking my beignets in mayo. I thought that maybe I’d missed the lavender because it was more subtle than my physical state would allow me to pick up. - J.]
One of the waiters returned to our table and took our wine order. We ordered two glasses of a mid-priced champagne ($10.00 each) to celebrate our anniversary. The waiter retreated from our table and J. and I started talking about other plans for the weekend. We talked a lot about things because our salads and champagne are nowhere to be found.
[Sick or not, I’m starving at this point. I understand not wanting to crowd the courses together, but the wait was ridiculous - J.]
After a 15-to-20 minute wait, our champagne arrives. The two glasses are sparkling with the bubbles from the champagne and we take our sips. It was very good champagne and at the right temperature. We both were hoping that things were starting to look up. Then, our salads arrived.
[The Lobster and Tomato Salad had a number of pieces of lobster scattered about with greens and heirloom tomatoes. It also included the empty head of the lobster, which was an interesting presentation. Taste-wise, again, not sure. Everything seemed fresh, and it was very pretty, since I’m a fan of heirloom tomatoes. However, I was somewhat underwhelmed that I didn’t get more lobster meat in the salad. I wasn’t expecting the salad to be overflowing with meat, but for $19.00, I would have hoped that there would be more than a few small pieces throughout the entire salad. To make things even better, I went looking around the table for the salt and pepper shakers, so I could sprinkle some on my tomatoes. Guess what wasn’t anywhere near the table. - J.]
My Pear Salad arrived at the same time as J.’s lobster salad. I thought my order was wrong because I didn’t see any pears or pecans. What I saw was a pile of mixed greens, two stalks of endive in the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions and a rather large blob of blue cheese crumbles sitting on top of the salad. I took a bite and the greens were good and the blue cheese was fine, but I couldn’t find any existence of the pears or the pecans. I pushed my fork down to the bottom of the pile and finally found the pears and pecans, which were minuscule compared to the greens and blue cheese. This salad should have been called the Blue Cheese and Mixed Greens salad. I mixed the salad to incorporate everything and discovered after-the-fact that this was a mistake because the salad plate had been sprinkled with the course salt like the appetizer plate had been, so everything tasted salty.
At this point, J. and I were extremely uncomfortable and, while I can’t speak for J., I, for one, toyed with the idea of just telling one of our myriad of waiters to cancel our orders, and then I would take J. over to Delux.
[In retrospect, I wish I’d spoken up to indicate that I’d have been quite happy with a Delux burger followed by a trip to Arlecchino’s compared to this. - J.]
We waited another 20 minutes before our entrees arrived. They were delivered by someone we hadn’t seen before. Well, at least we were going to meet the entire staff before the end of the evening.
[In the waiters’ defense, they were at least… non-confrontational. A bit formal and stiff, but polite. However, I’d still have preferred to not feel like someone was in the back rolling a die around to determine who was going to hit us up next.
My Wild Board was just not inspirational at all. For what I was paying, I was hoping to have more than 8 pieces the size of a peanut shell. However, I figured that maybe it would have a nice wild taste to it.
It tasted like pork roast. There was nothing there to indicate to me that it was anything beyond a pork roast. Talk about disappointing. And to tell you how unmemorable it is? I can’t begin to tell you what my sides were. All I remember was there was more substance to the sides than to the main part of my meal.
I offered a piece to Seth, to see if he would have been interested in trying it…maybe I was missing something because I wasn’t feeling well. He declined. - J.]
My Duck Confit with Fingerling Potatoes was two duck leg and thigh pieces stacked on top of each other and surrounded by a couple of sliced fingerling potatoes, sautéed vegetables, and a reduction sauce. The duck is fall-off-the bone tender but the taste is exceptionally one-dimensional. I have had duck confit several times in the past and I have always found the duck to be rich, moist and full of flavor with hints of herbs and spices that bring the full flavor of the preserved duck to its apex. This duck confit was boring. The taste was no different than if I had ordered roasted, sliced duck meat from the thigh. The vegetables and potatoes were good, but, as with the salad and appetizer, someone in the kitchen thought that the first step in plating anything was to liberally sprinkle course salt on the serving dish. I pushed the dish aside and told J. I was skipping dessert. There was absolutely no debate from J.
