Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rae: 5th best Restaurant in Philadelphia?

Just recently Phili Magazine did their ranking of the 50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia. I was very pleased to see that I had worked at 3 of the top 4 places, but as I further scanned the list, I began to question the credability of the ranking. Rae, a restaurant I had barely heard of was ranked number 5. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought that I had been to all the top restaurants in Phili, but I was happy to try a new place.

My mom and I decided to go a few weeks ago. We got an 8:30 reservation and were seated immediately, however, not in the main dining room. We were seated in a section that was more the Cira Center Lobby. Now before I go and talk badly about this restaurant I just want to add a little disclaimer and say that criticizing restaurants is not my favorite thing to do, but I can dish it out when necessary. Ok so sitting in that section away from the dining room felt like sitting in a frikin airport, and my server was the anxious flight attendant who's tired of dishing out cokes.

Our server came over and gave us bread and two types of butter and a bean spread. I will say that the bean spread was absolutely delicious, and caused me to finish my roll rather quickly. I wanted to go out with my friends, and my mom wanted to watch a movie, so we told this lady that we were ready to order. She responded by telling us that our server would be out shortly. A minute later the same lady came back and took our orders. I thought this was quite funny and I tried, but was unable to surpress a giggle. Both the server and my mom looked at me. I felt like I was in school, when I would laugh at one of my teacher's corny jokes, and I would get stares from everyone in the classroom. So my mom and I ordered the truffle pizza to share, which was quite good, however I can't get over that synthetic taste of truffle oil. We then asked for more bread. I broke off a piece but only the outside came off. IT WAS FROZEN! Come on! I was hype for that white bean spread and then I get frozen bread!

We informed our waitress of this and she said she would bring some more right back out. In the meantime we were brought our second course which was short ribs with a pancetta dressing, BEFORE OUR OTHER PLATES WERE CLEARED! Come on I feel bad for you guys! Does the 5th best restaurant in Phili do that? The short ribs were delicious and the pancetta dressing had amazing body, yet that was all that was there. The 5th best restaurant in Philadelphia gives you a "composed" plate of Short Ribs and Pancetta Dressing for $32. Where are the glazed root veggies? The sauteed chantrelles? The braised onions? Hell, I would eat some KFC mashed potatoes with that, just give me something please.

So a while later our waitress finally came back and said, they are defrosting the bread now. It will be out in a minute. It's a saturday night service! How do you run out of bread! That's like when you're sleeping out, and it's only 12 and your friend runs out of the Tombstone Pizza. It can't happen! You have to prepare for these things in advance. Technical details like this seperate a good restaurant, from a better restaurant (not necessarily a great one). Finally we got our bread. This time it was not frozen, it was too hot to touch! I had to wait for a minute for it to cool down before spreading the remaining bean spread. We passed on dessert but asked for a menu to take home. We waited 8 minutes before asking anothing server who got one immediately. We left, not so happy with the dining experience.

5th best restaurant in Philadelphia? Doubt it but I can't answer definitively. My rating would be highly subjective. I came at 8:30 on a Saturday night, I only came once, and I only tried two things on the menu. Such mistakes however, seem unlikely at a restaurant ranked as highly as this one, and I therefore am a bit unsure of this "50 best restaurant" ranking. Though the words clearly say 50 Best Restaurants, maybe Phili Mag is referring more to the hottest or trendiest restaurants. Anyway, this experience taught me one thing. Just like you don't want to judge a car until you get a carfax history report, don't judge a restaurant until you've been there for yourself.


Unknown said...

i think you need a better undertsanding o how the service works in a restaurant. it certainly will hel your career if besides doing an apprenticeship in the kitchen, you try to work the front of the house at least for a couple of months.
another thing, people that go to a good restaurant are not in a hurry to go watch a movie, or go hang out with your friends. when you love food and know anything about it, yuo ant to enjoy food, why the rush? i dont imagine nobdy rushinfg a server in the french laundry because you have to go hang out with our friends. the same applies to other restaurants.

lando said...

Why would you state the fact that you were in a hurry to get to a movie and hang out with friends when posting a blog. If you are going to criticize someone you better have dined and not just have grabbed a bite. Also the fact that you stated that you can dish out criticism if you have to is a pretty pompous thing to say. Who are you trying to threaten with that comment? Lets get a little experience under your belt before you start bagging on people who have been cooking longer than you have been alive.

