Went with the wife and another couple to Continental mid-town on Saturday night. Not looking for anything too wild, wife likes the salad and I can usually find something ok. We get there and we are told theres an hour wait. No biggie. We get unusually lucky and find four bar stools open in a row. We have a round of cocktails, its been about 40 minutes, and order another. At roughly the same time we hear the people next to us mentioning something about a ventilation problem in the kitchen. At once our hearts sink with sadness and, in the case of my dining companions who lack the patience of Buddha, their hearts filled with anticipatory wrath. We check it out (we have a pager, by the way, which hasnt lit up) and apparently they arent seating anyone till they figure it out. The more irascible among us are annoyed that we had to go up and get this information and that the managers didnt go around explaining this or, at least page us and have us come up and give us the message. Apparently, we ordered our second round after this situation began to unfold. The people at the front desk state that theyd be happy to get us seated at any other Stephen Starr restaurant immediately. We decided to finish our drinks and then re-evaluate. One of my dining companions went up next to get the latest info (at this point it was decided that I was lacking the furor of righteous indignation and that I was overly forgiving of service personnel, many references to Eastern Philosophy ensued). Now the latest word was they werent seating anyone for the rest of the night and that they could get us in at Washington Square in 20 minutes, but that there would be a wait everywhere else. A very ineffectual young man at the front desk really didnt do a good job smoothing things over, though admittedly he was in a tight spot. A manager should have been up there, and he should have been giving out his/her card asking people to please come back another night and offering a round of drinks, they should have been calling in favors and making reservations at NON-Stephen Starr restaurants for people (this was 10pm on a Saturday mind you), calling them cabs, and they should have told people sooner, much sooner, and they should have utilized the pager or had someone walking around and telling people the story. Any appetizers they could make they should have made and brought out to people. This was an opportunity for a business to really shine in their handling of a crisis but instead it was a massive failure on many levels.
So basically 100 hungry people with money to spend were kicked out into the street. Weak.
So, on to the good news. We hit Chinatown as experience shows that one can always get good food at a late hour in Chinatown and we end up at Serendipity and we are literally the last table in the place (we walked in at 10:30 or so, and the kitchen closes at 11:30 and the sushi bar closes at 11pm). Let me tell you, this is why I love Chinatown, we were treated like kings. They were ecstatic to have our business. And the food was mighty tasty (especially when you consider the price). As soon as we ordered it, it literally came flying out of the kitchen. Ok, the wifes pad thai tasted nothing at all like pad thai, which isnt to say it didnt taste good, but just nothing like pad thai. We got some spicy tuna, some fried pork dumplings, deep-fried vegetarian spring rolls, some shrimp tempura rolls, and man, the entrée I got was shrimp and scallops skewers with lobster butter sauce over wasabi mashed potatoes. That lobster butter was amazing. The other couple got sushi as well and split an order of beef lo mein that was exceptional. I seldom order lo mein but wow, the beef lo mein tasted, well, beefy, throughout, in a very good way. The other couple also got a volcano roll and a spicy tuna roll of their own, and possibly one more roll. All that with 4 Singhas only came to $102 before tip. We were probably looking at an easy $150 at Continental with craptacular service but this was truly exceptional service. And the place has a full bar, so youre not really compromising any part of your dining experience by abandoning Stephen Starr, leaving him to be devoured by the wolves of consumer choice.
Also, Serendipity is taking part in the summer happy hours ('summer sips' is the name of the promotion on Philly.com) and will likely be one I hit soon.
1009 Arch Street