A friend in Nashville had raved about Watermark for some time, so on a recent trip we grabbed dinner there. It was an interesting experience that I thought you chowhounds might enjoy, so here goes!
Watermark is absolutely the kind of place I love. An upscale take on traditional Southern cuisine using quality, locally-sourced ingredients. It SHOULD be a home run, and for me, the food was pretty good but not great. But the service and overall ambience was so bad as to offset the food.
As for the food:
I ordered the stone ground grit souffle, the fried green tomatoes, and the pork chop with cornbread pudding. My friend ordered the kampachi appetizer, the watermelon salad, and the grouper with corn cream.
The grit souffle was very good, but the menu indicated the dish included "local goat cheese" along with smoked bacon butter sauce. I could absolutely not taste ANY goat cheese in the souffle, but the smoked bacon butter sauce was the best thing I tasted all night. The tomatoes used in the fried green tomato appetizer were, amazingly, TOO green, but the butter poached rock shrimp was absolute perfection. Shrimp is so easy to overcook, and this was cooked perfectly. The pork chop was about twice the size it needed to be, but the sour cherry relish accompaniment was very good (although didn't seem seasonal to me).
My friend enjoyed his food, but only raved about the grouper. He was "confused" by the presentation of the watermelon salad, which came stacked with some shrimp, some onion, some cheese, and some arugula. When he received the kampachi appetizer and asked the server for a description of the dish, she said "it's like sushi" and scampered off. I think he wanted something more detailed to describe what was a unique dish.
But as for the ambience and service:
The ambience in Watermark was not what I would expect from a restaurant of that caliber. First of all, the tables in the main dining room were so crowded together that my friend's chair was bumped repeatedly (as many as 30 times) without a single apology by staff coursing through the restaurant, and bumped a few times (usually with apology) by diners making their way to and from their seats. Further, and I know it's summer and hot and humid in Nashville, it was miserably hot INSIDE Watermark. When we arrived, they offered us a seat outside (which we declined) but I still LITERALLY dripped with sweat the entire meal. It must have been 80+ degrees in the restaurant. Some people will complain about the noise, but I am never turned off by noise in a trendy restaurant - it indicates bustle, action, and excitement.
But the service was an absolute letdown. I don't specifically blame the server, but rather the fact that she was woefully undertrained. Here are the examples:
1. When we ordered our meals, I told her what we ordered and asked her to recommend a white wine, specifically requesting "something refreshing" since it was so hot. Further, I told her I had been into rieslings this summer, so anything like that would be great. She thumbed through the wine list, never making any suggestions, and my friend asked "Do you have a sommelier?" She replied, "Yes we do, but he's not here tonight (a busy weekend night)." Eventually, I chose a wine on my own, and she could tell I was frustrated and she offered, "I've only been here two weeks and it's hard to know all 500 wines." I don't blame a restaurant for having a 500-bottle wine list, but if the servers absolutely cannot recommend a wine for a party of two, and the sommelier is not in the building either, then the restaurant doesn't need a 500-bottle wine list.
2. Before I ordered, I noticed that the party next to me had the grit souffle appetizer, and it had what appeared to be mushrooms in the sauce (they were not listed on the menu description, however.). When I ordered, I asked the server specifically if the souffle sauce included mushrooms, and she said it did, so I asked her to leave them off due to a food allergy. She asked me how serious the allergy was, and I said "I won't keel over," and when the souffle arrived, of course it had the mushrooms all in the sauce. I reminded the server that I had requested no mushrooms, and she said "Oh, I'm SO sorry. SO SO sorry. Please forgive me," but she never offered to remove, replace, or refund the appetizer. I eventually asked for more sauce and received that.
3. The pacing of the meal (I know this isn't the server, but rather the kitchen) was WILDLY divergent. We would wait 25 minutes for one course, then the next would be served IMMEDIATELY after finishing the first. While this is a service problem, it's not the server's fault, but indicates a potential overall problem.
All in all, I'd go back. But only once - and if the service were bad again, I would ascribe it to a sysmetic failure to train staff. The food was very good (not great), but the service was so bad as to be off-putting.
Anybody else have any experiences like this?