[I’m angry enough as it is, I really don’t need to be tacking on another $15.00 to our meal for a potentially lackluster dessert. - J.]
When a waiter did appear, we asked for our check. He cleared a couple of our plates and then left. A few minutes later, another waiter appeared and asked us if we wanted dessert. I told him we did not and had requested the bill. He said, “Oh” and left. When the waiter who had cleared our table did come back, he wasn’t carrying our bill as I had requested. Instead he was carrying a tray.
[I was beyond troubled at the lack of communication and, apparently, memory of these people. I have never waited tables in my life. I could have stood up, thrown the napkin over my arm, ran into the kitchen, and taken care of the restaurant more efficiently, and had a better memory for what was going on, than these “waiters” could have. - J.]
This waiter the proceeded to tell us about what great customers we were and that they were giving us a little dessert to enjoy before departing. [Oh yay! We still can’t leave. - J.] On the tray was a mix of miniature Lemon Squares, Brownies, chocolate truffles, and fruit tarts. I should have sent him away, but J. and I each chose a little dessert, the lemon square for me and the brownie for J. The waiter then picked up my lemon square with a pair of tongs and held it over my section of the table waiting for something. I didn’t know what he wanted me to do, so I placed my open hand under the lemon square and he dropped the square into my palm.
I was speechless.
J. got the same treatment and I was absolutely appalled. He left and another waiter arrived and asked if we wanted dessert. I finally snapped and said, “No, we want our check!” He quickly left the table and we waited for anyone to reappear with our bill.
[At this point, I figured it was all par for the course. The guy could have fanned me with palm fronds and fed me the brownie, and I still wouldn’t have been happy. - J.]
One of the other waiters then arrived at our table holding two plates. “Here is your dessert,” he stated. He set down two flourless chocolate cakes in front of us. “This is flourless chocolate cake…” There is a long, pregnant pause when I think everything snapped in his mind and realized that something was wrong. Perhaps it was the steam coming out of my ears or J’s knuckles turning white. He then quickly threw in, “… compliments of the chef.” Quite frankly, I didn’t believe him. I thought he suddenly understood the situation and figured he better try to make something good happen. He got points for trying, but would have gotten more points if he had simply brought my check as requested several times.
The cake was quite good at least.
[I will give them that. I had never had flourless cake, so it was a nice interesting treat for me. However, I still didn’t particularly want it. - J]
We finally get our bill and the total is $138.00 and change including tax. The service spoke for itself. There was no excuse for what happened that night. None. It wasn’t just an “off night” for Vincent’s on Camelback. This was neglect. [Or flat-out stupidity. - J.]
We retrieved our car and left, with me uttering profuse apologies to J. for what occurred. Madge and Boris had invited us over for a movie after our dinner and we went there to vent our frustration. They looked at us with dropped jaws as we recounted the debacle that was our anniversary dinner.
I am not sure what made me angrier: the service or the food. Both were well below par of what Vincent Guerithault does best. It was my belief that something was terribly wrong at the restaurant and that it was on the verge of a meltdown. I understand that a restaurant may have an “off night” but to have the service and the food be so off the mark, that shows signs that control has been lost somewhere.
[Since I’m not familiar with Mr. Guerithault, I’m going to have to take Seth’s word on his background and resume. I thought it was easily the worst meal I’d had in my life. - J.]
Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever return to Vincent’s on Camelback for a very long time. For me, it will always be known as the place that ruined my anniversary.
[Agreed, and agreed. I wouldn’t set foot in there again unless you paid me some serious money to do so, and even then, I’d debate doing so. - J.]
Vincent’s on Camelback
3930 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Dress: Business Casual on up.
Hours: Lunch – Monday through Friday – 11:30 AM to 2 PM; Dinner: Monday through Saturday – 5 PM to 10 PM. Closed Sunday.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com