I put the words "Critique" in quotes because in order to write about a restaurant, or a book or any other aesthetically pleasing aspect of one's existence, you have to experience it. While I've experienced this restaurant on numerous occasions in the past, I was not able to last night.
Let me start off by saying that j'adore French food. The only thing I don't like about France is its soccer team and the fact that it's an overnight flight away from me. My wife also loves French food. We live right down the street from Mountainside's Restaurant 89, in Westfield. With all of this love, adoration, and French food desire, it seemed a no-brainer for our night out on Valentine's Day, since it's not necessarily Michelin-star worthy but it's at least solid, consistent, and carefully-prepared French fare.
Another quick aside here... I'm well versed in the amateur hour nature of going out to eat on Valentine's Day. It's about as smart a move as Times Square on New Year's Eve or the mall on Black Friday. However, I was fine with the marked up prix-fixe menu and a potential for a back up and a small wait on arrival, regardless of where we went.
So I got a reservation (something which is rarely required at 89 due to it being way too big for its clientele list which is way to small for any restaurant to survive) for 9 PM and arrived 5 minutes early to a half full restaurant. There was a family of 4 to our left, a couple next to them, another group of 4 older persons and a second middle aged couple to our right. Within no less than two minutes of our arrival, we managed to overhear or see complaints in progress. The family of 4 received their check before they received the dessert menu. The couple next to the family had been there since 7:00 and still hadn't received their meal. The group of 4 older persons had a guy who felt like being a jerk and loudly instructing the service on how to place a plate on the table. The middle aged couple to our right had been waiting for their plates to be cleared for almost an hour.
Bad vibe already. Service looks confused, overwhelmed, and out of sorts. I thought prix-fixe menus on popular nights were there to price gouge and maximize turnover... This strategy was clearly not working. The jerky old curmudgeon aside, these are all legitimate problems and all made the place feel like the museum in Ghostbusters II where the evil slime was congregating: a place filled with negative emotion and anger. Since I didn't exactly feel like dining with Vigo the Carpathian, I looked to the ol' ball and chain and began the gears turning in her head, preparing her for our potential exit.
15 minutes later, we still had not even been ACKNOWLEDGED by staff. The head waiter whom we've had drinks with after numerous dinners passed by us, making eye contact numerous times, and didn't so much as give us a "Hey, all hell is breaking loose, but bear with us please."
I expected a wait. I expected slow service. I expected to have to pick between some crusted over-used fish like sea bass and filet mignon with caramelized onions. I expected a heart-shaped mass produced warm soft Jean-Georges rip off cake. I DIDN'T expect to be completely ignored for nearly 20 minutes. We're going back to speak our mind. Any other night has a more manageable 2 or 3 tables filled, so we'll be able to communicate directly with our "friend" the head waiter and ask him why he looked us dead in the eye a dozen times and continued on.
This place has solid, consistent food. It needs a setting much smaller than what it's presently in. I honestly have no clue how they can afford the rent at this place. It's on the corner on Mountain Ave in Mountainside (how novel), next to Westfield off of Route 22. If you're familiar with this area, you know that it's beaucoup bucks.
We instead headed to Isabella's American Bistro for good service and "step above" TGI Friday's fare. I will return to cooking a special dinner on Valentine's Day next year. Thanks, Restaurant 89!