We had dinner at Stone Bistro tonight, and I hate to report a negative visit, especially because it was our first time there, but I am surprised by the huge disconnect between the hype about this place and the reality of our experience. I guess partly because my expectations were high, I was just so let down. I had heard that they were working out the kinks, but still, I expected a good dinner.
We decided to go because we were up in the San Marcos area for a late day appointment with our two kids, and between the fact that my husband is a huge fan of Stone beers and I had been hearing great things about the food, we were excited to check it out. In the end, I'm glad we didn't make the drive just to go to the restaurant.
Here's a rundown of what the four of us (2 kids, ages 8 and 12, who are usually pretty adventurous eaters and 2 adults) had -
To begin, we shared onion rings and spud buds (mostly because we figured these would quickly satisfy our famished kids and I had heard good things about the spud buds). Unfortunately, these were both laden in oil, heavy and kind of gross. I'm not one to shy away from a little grease, but these were downright inedible to me. They also appeared within 5 minutes of placing our order and were lukewarm at best, and definitely not crispy or hot out of the fryer - instead, kind of mushy. The beer batter fell off the onion rings. They came with a strong, bitter-tasting dipping sauce that was served in a tiny ramekin, much smaller than the usual small ramekin size. Strangely, the size of the ramekin was way smaller than the size of the onion ring, which made it impossible to even dip the onion rings. Without spoons on the table, we wondered, why was the dipping sauce even served with the rings? Were we supposed to tip the tiny ramekin and pour it on the rings? As it turned out, all of us so strongly disliked the dipping sauce that we didn't care that we couldn't dip them. We joked that we couldn't imagine that there was actually someone who developed this strange-tasting sauce and then said, "Yeah, that's yummy, let's serve that." It really baffled us. It was so bitter; there was an underlying sharp, dark beer flavor to it, which could've been interesting, but it didn't work at all. The spud buds suffered from the same cold temperature, mushy texture and grease. Also served with the same weird sauce.
Next, I had the grilled trout, which was described, as I recall, as having a fig marmalade butter on it and served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Just what I was in the mood for. The best I can say is that the mashed potatoes and green beans were delicious. The beans were sparkling fresh and crunchy, just like I like them. The mashed potatoes were warm, a little garlicky and delicious. The fish was bland, bland, bland and also cold, which was such a contrast to the warm potatoes and green beans. The fig marmalade butter was not even on top of the fish, which was clearly why it was so bland. The fig butter came (or maybe it accidentally slid) on top of the mashed potatoes, which definitely did not need any more butter. It was a lump of butter, with a few dark specks in it that apparently were figs, but it lacked any fig flavor. It tasted like plain grilled trout, even after I figured out that the lump on my mashed potatoes was the fig butter and then spread it onto the trout. Looking for more flavor for the fish, I asked for some lemon, and the waitress brought me two thin lemon slices from the bar, like those that they would use to garnish iced tea. Based on an earlier conversation about my choice of wine, which I won't detail here, I knew that our waitress was very inexperienced, so I didn't pursue it with her. I just took the tiny slices and tried to wring out a bit of lemon juice onto my fish, but what I clearly needed were lemon wedges, not thin lemon slices used to garnish iced tea.
My husband had the spicy orange peel beef stir fry, which was served with brown rice, great broccoli, lots of carrot slices and jalapenos. The waitress warned us that it was super spicy, and suggested that we have the jalapenos on the side, but then she never brought them. We hoped/expected that this would be more than your standard imitation orange flavor beef dish, and it definitely was. It was the best dish we had, but still definitely could've been improved upon. It had only a hint of orange flavor, and was way too salty. It had some sort of overly salty soy sauce base. Still, the veggies were great, and the beef was of excellent quality and tasty.
The kids ordered off the kid menu (okay, I know I said they were adventurous eaters, but tonight they didn't see anything they liked on the main menu because many of the entrees are made with beer and they preferred something more kid-friendly). One daughter ordered the chicken/bean/cheese burrito, which was gigantic. She liked it but we all detected an unusual flavor in the black beans, which might have been coconut. It was slightly sweet. It was definitely not your typical chicken burrito, which can be a good thing, but when offering a kid's menu, I would think that they might want to specify any out-of-the-ordinary ingredients so parents of the real young kids (who might just refuse to eat it) would know ahead of time. My daughter thought it was okay, but only ate half and would not want to order it again. My other daughter had the spaghetti, which was made with fresh tomato sauce and had shaved asiago cheese on top and was basic but very well done and delicious. I started wishing I could have ordered from the kids' menu.
It would not be fair to say that it was a terrible dinner, but after my high expectations, I was so disappointed. It's clear that many elements of a wonderful dining experience are in place - amazingly cool atmosphere, architecture and grounds, top-quality ingredients, a willingness/desire to do stretch a little and offer something unusual, but all of that did not translate into a good dinner for us at all. Clearly, there were many others there enjoying the place, and I applaud what the owners are trying to do, so I genuinely hope that many others continue to have a better experience than ours.