Wednesday, December 07, 2011

State of Service

I'm not going to name the restaurant, but I had a simply appalling luncheon experience the other day.

Our large group had prearranged an event; we'd ordered our food ahead of time, given exact head counts, and showed up punctually. Because the menu was pretty simple and could be prepared ahead of time, I wasn't worried about the 2pm lunch reservation, because I figured we'd sit down, order drinks and be served.

How foolish of me.

It took forty-five minutes for most of the group to get their drinks. Even the most basic of the Brazilian staples was served poorly; the caipirinhas were described as "watery" and for some inexplicable reason, came strained, lacking the colorful and telltale limes floating among the ice. Even with pre-ordering, they still ran out of food, which was served abominably late, around portions that would have made a guinea pig grimace. I think there was about a half teaspoon of dipping sauce in the miniature bowls.

I was grumpy, my blood sugar dipping to dangerous levels. I become a monster after a few hours without food. Lots of people simply walked out. Guesstimating that there were 40 people present, none of whom could probably recommend the place to any but their worst enemy after the appalling service, how much business do you think they lost because of poor management and kitchen organization, not to mention waiter training? It makes one wonder how places stay in business at all, as this is by no means an isolated event.

We ate at another a few days earlier, Chinese, in which the rice was a side item to be ordered separately. You could have bought four bags of rice for what they charged, and the bowl that came was supposed to feed four people. I guess they thought we ordered off of the refugee camp experience menu. The quality was about as good as an average take-out in the US, which is, I suppose, a compliment. Like the other place, their portion sizes could have fed a miniature schnauzer, perhaps. Certainly not enough for the human mammal. And it took forever to get our food, which seems to be a trend in Rio at the moment. (Maybe oil heats slower here, or they're growing the vegetables as we order.) I'm tempted to start bringing my own snacks, since even the appetizers can "demorar" 20-30 minutes! To top it off, in the middle of dinner, they played loud techno music while performing a strange, Disney-esque pasta rolling presentation, flour flying everywhere. Then they brought the strands of pasta around to the tables; I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat it or just ooh over the handmadeness of it all.

I write this not to complain about these restaurants in particular, but about the state of food service in general. I'm a foodie. I don't go to restaurants to be seen, to check out the other clientele or because it's the popular place to be. I go because the food is excellent and I can't/won't make it at home. I expect to be able to chat with my dinner companions, enjoy the food, and walk away at the end of the night relaxed, full and happy.

Still, I've lost track of how many times I've almost marched into the kitchen to explain to the staff how to do their jobs. Or tried to find a manger to strangle. Either it's a mangled recipe (frozen icecream tiramisu when I was assured it was "authentic"), a total lack of service (no drinks brought to the table), or apathetic service (the waiters forget to take your order, or take your order, then forget you're sitting there...has happened at least 2x in the past year!)...or better yet, the classic "I heard you speaking English so I charged you a higher per-head cost than I would have if I thought you were Brazilian" scam.

Why is it so hard to get a decent meal and decent service in this country?
Or is it like this everywhere?

But in case you're wondering where to eat in Rio (on a granted, unlimited budget), here are my favorite date/girl's night out places:

CT Boucherie, Leblon (meat + sides rodizio, delish)

Osteria Dell'Angolo, Ipanema (Italian, small, buy a bottle of wine and pay with cash/check and they often offer a nice discount on the whole bill)

Venga!, Leblon (pricey but really, really good)

Uva, Vinho e Cia, Barra (great atmosphere, reasonable prices, good Italian-wanna-be)

Sushi Planet, Barra (Downtown Shopping rodizio)

BB Sucos, Leblon for the coxinha de galinha, truly the best I've had in the city.

Next time I get invited to Satyricon in Ipanema (worth it when someone else is paying!), I'm asking the server to pleeeease, pleaase give me the recipe for the pickled fish on their couvert tray, which is so wonderful and packed with dill and who knows what else that I am craving it right this very second.

But mostly, anymore, my favorite place?


On that note, off to make some lunch!


Ellen said...

Well, if you come this way soon, you can check out our restaurant and tell us how you think the service is! But hurry! Who knows how long we will keep it.

anne said...

I think if more folks would complain in a useful sort of way (like, stop going there, after telling management they were stopping), things would change. Maybe. Here, even at places like Steak n Shake, the food is seen as decent, so the lousy, slow service is "excused" in favor of the cheesy fries.

We get what we accept, mostly.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, I only order things I don't make at home or can't make. I would compare their cooking to mine, and guess who usually wins. We went to a restaurant for my birthday with 3 other couples (who also have birthdays the same week). We waited 2 hours to get our meals.BUT, the food was worth it. I just came home from the same restaurant tonight, we had 25 people for a buffet dinner at 8:00 pm. We got there and our meal was ready. So, he is in good standing again. Excellant food.