Good friends of ours secured reservations for four at San Domenico last night on three-days notice. I checked the previous posts, and found a wide variety of opinion, so felt I should judge for myself. The evening started auspiciously enough -- free on-street parking a block away, clearing skies after a dank day. The reservation was honored promptly, as we were led to the middle of a warm, elegant room with subdued lighting reminiscent of a time when dining out was An Event. The crowd was "older," mostly well-dressed -- no backwards baseball caps here, as another, earlier poster put it. At a nearby table sat a perfectly composed six year-old, sitting up straight, an evening out with a beaming Mummy and Daddy. Good music (Ella) playing, a subdued hum of conversation from the diners. But, we were seated in front of the door to the kitchen -- oh well, I suppose someone has to sit there. Drink orders were taken, but margaritas tasted mostly of acid from an overdose of astringent, powerful lime juice. There seemed to be an excess of staff, but paradoxically we were ignored unless we flagged down a passing waiter on his way to another table. Busboys in green, servers in some type of white Chinese-inspired tunic, waiters in red, captains in tuxedos -- all were involved in an elaborate ballet of Brownian motion racing in and out of the kitchen and swirling around the molecule that was our table. Service, when we could find it, was perfunctory and disinterested. Finally the food: tuna tartare, pronounced "delicious," but accompanied by fried oysters almost certainly fried long before and reheated in the microwave, the cornmeal crust limp; sauteed sweetbreads (about $18) acceptable if not inspired; a basic salad, and a dish of mushroom soup, a sepia broth resembling the warm water left over from soaking dried morels, for $19.50 ($19.50!) Entrees followed: a small, undistinguished brook trout ($33.50), fileted and sitting in pool of butter accompanied by a single pathetic steamed shrimp, unseasoned (the menu had said trout and crayfish, but they were out of the latter, we were warned); risotto with beef glaze, resembling nothing so much as cream of wheat with Log Cabin, lacking any other ingredient but the arborio ($25), and my mini-penne with duck ragu, the monolayer coating the bottom of a shallow bowl ("Waiter, I ordered the entree portion, not the appetizer. Oh, I see"), the antithesis of hearty ($22.50). The fourth entree was so forgettable that I have, in fact, forgotten it. The room had filled up, now packed, raising the noise level appreciably. Even that could not mask the stream of four-letter words coming from the frowsy blonde of a certain age two tables away, she having body-pressed and deep-kissed various members of the waitstaff as she was seated, her hapless companion looking on. A regular, I suppose. A single dessert of zabaglione ($14) was not even a third cousin twice-removed from that rich, sinful treat, instead an insipid molded concoction resembling marrow flan. It was left unfinished, despite being shared by four.
Our friends, paraphrasing Groucho, said it best: "I wouldn't eat in any place that has has a Saturday reservation for three days later." Somewhere the Barnum-ish owner is smiling.