Anyone have a special Valentine's dinner out last night and want to share the details? We always have an interesting Valentine's dinner. Last year we had a perfect meal at El Bizcocho. Ten fun courses, excellent service, one of the best wines I've ever had. It was sublime. This year was the opposite. Farcical, in fact.
We made reservations at Arterra, having been wanting to go for a long time and their menu looked great. We arrived about 6 minutes early for our reservation and the hostess told us, "Ok, we'll have your table ready in about 5-10 minutes, at your reservation time." We were kind of put off by this. And it might not come through without the tone of voice, but it was almost like we were being chastised for being early. I tried to let it go, telling my husband that the hostess just wanted to be clear that they weren't running late, but it just seemed like it could have been a bit more gracious. I probably wouldn't even remember this now had it not been for the rest of the evening...
So, we sat and it did take a little bit long to get the part started. Didn't have the server come around for a long time, he took our water preference, then we saw him attending to various things with other tables for like a very long time before we had time to bring over a couple glasses of tap water. Again, just a touch too long for good service, but something I wouldn't remember now if it hadn't kept going downhill.
So our order was taken and we decided to have a cocktail before the courses and wine pairings began. We were chatting for a while and bread was brought over and all of a sudden, our first course arrives. So, we have our first course, but never received the cocktail AND we don't have the wines that were paired with that course. Not only that, but I didn't have a spoon for my soup. I had to yell after the food deliverer that I neded a spoon because he jetted out of there really fast. After a few minutes, a woman brought over our wine with an apology for the delay. Something about them running a bit behind - which was kind of surprising given that I would estimate about 1/3 of the tables were empty. Hmmm. We told the lady that we had also ordered a coctail, but since our first course had arrived, we'd like to cancel it.
I had broccolini soup with a Torrontes wine, which was paired very well. The soup was really creamy. Might be too much for some, but I love cream, and the Torrontes complemented it perfectly. It was very pleasant. My husband had a mediocre salad of hearts of palm, artichokes and herbs, paired with a gerwurtzraminer that was ok.
For the second course, I had a trio of ravioli and he had a trio of sausages. The ravioli was one quail egg (a little bland), one oxtail (nice and robust), and one bbq pork (a little sweet and just delicious!). The weird thing was, they poured like a whole pint of consomme on top of the ravioli. It seemed excessive. And then, they forgot my spoon again. I was eating with a fork till about halfway through the course. It was a tasty plate, though, and paired with a really nice German Riesling. My husband's sausages were kind of fun and tasty, and paired with a very nice grenache. Strangely, halfway through, the waiter brought us the cocktail we had ordered at the beginning, explaining that we were't going to be charged for it. A nice gesture, but we just didn't want it at that point.
Third course (mains), the waiter came and asked me if I had had the Riesling with my raviolis. I said yes, and he said I could have it again with the tuna or something else. I guess I appreciate the flexibility, but was just surprised the main pairing for two dishes of different courses was the same. He offered a sake, and I thought that sounded like fun, so I went for it. It was slightly sparkling, but he shook it a bit to mix up some sediment in the bottom...which resulted in like a ten minute drama of trying to open the bottle without an explosion, and pour a glass with enough actual liquid, instead of just foam, that I could try it. It was really interesting. Smelled like candy. It was fine with the tuna, which was steamed. Unfortunately, while one piece of tuna did at least have a rare pink center, the other piece was completely cooked through and looked like slab of chicken. I still thought it tasted ok, but I am pretty sure it shouldn't have been cooked that much. My husband had the chicken sous-vide with black truffle stuffing. He couldn't eat it at all. It smelled and tasted like chemicals. We automatically thought of the plastic bag it was cooked in. One reason was we had just gotten a new shower curtain that day and it smelled and tasted just like our new curtain smelled when we unfurled it and hung it in the bathroom - you know that new plastic smell. How bizarre is that? The poor truffles tasted super plasticky too. Not earthy or bold at all. Just chemicals. So we told the waiter that it was weird and off and not right and how you could even smell it (I kind of wanted him to smell it so he'd knowwe weren't making it up), but he was like, "I don't think I even want to smell it!" and said he'd go tell the chef and see what he said. He never came back, though, and the entree sat in front of my husband for a very long time until a busser finally came and took it away. Our server finally returned to set us for dessert, and then didn't say a word about the chicken. I think we were both so surprised, we didn't ask before he walked away. I thought that was a real shame, but maybe they had just decided to comp a portion of my husband's meal given that he ate very little of it, and we'd find out when they brought the bill.
So, I decided to visit the ladies' room and when I got back, both dessert and the paired wines had been delivered. I was kind of stunned again. Like, I don't mind that at a cafe or coffee shop (in fact, when I was little, I'd always go to the bathroom while waiting for food, because I was hoping the food would be there when I got back!). But when you are going to one of the top restaurants (quote-unquote) in San Diego, they shouldn't serve your food and wine while you are away for a moment. I still don't know what my paired wine was for that course.
The desserts were tasty (it would take a lot for me to dislike dessert) but unremarkable. And when the bill came, there was still no mention of our chicken. I guess we kind of gave up at that point. I felt we had made it quite clear that the chicken was unacceptable and if they didn't follow up at all, I guess it showed how little putting out excellent food mattered to them. Quite a disappointment. Also, there were at least 3 times when my husband's water glass went empty for a while.
So, the night was definitely farcical. I mean, some of it was truly disappointing, like the chicken, and keeping water filled. Other parts were more just laughable like the random late delivery of the free drink and the exploding sake, which I would normally let go had it not been such a confluence of all these events. All I can say is that, clearly, the food, the service, just the culture of the place, did not seem on par with other top San Diego restaurants, such as Tapenade and El Bizcocho, to me. I know this place must not always be like this, not even close, but I just can't believe how wrong and weird it was at EVERY turn.
Hope some of you have some better stories!
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