Friday, January 28, 2011
Service v. food redux
We just returned from San Francisco - and yes, even though it's January, the weather was as good as these two photographs appear.
And, being on vacation, we were out to a whole lot of restaurants. Two of them were the best of them - Cafe de la Presse which was listed as one of the Top 10 of San Francisco and Alioto's - a decidedly touristy Italian restaurant at the wharf.
The food at Cafe de la Presse was very good and some of it was fabulous - we shared three different appetizers, we each had the Friday night special bouillabaise and shared a dessert. Everyone loved everything, though I admit that the bouillabaise didn't blow me away. It was very good, the fish and the broth was fine - but it was all of a muchness. Three or four kinds of white fish, fennel, and, if I remember correctly, one kind of shellfish - also white.
But the service was another matter. We had a snob for a waiter and we were, quite obviously in his opinion, not good enough to be waited upon by him. The minute we said no to his suggestion of a very expensive bottle of bubbly he looked down his nose at every one of our requests. The food runners and bussers were great, cheerful and charming, but our waiter was the exact opposite. I might, if pushed, return to the restaurant as the ambience and the food were delightful. I would, however, insist on a different waiter. It didn't ruin my evening - we were there with two of our favorite people so it would be hard to ruin it - but it certainly wasn't as good as it could have been.
But Alioto's? That was a whole different story. You've all been to those restaurants that are magnets for tourists. They're found on waterfronts everywhere and often surrounded by those wonderfully tacky shops full of cheap souvenirs. When you go to these kinds of restaurants, you pretty much expect mediocre. You go because of the location, because they're easy to spot, because everyone else is going.
First of all, we had a table by the window and looked out over the wharf and the boats and out to the water. Our waiter was delightful. He arrived the minute we sat down, told us what was going to happen and when. The bussers arrived with water and bread and the waiter quickly brought our drinks. We had all imbibed a little too much the night before (and at lunch) and so we ordered a couple of glasses of wine. There was no derision on his part - he treated us as if we'd ordered a $100 bottle of wine.
My pasta - cappellini with shrimp and crab - was fabulous, with the exact right amount of sauce (too many Italian restaurants smother the pasta). My partner's halibut was very good (though he wasn't too pleased with the mashed potatoes) and the other two meals were good as well, certainly better than we'd expected.
But if I had the choice, I would return to Alioto's and not to Cafe de la Presse. Once again, for me, great service trumps great food.