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Bad service in the Twin Cities [Moved from MSP board]

Foureyes37: I think your point about the relative novelty of fine dining in the Twin Cities is a good one (assuming it's true--I don't know enough about the history of TC restaurants to confirm this). This may explain why most service here isn't horrible but rather rough around the edges. I'd say that more than 50% of the time, my TC experience lies in the "satisfactory to leaves-a-bit-to-be-desired" category.

I also tend to agree (though I have no inside knowledge of this) that many Twin Cities restaurants seem to lack either a) equally high-end training programs for servers, which may be a casualty of the economy; or b) professional dining room managers to oversee servers. I certainly would not be surprised if there is a shortage of great managers here; nor would I be surprised if all the chef-driven restaurants around town simply treat service as an afterthought. A NYC farm team is an excellent idea!

Having said that, I have no problem with servers doing it for the money. It's unrealistic to think that the top 20 Twin Cities restaurants, let alone the hundreds of lesser restaurants around the metro, could hire career servers. This is possible only in a very few cities at certain types of restaurants (I'm thinking of Daniel in NYC or Galatoire's in New Orleans). A grad student who's waiting tables can still take pride in her job, complete a training program if it's offered to her, and try to summon patience and knowledge when interacting with customers.

Sep 29, 2010
torchon in Not About Food

Bad service in the Twin Cities [Moved from MSP board]

Regarding Travail, the server didn't punch anyone (even playfully) and I don't think he would have. He just seemed agitated and annoyed. That doesn't make for a comfortable dinner. He attended to us until dessert; the woman who served us dessert was very friendly.

Maybe I bring out the worst in people, but then again I've heard lots of people echo kevin47's sentiments. It seems that restaurant owners and chefs don't always realize that nothing ruins a dinner, and ruins it so memorably, like bad service (and I don't mean merely inattentive service). The meal I had a Piccolo was the best I've had in the Twin Cities, and had the server not apologized and allowed us to order what we wanted, it would have been his bad attitude and not the great meal that stuck with us.

Sep 29, 2010
torchon in Not About Food

Bad service in the Twin Cities [Moved from MSP board]

I've noticed a pattern of bad service in the Twin Cities and have been meaning to comment on it for a long time. Here are some recent examples:

On a visit to Travail, the restaurant lived up to its name: travail means both suffering and to inflict suffering or to torment, although I'm sure this isn't the experience the restaurant has in mind. From the moment we sat down at our table, our chef-server seemed intent on finding a reason to punch someone, anyone. He was not only brusque but also uninterested in offering details about the items on the chalkboard menu. Perhaps this is a shortcoming of the chef-as-server model: his mind was on the food, and we were distractions. Or maybe it's true that most chefs are misanthropes: Gordon Ramsay may be a great chef but I wouldn't want him to be my waiter.

At a late-evening dinner at Piccolo, we encountered the prototypical pretentious server. When we mentioned at the beginning of the meal that we would likely be ordering several courses, he balked. A minute later he returned and declared in no uncertain terms that 10:00pm was approaching (our reservation was for 9:00 but we weren't seated until 9:30) and that we were running out of options. There would be no opportunity for additional courses. Leaving aside the fact that restaurants should never discourage eager customers (especially in these tough economic times and especially before they've even begun their meal), there's a professional way to handle closing time considerations. Unfortunately, this guy had no idea how to handle them. An hour later, a table behind ours asked him for the wine list and he couldn't suppress a groan.

To make matters worse--much worse, because I think this is the Cardinal sin of service--he was condescending. He corrected one companion's pronunciation of a dish, not with grace or charm but with nearly vindictive relish. He also grew impatient with another companion's questions about preparations and his explanations were cryptic.

Remarkably, and to his credit, he must have realized how off-putting his demeanor had been because he apologized to us about 15 minutes into dinner. It's a good thing he did, because that had been the kind of service that can absolutely spoil a terrific meal. I know many people (myself included) who will give restaurants a second (and third) chance after eating mediocre food but are forever turned off by condescending service.

There are other examples, too: predictably stuffy service at La Belle Vie, gruff servers in tank tops at Craftsman, perennially uppity and indifferent service at Heartland, even moody cashiers at such pedestrian places as Turtle Bread Co.

I'm curious if my luck is bad or if other people have a similarly pessimistic outlook on service in the Twin Cities. (Full disclosure: I was once a server myself and was not immune to bad moods; however, the experiences I've mentioned go far beyond simple irritability). There are exceptions, of course. For instance, I've found the service at Meritage to be outstanding. I also know the risks of generalizing. Still, having lived in or eaten extensively in cities with better and "fancier" restaurants (Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Atlanta), I'm left with the impression that several Twin Cities restaurants are plagued by bad service. So much for Midwestern hospitality.

