Friday, September 11, 2009

Restaurant Week Summer 2009, Part 2 (Electric Boogaloo)

For our second Restaurant Week 2009 adventure, Ali had booked a table at Art and Soul, a southern restaurant owned by celebrity chef Art Smith. I think it’s safe to say that if you’re going to a celebrity chef’s restaurant, you shouldn’t expect said chef to actually be in the kitchen. He wasn’t, but whoever was did a pretty fine job. But even though the food was good, we didn’t have the best experience.

I got off the Metro and took a mildly frightening walk through a sort of dodgy neighborhood (conveniently located right by the DC courthouse) to the restaurant in the Liaison Hotel. (If you decide to go and take Metro, get off at Union Station. Less scary.) The rest of the girls weren’t there yet, so I went to the bar to have a drink and wait.

Now, I don’t know if it was because it’s a hotel bar or if it was because it was Restaurant Week, but the bar was crowded and noisy, no thanks to the TV showing the Little League World Series. I managed to find a free barstool, though, and ordered The Standard (Ketel martini, slightly dirty, three olives). The martini that arrived was way too salty, but the bartender seemed more interested in talking to her friends who had just come in than checking in with her customers, so I just took small sips while perusing the menu and listening to the two drunk suits next to me try to one-up each other on the “who knows more important people” scale. Gotta love DC!

Ali, Heather, and Kim arrived, and we were shown to our table. It was right inside the door, and spitting distance from the hostess stand. Not the most ideal location, but at least it was August and we wouldn’t have to worry about a cold breeze every time the door opened.

The waiter came and offered us our water choices (we went with DC’s finest tap) and delivered the wine list and menus. After we’d had a few minutes to peruse and discuss, he came back and asked if we had any questions.

Me: How is the salmon cooked?
Guy: However you want it.
Me (in my head): Really? You don’t want to tell me how the chef recommends it? Huh. Okay.

Ali: What would you recommend?
Guy: Oh, everything’s great.
Ali (in her head): Thanks, that’s really helpful.

Come on. When a person asks for a recommendation in a restaurant, that’s what she’s looking for! Tell me your preferences. Ask me about mine. I know you eat the food there. Help me out.

That unhelpful exchange over, we asked for a few more minutes to decide. We settled on our RW choices and decided to try a couple of sides from the regular menu. After all, when you’re in a southern restaurant, you don’t NOT try the mac ‘n’ cheese and the fried green tomatoes.

Turns out we should’ve passed on the latter. They were heavy with fried batter and pretty much tasteless, and the remoulade on the side didn’t help much. The mac ‘n’ cheese was pretty awesome, though.

Anyway, on to our actual meals. Heather, Kim, and I all started with the arugula salad with goat cheese, watermelon pickles, and blackberry vinaigrette, which was very good, but maybe a little heavy on the arugula. Ali had the restaurant’s version of a Caesar, with grilled hearts of romaine, shaved parm, and a white anchovy. She loved it. Nice starts for all.

I went ahead and ordered the salmon, mostly because it came with pea risotto and I am powerless to resist the R word. I asked for it medium, and it did indeed come out cooked perfectly all the way though—nice and flaky and moist. It also came with a little salad of yellow beets and a sauce of preserved lemon vinaigrette. Really good. The risotto was a little on the gummy side, but it was very flavorful, and the peas gave it a nice green-ness and a little pop.

Kim also had the salmon, while Heather had the roast chicken (which I was tempted to order, because it came with a goat cheese drop biscuit, and who wouldn’t want to try that? No one, that’s who.) and Ali went with the pork chop with stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, stuff like that) relish. Both had good things to say about their entrees—Ali so much so that she was a little reluctant to share.

We were pretty much utterly stuffed by now, but as I recently learned from Jeffrey Steingarten’s fun book, The Man Who Ate Everything, there’s a difference between hunger and appetite. I certainly wasn’t hungry, but I still had an appetite for my lemon pudding cake (PUDDING!) with blueberry sauce. It was nice and light and a lovely ending to that big meal.

Sounds good, right? “What’s the problem?” you may be asking.

The problem was the service. Our waiter never came back to check on us, to see how everything was, not even once. Isn’t that like lesson #1 in waiter school? I mean, I know it was Restaurant Week, but we had a late reservation and the room wasn’t full or busy. Guy just disappeared on us. Also (pet peeve alert), plates were taken away before everyone was finished, WHICH I HATE. It rushes the people who are still eating, and leaves the other people just sitting around. God. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but when I’m out for dinner, I’m not just there for the food, I’m there for the whole experience. If you want a good tip and you want me to come back, make me feel cared-for. This is not rocket surgery, people.

Happily, a comment card came with the check, which Ali filled out and handed directly to the manager. To his immense credit, he came back promptly and apologized for the service and told us very sincerely that he would address the issues with the staff. He offered us complimentary after-dinner drinks, which we declined on the grounds of imminent explosion if we ingested one more molecule, and urged us to come back. I guess he’d conferred with the hostess as well, because she then came over and handed us each her business card, inviting us to come back any time and telling us she’d find us “a nice handsome Jamaican waiter” to serve us. Well, sold!

That’s how you make a customer feel good.

And now, a few final thoughts on Restaurant Week from Karina:

(17:11:22) Karina: I've got a post about that: Indebleu: blows.

(17:11:36) Karina: The only reason to go there is for the cocktails.
(17:11:41) Karina: oh but the mac and cheese with bacon at Redwood is f*cking money

There you go.


  1. Never heard of Art & Soul, I am hopelessly out of touch with the restaurant scene in DC :( I hope the service improves, sounds like the food is a mixed-bag.

  2. "Me: How is the salmon cooked?
    Guy: However you want it."

    Sounds like the opener to some sort of restaurant themed porno... (shudder)