It is with great sadness in my heart that I feel the need to post about dinner Saturday at Tartine. Had two friends in from Hong Kong--unabashed francophiles--and thought that Tartine would be a perfect choice to go with the bottle of 1978 French Claret they were gracious enough to bring along for the ride. I've gone to Tartine about four times, and always found food and service to be delicious and delightful.
We should have known something was up when the restaurant (8:30 on Saturday) was e m p t y...save for two two-tops in the garden and an obviously agitated staff. Began by sharing two appetizers--the pissaladiere (onion tart)--good, but a bit on the bland side, although nicely cooked, with no stringy onion texture) and tomates provencal, which were flavorful but overpowered by too much garlic. Our entrees arrived shortly thereafter: steak frites (prepared nicely, but slightly low on the temperature despite the requested medium rare, delicious sauce, but not the best cut of meat (despite the server's exhortations to the contrary) for what we thought was a steep $28; Pojarsky (chicken cutlet/patty, good but not exciting despite its preparation with butter & heavy cream) for $18; scallops (five deliciously prepared, grilled scallops in a bit of tomato-based sauce arranged around a mound of rather uninteresting rice-pilaf) for $21; and butter-soaked/pan-seared tilapia (good, but overly buttered) with some uninteresting zucchini/green bean side vegetable) for $21. Something happened between ordering and eating, as the restaurant cleared out and by 9:50 we were getting "looks." We ignored the looks, and prepared for dessert, getting up to look at the dessert cart accompanied by two audible sighs from our servers. The desserts were described and we chose three--strawberries with creme anglais (great and fresh), chocolate mousse with whipped cream (flavorful, but containing bits of solid chocolate as though it were not fully melted in the preparation, and arriving on the plate in a flat mass) and an apple tart which was fine, but not particularly better than the apple tart I can buy at Miel for my Saturday morning coffee ($7.50 each).
We then lingered a bit over dessert, and the wait staff began to slink by and snatch each plate as we finished whatever the plate had contained (not particularly French)! At this point, it was about 10:20. Our check was slapped (not making this up) on the table (total: $136, including coffee) at about 10:30, and followed ten minutes later by a brusque, "could you pay now so I can send the staff home?" We settled the check, and the mood was so sour at this point (including several slow, glaring passes by the hostess) that we rather quickly finished our wine, and proceeded to leave. As we walked through the main part of the restaurant, the hostess was sitting in a chair staring at the floor, and she said with a sigh, "let me unlock the door so you can leave." Completely frustrated at this point, my wife asked, "what time do you close?" to which she responded, "10:00. I'm the only one here now." We wanted to say, "well, than why did you accept a reservation for 8:30?" but thought better of it and left in a sour mood.
Is something going on with the restaurant that we don't know about? I've never heard a complaint about the food, but we weren't the only ones who received poor service Saturday, judging by under-breath comments from the two other two-tops which were seated in the garden. Not the experience I was hoping for for two friends from 4000 miles away who I hadn't seen in four years, and to whom I'd extolled the virtues of Philadelphia dining. I hope our experience was anomalous and wish Tartine luck, but there are too many other restaurants and my wife and do not plan to return.
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