Your thoughts? Recommendations to prove me wrong?

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La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

Turtle Bread Co
120 S 6th St, Minneapolis, MN 55402

Meritage
410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

Sep 28, 2010
torchon in Not About Food

Victory 44 or Travail?

Thanks for the thorough reply and for including the menu. It's really helpful. I haven't read anything else so negative about Victory 44. I'll be curious to see if other people have had similar experiences there.

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Victory 44
2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN

Sep 20, 2010
torchon in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Marrakech--new in mpls

I couldn't agree more. What isn't wrong with Gandhi Mahal? Bland and boring. Minnesotans really don't get Indian food. It's not just the aversion to spice; I've been disappointed by every Twin Cities Indian restaurant I've tried (some more than others, of course). Compared to other large cities I've lived in, the Indian food here lacks something: no complexity of flavors, neither originality nor authenticity, just "Indian" food. Please, if someone knows of an Indian restaurant to prove me wrong, let me know about it.

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Gandhi Mahal
3009 27th Ave South, Minneapolis, MN

Sep 20, 2010
torchon in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Victory 44 or Travail?

I have family coming to town this week and want to take them to Victory 44 or Travail for lunch. Which one do you recommend? Is one doing something manifestly better than the other? I can't find a recent menu from Travail online, so it's difficult to compare them. I'm also wondering about the ambiance of both places.

Thanks!

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Victory 44
2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN

Sep 20, 2010
torchon in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Best produce in the metro

In the Summer and early Fall, all the major farmers' markets but especially St. Paul and Mill City. Loon Organics at the Mill City market is a personal favorite (with a great CSA program). Two words: hakurei turnips! Although the season for them has now passed...

Otherwise, the Wedge.

Aug 21, 2010
torchon in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please Help Plan our MSP Foodie Weekend!

- Best morning coffee *: Kopplin's absolutely

- Best breakfast joints: Definitely not Hell's Kitchen (the name is apropos)! The Twin Cities has a conspicuous shortage of good breakfast places. You're on your own.

- cheap ethnic foods that we don't get in IA (Hmong, Somali, Viet, etc.): Thai may not be the most exotic, but Bangkok Thai Deli on University in St. Paul is unbeatable. Ngon is also good, and as someone already said, has its own nerd beer bar. Also, stop by Midtown Global Market and eat at La Sirena Gorda: wonderful ceviche and great octopus tacos. Then, walk 50 feet to the Salty Tart (a bakery--not exotic, but delicious) and buy one of everything.

- good sushi: With a New York/San Francisco pedigree, avoid our sushi like the plague.

- Jewish food? Mort's Deli in Golden Valley is okay. If you want kosher, there's Fishman's. But really, neither is worth your time unless you're desperate for a deli.

- Fish fry? Fried smelt fry, specifically? Another vote for the Red Stag (which also makes some good cocktails, although the lighting above the bar is nauseating). Also, try Sea Salt for all sorts of fried seafood and a nice outdoor locale.

- Beer nerd beer bars: Happy Gnome. Many local/regional selections.

- Best beer / liquor store *: Surdyk's

- Great cocktail bars (like old school cocktails, not 'tinis): Bradstreet Crafthouse and the bar at La Belle Vie. I prefer the ambiance at La Belle Vie; at times too many obnoxious folks at the Bradstreet. However, not everyone shares this opinion. Some people think La Belle Vie is stuffy and boring, and that's a fair point. Haute Dish is also good.

- Late night / street food: In the non-late-night street food category, you must try Chef Shack. There's been some debate on this board about whether Chef Shack really has street food cred because they make "fancy" dishes with locally sourced ingredients when possible. Who cares? Their food is amazing. Catch them at the Mill City Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings. Even for Iowans, that's a nice market to check out.

Also, do yourself two favors and avoid the State Fair and Heartland. As a transplant from NYC/Chicago to Minnesota four years ago, I don't understand Minnesotans' hysterical love of these places. The State Fair food is depressingly average. And given its universal acclaim and the zealotry of its fans, Heartland may be the most overrated restaurant in the city.

Hope this helps! Have a great trip!

Aug 21, 2010
torchon in Minneapolis-St. Paul

4 nights, 4 great dinners in NOLA

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Cochon, given the good press and James Beard recognition. Any opinions?

Jan 04, 2008
torchon in New Orleans

Elegy for Element, Atlanta

Wow. Blais has a restaurant in what looks like a converted diner at the Kennesaw Airport and now he might be on Top Chef. What's going on? It seems to me like he's too restless and would do well to devote himself to a signature restaurant for a few years. I can't imagine he would have trouble finding a good home.