Chad said...

Sorry folks, I can't disagree more. No amount of "understanding of how the service works in a restaurant" or "experience under [his] belt" leads to this being acceptable.

Disappointment over the composition of short ribs & pancetta is a bit subjective, as is the truffle oil. For me, however, the clinchers are the frozen bread and the overall clear disappointment that Nick felt. A bad experience is a bad experience, period -- no excuses.

To be fair, every human institution makes mistakes. I guess this is why, for complete reviews, people visit a restaurant several times and try many things.

HOWEVER.. how many "regular" folks can do this? The average person certainly can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars repeatedly on wide-ranging tasting adventures to the same place, sampling a large chunk of the menu. They usually get one shot at it, and it's a special event.

Small things like frozen bread make a huge difference in the overall experience, and I have a suspicion that the impression of the entire meal would have been different had this one little thing been done properly.

Christian H said...

Frankly, I have to back Maria and lando on this one. Work front before you criticize the front, unless they are overtly unhelpful or rude. Period. This also applies to any service industry. Also, if the bread was frozen, ask why before deciding it's a screw-up. And if it is a screw-up, question how often it happens.

This is not to criticize our blogger host, of course. I do enjoy the blog. Just don't diss so easily. Customer service personel get enough flak as is, being on the front-lines between customers and management, usually with sub-par training.

Julia Rich said...

Oh geeze louise-- this was a great posting! I think the writing has real energy in it- and the enjoyment of food and the art of dining shouldn't be so clinical- you should be able to go to a restaurant, have a meal in the way you'd like (there's not one way to have a great meal! It's great to want to go, have a good meal, and then do another thing, see a movie), and the impression that you get doing things "this way" is just as valid as any other. It's an odd thing to get frozen bread! Perhaps what I'm missing is an understanding of the aesthetic of the joint- or what they say they're serving, or the vibe the place has. This would help me make sense of the description of the dishes, which as of now sound sort of uncreative and overpriced...
It's 'a thing' to get hyped as one of Philly's 50 best restaurants- as number 5- maybe they had a bad night- i wonder how it funcitons for people who have cited it as a great restaurant--but the posting seemed fair in acknowledging this while also taking things seriously enough to talk about food in a real way, (perhaps more 'rushed' than other postings-- which isn't a negative for me- just keep bringing them on!!)

Anonymous said...

I know this is too little too late, but service is service. The reasons you eat there are your business only. The bread was frozen, they had to wait to defrost more...WRONG! A CUSTOMER does NOT need to be a waiter to know good service from bad. We have all had good and bad servers at the same restaurant. A server gets paid to do their job, they get tipped according to their graciousness. Having to ask another server to get what you wanted shows that the other server was not attentive and probably thought she had lost her tip anyway.

A dining experience at a fine restaurant should be just that an that makes you want to come back. That was apparently not the air given off at this restaurant for these two.

Don't mind Maria or Lando, they obviously had bugs up their derriers (and were waiters/tresses that got bilked on tips at one time). They were awfully defensive! Christian had some valid points, but the restaurant manager should have supplied you with the should not have to do the research yourself.

Food critics don't even do what Christian suggests when they rate a restaurant. They go on their impressions and service just as you did.

I like you blog and just found it today! (and am now scanning your different articles, when I found this one).

Anonymous said...

Maria, and Lando, your reactions are totally in line with someone who was working at that restaurant that night and totally got in trouble for bad service. That's the only way it makes sense. The customer is paying MONEY for the meal and experience, you're not doing them a favor, seating them in a poor setting and than not having the basic details in place like BREAD is really a shame. Personally I would have called back the next day and complained to the manager, and swung a free meal to try the place again. Maybe they were having an off night due to the rush of customers who also wanted to try the fifth best restaurant in the city, but that ain't the customer's fault.

dining tables said...

Those photos are one of a kind. All those foods are looks very sweet. If I am going to have a chance to choose one. I will choose all.

Anonymous said...

How interesting---Rae seems to have closed within 12 months of Nick's review. There is no excuse for reheated frozen bread, nor truffle oil being sold as haute cuisine, nor for inattentive service. The critics of Nick's review seem to have a particularly inept vision of how service should be rendered to patrons.