I know that some folks feel that Saul's is one of the best, if not THE best restaurant on Smith St. I hadnt been there for 3 years, having not been impressed with the place (especially its' prices) in the past. Well, it was time to try again, especially given the recommendations of several people I trust. This will have been the last time. Too bad -- I really wanted to like it.
First of all, the 4 of us were told upon arrival at 7:30pm that the a/c unit was on "full blast" but wasnt keeping the place cool enough -- they apologised in advance. It was warm but we figured it was survivable, so we sat. By the end of the meal, we were sweltering and the waiter (who almost quit, but keep cheerful and attentive)offhandedly mentioned that the a/c had basically stopped cooling around 7pm and that the place had gotten warmer and warmer since. Now, that's a different story and we may have made a different decision had we known.
Secondly, there was no manager in sight the entire time we were there. The person who sat us, who may have been the hostess, or may have been managing the place, disappeared and never re-appeared. The waitstaff were left on their own to carry on as if there was no problem. That's a real non-professional error, as these are the times that a friendly lead person can make all the difference.
No adjustments were made. The amuse was a hot mushroom soup, very good but not a good idea given the heat. There was a cold cucumber/crab soup on the menu (which my wife ordered and liked) and they could have used this instead, but didnt think of it (I assume). Additionally, no effort to bring out chilled cocktails, white wine or to make an event of the situation. No one running the show, thinking on his or her feet.
The food was good, nothing more (or less). There was an ingredient at the bottom of my appetizer cocktail glass of tuna tartare that tasted more like mayo than I would have liked (not sure what it was or why it was there), and the special "four lamb" dish that our friend ordered had lamb liver (?) unannounced as one of the 4 (I love organ meats but he doesnt and would have appreciated advance warning) -- other than these minor points all food was quality. The black bass especially was an excellent dish. However, in general, the level of execution was again below my expectations for this price point. The lamb was mid-$30s ($34 or $36 I think), a beet salad (nicely composed) was $12, and salmons were mid-$20s. Easily duplicated in any of quite a few Manhattan places and not better than that at Chestnut, Henry's End (among others) at significantly less cost.
The wine list is a pet peeve of mine and my friends. I dont expect close to retail pricing a la Landmarc, but a markup of up to 2.5 times can be acceptable. Mark-up here was more, at least of bottles that I know very well -- maybe even more than 3x.
Again, they apologized and we decided to stay. But they could have made it more enjoyable by deviating from their "business as usual". And I just dont think that it's all that anyway. Oh well.