We headed into Pacific Grove last Sunday, looking forward to sampling lunch at Zocalo. Alas, my bad timing continues with restaurants named Zocalo: Zocalo in PG is closed Sunday lunch, so we will have to try it another time.
We were driving through downtown PG, debating where to eat, when we spotted Pagrovia, on Lighthouse. Coincidentally, a friend had told us the day before that he had enjoyed a very nice dinner there. He described it as French- Russian bistro, chef owned and operated by an artist originally from Russia. Our friend told us that the chef had been particularly accommodating with special orders for his family. There was also a favorable review from the Herald posted in the window, entitled, From Russia with Love. It sounded worth checking out, so in we went.
As our friend had described, the walls are full of the chefs art work, some of it still in progress. There is a bar along one wall, open kitchen in the back, and a few tables out in front on the sidewalk. We were seated immediately at a comfortable corner table with banquette in the window.
So far so good, but that was the end of the good. I noticed right away that the chef was not on duty at lunch: two young Hispanic men were working the kitchen. The menu, moreover, was composed more of California café standards and standard brunch items, than anything French or Russian.
However, our server was indeed Russian, a young lady who spoke virtually no English. This was a serious problem throughout lunch. Language barriers arent so bad when the person knows what they are doing to begin with, but in this case, it was impossible, since she was clearly a rank amateur with no service experience. The other server in the room was a young man who spoke English reasonably well, though it was not his first language, but who seemed perfectly willing to let the young woman do most of the work.
We couldnt make our selves understood to young lady server, and since we had questions, pointing wasnt going to work, so she eventually went and got the young man to take our order. We ordered two spinach salads with pancetta and goat cheese. No soups were listed on the menu, but I asked and was told they had borsht and minestrone. Borscht! Not found on too many menus, so I excitedly ordered it. Hubby ordered minestrone. We also ordered two coffees and a glass of merlot.
After a few minutes, the young man came back to the table to inform us that they were out of spinach salad. Sigh, but since I was mostly interested in the borscht I wasnt too disappointed. Hubby ordered another salad described on the menu as greens with roast vegetables, and I ordered a tri-tip sandwich, which the server told me would come with a salad as well, since they were out of the usual fries.
We waited. We waited some more. The coffee didnt come. Young Lady Server came by to refill our water glasses at least twice, and still no coffee. We asked her (hubby pointed to some coffee cups on another table) and she brought a menu, apparently thinking we wanted to order something else. We pointed to the other server and asked her to send him over. He came over, we asked about the coffee, he said, oh yeah I forgot and left. He didnt come back with coffee. We called him back a few minutes later after seeing him spending a lot of time wiping the bar, and he said, I know, its coming, had to brew another pot. Ok, but it would have been nice to mention that but finally, ten minutes later, we had coffee. It was weak and it didnt taste fresh brewed, but it was coffee. We asked if we could get the wine as well, he had to be reminded which one we ordered. We asked for cream for the coffee, then watched him clear another table and wipe the bar a bit more (!) before finally bringing over the cream
Well, you get the picture. We are also starting to hear complaints about service from other tables. One woman at the tables outside had ordered pancakes, and we saw her come into the restaurant, go back to the cooks, and ask them directly if she could get butter and syrup for her pancakes, since her server hadnt brought them. We saw another table finish breakfast before getting their toast, and then having to send it back because it hadnt come dry as requested (I am sure the young lady had no idea what dry toast meant). Yet another table walked out saying they just couldnt wait any longer for food.
This is where the twilight zone aspect to the service comes in: while the language related gliches were understandable,(if not necessarily forgivable) the delays in getting food were indeed puzzling: The place wasnt that crowded, and the two cooks were obviously working quite hard, yet there didnt seem to be any food coming out of the kitchen. So what was happening to the fruits of their obvious labor? (Hubbys tongue in cheek theory was that the owners actually were running a catering business on the side and that the food they were preparing was going out the back door and into the catering truck, but I am guessing it sat around on the kitchen counter while young lady tried to understand patrons and young man busied himself wiping down the bar).
At some point, a manager appeared in the room, an adult woman who was an English speaker, and she was immediately overwhelmed trying to address customer complaints. I overheard her tell another table that the young lady was in training and not supposed to be waiting tables yet, just clearing and bussing, but somehow the young lady never got the message. Worse yet, the proprieter disappeared again before we could ask her to help us with our service issues . Her quick disapperance was another puzzler: she could have done a better job and had happier patrons just doing all the serving herself, after making sure young lady only bussed, and firing young man! (Her disapperance added a bit of credance to hubby's catering theory: he pointed out that she had to go take care of that end of the business :-))
I was getting nervous that we would never eat, when suddenly, two salads show up. Two salads? I had switched my order to tri-tip. Perhaps mine was the salad that came with the tri-tip? That might have been plausible, but both salads were the same (small) size, and hubby was charged $8.50 for his, for which he got: get this: a handful of mixed greens, and a handful of spinach, goat cheese and pancetta! Huh? They were out of spinach salad, but they put half of whatever was left of the spinach into the greens. The advertised roast vegetables were non-existent, unless one counts three tiny pieces of raw zucchini.
Then came the soups. Actually, the borscht was pretty tasty, and clearly homemade, with both beets and potatos, and a requisite topping of sour cream. Only one problem: it was intended to be served hot, but hadnt been on the stove in a while. Both soups were served only lukewarm. We had no spoons other than the teaspoons that were in the table settings. Naturally, young man had made himself scarce, and young lady could not understand us when we asked for soup spoons. As previously, she tried to help by bringing over the menu. After some vain attempts at sign language, we ate the lukewarm soup with teaspoons.
Tri-tip never did show up, except on our bill, but that was fine, we were more than ready to leave. First though, we had to get the tri-tip off of the bill. Young man showed up long enough to do this, then disappeared again. We left cash, but needed change. No sign of change. Young lady was around, of course, but had no idea what we were asking for. (she actually brought the menu yet again, I guess hoping we would point at something!). Finally, almost ten minutes later, here comes young man, with our change in his clenched palm (not on a tray). That was the final straw: for the first time in a long time, I left no tip (I would have liked to have given the young lady something for effort, but decided that young man would have found a way to take it. Indeed, I am guessing the clenched fist on the change reflected his reluctance to give up his best shot at getting a tip.) Cost for this fiasco was $38, more than just a bit pricy for two lukewarm soups, two small salads composed of leftovers, two coffees and a cheap glass of wine.
It is a sad story really, because the borscht would have been worthwhile if it had been served at the proper temperature, and because this is a chef owned, family place. Still, even in a tourist area Pagrovia just wont last with service this poor. Could this really have been the same place our friend recommended? Perhaps the chef can make Pagrovia work when he is in the kitchen, but if so, he had best either give up on lunch or at the least never take a day off. I certainly wont be back to give them another try.
589 Lighthouse Avenue
Pacific Grove, 93950