Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whining and Dining

In case you couldn't figure it out, I really, really, enjoy food. I especially enjoy a great dining experience, be it ever so humble. Two recent dining experiences left me whining.

I planned a lunch a few Fridays ago with one of my former bosses who's a trusted colleague and friend. Plus, he works right in the vicinity of the North End, one of the best places in the universe for a great meal. I was taking a vacation day and was between Boston By Foot tours, while he was merely taking his lunch break. We went to Ducali on Causeway Street, about which I have previously raved regarding their potato pizza.

We arrived at 11:40 am and were greeted by a friendly young hostess. We were the only ones there but were cheefully seated. I got to try Tower Root Beer (all jazzed up after reading about it in Edible Boston). I convinced my friend to split a green salad with me, which came out huge and wonderful. We each ordered a small pizza. We were both grateful for the salad, because it took nearly an hour - not kidding - from the time we were seated until the time we got our pizza. The hostess - who was also the server - visited us about 45 minutes into our wait to say the pizza would soon be ready, explaining that "you guys were wicked early, and the ovens weren't heated up yet."

Both pizzas, when they finally arrived, were perfectly delicious. But allow me this whine: Ducali -- your subtitle is Pizzeria. Your website is It's a Friday and you are open for business. How can you possibly imply that an hour-long wait for your main menu item (which I can get in 5 minutes at 15 other places in a 2-block radius) is my fault for showing up "wicked early"?? I know the economy sucks, but trying to save money on fuel for the ovens is just bad business. I'm sure my friend, who works steps away from your shop, will avoid you for a business lunch due to the ridiculously long wait. A shame, because your atmosphere and product are fantastic.

But Ducali, you are not the only place that apparently thinks saving money is worth angering your customers. I got together with another group of friends (members of the defunct Metropolitan Dinner Club, no less) to try out Woodward in the recently-opened Ames Hotel during Restaurant Week. I guess this could be more our fault as we naively trusted that RW is an opportunity for restaurants to attract business during slow periods like the heat of summer and to show off their creativity. By some illogical accounting, dinners are $33.10 per person for RW throughout the city. At Woodward, we discovered, food is served "family-style". We were told that the 4 of us must choose just 2 appetizers and 2 entrees to share; the only dessert choices were 2 items anyway. And the chef would proportion it all for our party.

Being agreeable types over a bottle of wine, we agreed and ordered our apps (cherrystone clams stuffed with chorizo and crispy pork belly with rhubarb) and our entrees (sea scallops over summer succotash and hanger steak with fries). The clams were presented proudly on a large platter. Exactly 4 clams. We each eyed the circumference of the clams and politely tried to select one that was not too many millimeters larger than another. Some minutes later, another large platter arrived with exactly 4 pieces of crispy pork belly. My piece involved two savored bites. Very delicious! Very tapas-ish and kabuki! Where is my food, I wondered!

Now for the kicker. Our first entree, proudly placed by the smiling waiter, was yet another large platter lined with a corn-potato relish and topped by - yes -- four sea scallops. Grimly and silently, each member of our party selected a scallop and a dollop of succotash. As we scraped the platter clean of vegetation, I finally asked whether this was a joke or what.

Unfortunately for us, it was "or what". Two platters of steak frites showed up with an OK portion of nicely rare steak and giant piles of fries and dressed greens. Our waiter explained the bizarre meal as the chef's idea of what constituted a "portion" over an entire meal. Plus, he declared, look at all those fries! And that corn succotash is really filling. Ah yes, I love paying thirty-three dollars for all the fries and corn I can shovel in.

The two dessert options were provided in individual bowls (2 servings of each) so that, to share, we had to dip into one another's bowls. We stopped short of telling the server that we had communicable diseases.

Again - a fun and lovely room with a lively atmosphere, and quite tasty food (especially that damn pork belly). Too bad a stupid and petty management decision to rip off the Restaurant Week Rubes left a bitter taste in our mouths.

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