For several years, the Back Bay Grill has been our favorite Portland restaurant, and on Monday evening we took visiting friends there for dinner. I won't be rushing back anytime soon. The restaurant changed hands in late spring of 2003, and it is nothing near what it used to be.
The wife of the couple and I both asked for sparkling water, and we were sold a bottle of Pellegrino ($7) that was whisked away from the table "to be put on ice." We had to get the waitresses attention to get a refill, which I thought was inconsiderate.
My husband ordered a Chivas on the rocks. When the waitress brought it, she said that this was the last of their Chivas (this is an a la carte restaurant with entrees in the high-$20s/low-$30s), whereupon she poured it out of the little vial that they use for drinks there, put it on the table, and announced that she would not charge full price. Thank you very much!
We ordered our dinner. The starters came and were eaten, and we waited. And waited. And waited. Around us people who came in after we did were finishing their entrees and ordering deserts. Finally our entrees came, and they are ghosts of their former selves -- Duck Three Ways has become Duck Two Ways (I kid you not), and it was served with a risotto with English Peas mixed in. Not very imaginative. The duck was good, but the ensemble lacked the pizzaz that entrees at Back Bay used to have. Since I am on the South Beach Diet, I asked for steamed veggies in lieu of the risotto, and was given some very un-steamed haricots verts.
Finally the waitress cleared our table and took the desert order. I passed on that, but our friends ordered desert and my husband asked for Talisker if they had it. She said they did; did he want that on the rocks?? Good lord. When she brought it my husband looked at the glass (actually it was a rocks glass, not what you should serve neat single-malt in), said "I don't believe it," and handed me the glass. There ensued several stale jokes. "What's this fly doing in my drink?" "The backstroke." and "He won't drink much." He called the waitress and said "I think you need to look at this, and don't say 'he won't drink much.'" Whereupon she said, "He won't drink much," and took the glass away. Back she came with another. "This is the last of this bottle," she announced when she put it on the table, and this time the glass was full of cork and other residue. My husband told her that it was not something he cared to drink. Did they have Langevulin? They did. They would not charge him for the single-malt, she said when she finally brought it. To their credit, they did not charge for any of the scotch debacle.
The service was desultory at best, and at times condescending. When you spend $250 for a dinner (1 cocktail and 2 glasses of wine -- no bottles) for four, I think you have a right to expect better, and certainly not to be condescended to.
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