A few days ago, I posted a mini review about my dinner at Sidewalk Bistro. This is what I said:
"I ate there last night., The food, service and atmosphere terrific for a restaurant only open for a few days. Not sure how it will be able to improve when it is so good already. We ate the mussels, which were great, a Kobe Burger rare and fries which was juicy and delicious (For $10!!!), the Penne with Eggplant which was wonderful, and shared the profiteroles for dessert. yum....."
Well, I went back last night with a group of six people and we had a very disappointing experience. I know the restaurant is only open a week, but they clearly were NOT ready for a busy weekend night with both patio dining areas open.
Based on a conversation I had the night before with the Chef/owner, Alain, I called ahead at 730, and was assured a table would be ready for us when we got there at 8:30. We got there on time, and had drinks at the bar. We werent seated till 9:15. The waiter was clearly "green". In fact, the previous night he bussed our tables and told us that was his first night on the job. Apparently he got promoted on night two to waiter. Interesting training program.
While waiting for our table, we took a walk to the back dining area, and saw the place was packed. There are two bars here, both were packed. one outside, where there are also about 20 tables, and one inside. Both bars looked like fun. The inside dining rooms were mostly full too, with a few scattered empty tables. There are also about 10-15 tables on the patio outside in front of the restaurant, so on a nice night, as it was last night, and everything is running, this place is going to be very busy.
One can see into the kitchen when walking to the back dining room. The kitchen is REALLY small for such a large restaurant space. You could tell the chefs and cooks were working really hard, trying to get food out to all the tables and they were clearly having trouble keeping up (this was echo'ed by a few of the wait staff who said the kitchen was slammed and backed up).
Side note: I read on another site the restaurant has two co-owners. Daout Celestin and Alain Eigenmann — the former maitre d’ of Xaviars at Piermont and chef at Provence in Manhattan, respectively. Judging from the heat and pace and frenetic activity in the kitchen, vs Daout's laid back and relaxed pace I observed in the Dining Room, Alain got the raw end of the deal. I cant see how this partnership will last. One clearly is working a lot harder than the other. (just my observation based on two visits).
So, back to our table...... We were seated around 9, and The waiter didnt appear for about 15-20 minutes after we were seated and we were afraid we were going to lose him. We encouraged him to take the drink order, as well as the appetizers and the entrees right away. He took the first order, then decided he would be better off taking each of our six drink orders, then going back and asking each of us what we wanted for an appetizer, then going around the table a third time and taking the entree orders. I must say this was a unique order taking method. I dont think ive ever quite seen it done this way before. (can you read the sarcasm?).
By 9:55 we still havent received our drinks. At about this time, our lifesaver arrived. Our table was assisted by Diane, someone we recognized as the former Bar Manager/Bartender from Restaurant X. She is terrific and we asked her to check on our drinks. They came soon after. A beer came instead of a glass of wine in error. The waiter left it on the table and brought the wine a few minutes later. Now it's 10pm, and we've been in the restaurant since 8:30 and still havent received any food. 15 minutes later, we began to get impatient again, and started looking around for a sign of appetizers. No sign. No apologies, no one saying when we could expect them. Everyone was clearly incomfortable the kitchen was slammed. I finally got up and saw Daout, and asked him if he could check on our appetizers. He said he would look into it. We were about to give up and think of alternate dinner places nearby that would still be open but the appetizers finally arrived at about 10:25. Well, most of them. Four appetizers came out, two did not. Also, the appetizers were all served to the wrong people. Obviously the untrained waiter, despite being so dilligent about taking our order three times, failed to properly note seat positions. The food runners were confused when we corrected them and had them place the food with each of us who ordered. The other two appetizers came out five minutes later. A bit discouraging for us who are accustomed to waiting till everyone is served before we begin to eat.
The food was the highlight of our dinner. As with the night before, the food was delicious (when it finally arrived). We had the two escargots (two orders, not two snails), an Alsacien Pizza made with meunster cheese, the Nicoise salad, warm goat cheese on toasted croutons, and a Soft shell crab special. Everyone raved how good the food was. The Pizza was exceptional. I loved the crust.. so light.. and the cheese, onions, and ham were really good. My friends raved about the nicoise salad. No food complaints other than the problem serving everything at once.
At 10:45, the waiter came to the table to say that the kitchen was out of the Swordfish special that was ordered 90 minutes earlier. This totally frustrated one of my guests.... Rightfully so. Perhaps the expeditor can learn to count better? The waiter told her that the kitchen was going to make Cod for her instead. She wasnt too thrilled and agreed to take the cod, but she was skeptical she would like it. I know, this sounds bizarre that they didnt ASK her what she wanted, but she went along more than i would have.
Shortly before 11, our entrees were served. Again, 4 entrees were delivered, and two were 5 to 10 minutes behind the others. Again we waited.. No apologies, no one saying the entrees would be right out. Instead we waited and watched the table next to us being served. Argh... The other two entrees arrived and once again the food was delicious. Two of us had the Entrecote, sauteed with au poivre sauce, bouillabaise, another pizette, the Cod substitute for the Swordfish (which she liked a lot) and a sixth entree i cant remember...
We were all anxious to leave after we finished, so we didnt stay for dessert. We got the check. Again, no apologies..... The waiter was smug and said the beer (his mistake) was free... Daout never came back to see how we were doing. Maybe he knew we were unhappy.
I for one was embarrased that I recommended this restaurant so enthusiastically to my friends. We go out often together, and this would have been a great opportunity to get six new regular customers. Instead we were turned off so much, that i choose to come on here and write about it. I know it's a new restaurant and they deserve a little leeway, but still, there are things they could do to be ready when they open. Some things better restaurants would do is properly train the staff, not hire a busboy on day 7 of opening, with no training, and promote him to waiter on day 8, with absolutely no training or apparent experience. Also, they could have left some tables open and unseated and pace themselves better. The kitchen did a great job preparing the food and making it taste delicious but they are clearly not ready to handle the volume of a full dining room and two patios.
I'm optimistic that this restaurant will be successful in the long term, but i dont think i'll be back for a long time, and certainly not on a weekend night when the weather is nice.
Alain, I dont envy you in the kitchen looking out, through the door to Daout, walking the Xaviar pace in the dining room. You have your work cut out for you. Perhaps you want to get Daout a chef's uniform so he can see how hard it is for you... In the meantime, you should re-write the partnership agreement so you can get 75% of the profit.
As always, Just My Opinion