Dec 15, 2007
torchon in General South Archive

Elegy for Element, Atlanta

The last time I visited Atlanta (September), I ate at Element. It turned out to be one of the most exciting meals I've eaten in Atlanta, made more exciting (and eventually annoying) by the rowdy crowd in the bar above the restaurant--it was the night of the Georgia Tech v. Boston College game! When I went to the web site a month later, it had closed.

I'm interested to know what happened to the restaurant, but more importantly: Where is Richard Blais? He deserves to be cooking somewhere. I considered the dinner at Element to be on par with WD-50 in New York. Can Atlanta sustain such creative cooking?

Dec 15, 2007
torchon in General South Archive

Most Overrated Atlanta Restaurant

It's good that you mentioned Seegers. It was always a very polarizing place. I ate there twice--once was wonderful, once was decent. But I knew many people who were passionate admirers and just as many who hated it (more often for the attitude than the food).

Dec 14, 2007
torchon in General South Archive

Most Overrated Atlanta Restaurant

Based on one dinner at Rathbun's, I also think it's overrated, but I didn't include it because friends in Atlanta have said it's gotten progressively better over the past six months. True?

I didn't include Pricci, Buckhead Diner, Shout, Twist, etc. because I think they're generally bad and most people (at least folks on this blog) know they're bad.

I will go out on a limb and defend Pano's and Paul's. Knowing it was past its prime, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food the last time I visited (about 18 months ago). Of course, I realize a lot of people still consider it the gold standard, and in that sense it's certainly overrated.

Dec 14, 2007
torchon in General South Archive

4 nights, 4 great dinners in NOLA

Thanks everyone for the recommendations. Iris seems interesting. I'd be curious to hear of other experiences there. Might also try to make time for Mila.

For all my times in New Orleans, I've only eaten at Commander's Palace once, about 9 years ago. It wasn't very memorable, except for a ridiculous risotto that included something like 13 varieties of sausage! That may sound like heaven, but it was actually a mess.

As for Brigtsen's, let me know you think, Vikzen.

Dec 14, 2007
torchon in New Orleans

Most Overrated Atlanta Restaurant

In the hopes of sparking a debate, let me propose two overrated Atlanta restaurants:

1. Among restaurants with an established reputation: Woodfire Grill. I know it has a devoted following, but I just don't get it. I've eaten there twice and been disappointed both times. The first time was colossally bad, with overcooked salmon and vegetables that must have been boiled, without salt or other seasoning, for upwards of an hour. Since I've moved away from Atlanta, friends have reported similarly sad experiences. But a few friends still defend it. They say it's the truest observer of slow food in the city and that I should go in expecting less wow and more soul. You tell me...

2. Among newcomers: Trois. Sacre bleu! To be fair, I've only eaten there once. Still, one of my dinner companions had the worst duck dish I've ever tasted: Prepared sous-vide (or maybe microwaved--who knows?) with a watery, limp and flavorless green papaya salad, it was slightly more disappointing than my flounder "Parisian." Servers were also arrogant and displayed a geologic sense of time--25 minutes before first approaching the table, 30 minutes to bring the check, etc. Afterward, I wondered if I wronged the chef in a past life. Alas, two friends have been equally unimpressed. Based on the hype and near-universal acclaim, I expect more. What do you think?

Dec 14, 2007
torchon in General South Archive

4 nights, 4 great dinners in NOLA

Hi,

I have 4 nights in NOLA and am looking for the 4 best restaurants -- any cuisine at any price. I've visited NOLA five or six times in the past 10 years but only once since Katrina, when many restaurants were still closed. Here's my list so far:

1. Herbsaint
2. Bayona
3. Stella
4. WILD CARD

I've been to Herbsaint and Bayona, and liked both. I thought Herbsaint was better, with more refined presentations and flavor combinations. Haven't been to Stella. Is it worth it? The final choice is wide open.

Many thanks!

Dec 12, 2007
torchon in New Orleans

Joel's make-over (Atlanta)

Hi,

Joel's website promises some spectacular changes: "to create a restaurant unlike any other in Atlanta" that "will redefine the fine dining experience."

http://www.joelrestaurant.com

Does anyone know what these changes entail or, since the restaurant apparently reopened last night, have a fresh opinion of its new presentation?

Many thanks!

P.S. I ask because I'll be in Atlanta this weekend (having lived there from 1994 to 2003), and am debating whether I should try to revisit Joel.

Sep 13, 2007
torchon in General South Archive