Monday, February 18, 2013

Restaurant R'ant

First a word of thanks to the people at Restaurant R'evolution. For too long, I've been a passive diner, content to just let a meal unfold and let small problems slide by forgotten until a dinner post mortem. But see, small problems often hint at larger problems. Like slight tremors along the San Andreas, they foretell much bigger issues. Thanks to R'evolution, I think I'll speak up early and often.

So from now on, when I walk into a nearly empty restaurant and are promptly seated at an awful table, I won't keep quiet. I'll ask to move. Who knows what causes hostesses to place me so close to their hostesses stand? I can't imagine anyone wants to spend anymore time with me than they have to, but there we were once again sitting within airshot of air traffic control.

Perhaps next time I walk into a restaurant where only a select number of the tables have tablecloths, I will ask for the manager. When the manager comes over, I'll make him an offer. Either move us to one of those tables or take ten percent of our bill. Why not? If you are going to charge the same prices across the dining room, why shouldn't I get the same cost as other diners? Who makes the decision to clothe only half the tables? You either want the hassle and expense of putting tablecloths on tables or you don't. To do so only halfway shows me you only care about some diners, not all of them. And just a tip, a tablecloth would cover up the ridges in a table where you turn a four top into table for five.

This is a town that likes to be offered a drink. Normally it is customary to do so shortly after sitting down, as a way to welcome your guests. We were seated and we waited. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited. Are you tired of reading that sentence over and over again? Imagine how we felt waiting for a drink order to be taken. We waited another twenty minutes for our drink order to arrive, one of which was a beer, the other three classic drinks which have been made in New Orleans for decades. A 12:30 reservation got its first drinks at 1:10 pm. Next time, I'll bring in a flask. Someone could have died of thirst.

Breads came next. They were dry and stale. This should have tipped us off that the kitchen took a day off. A few orders of crab beignets for the table, which had the dubious pleasure of being one of the better things we would eat. A plate of four came with four different sauces, none of which were provided in sufficient quantity to enjoy and hidden at the bottom of a reservoir under the beignets. I had an easier time getting my freshmen homecoming's date bra off than scooping out these sauces. In both cases, I failed.

Who knows whether John Folse or Rick Tramonto developed the recipe for the snapping turtle soup, but likely each of them would blame the other. It was greasy, bland, and resembled a chili, which is not a compliment. The death by gumbo was delicious, with a rich thick emulsified stock draped around a partially boned and stuffed quail.

With the soup course, the real problem of R'evolution manifested itself. The servers are trying to pull off a highly intricate and choreographed service style with all the finesse and elegance of sumo wrestlers pirouetting. Here is how it is supposed to go. Plates are either dropped simultaneously or the women are served first. When pouring soup tableside, it helps for it to happen in sync. Two in our party got the same soup. The server went back and forth between the two diners filling the bowls in a piecemeal fashion, until all the soup in her tureen was gone. If you don't have the staff or expertise to pull off on-site plating, just add the soup to the bowl in the kitchen. Our server was sweet and tried, but without any management or a maitre d', the whole service was bumbling and adrift. What appeared to be the people in charge spent most of their time huddled over POS machines and idly chattering.

I certainly won't encourage anyone to order the eggs a la creme, which is a martini glass of scrambled eggs topped with a baby spoon of caviar. Good thing someone has the option to spend up to $80 on this. The bird in a cage somehow managed to make braised dark meat dry, breast meat moist, and skin flabby. To paraphrase Meatloaf, two out of three ain't good. The watery broth at the bottom of the bowl vowed to help OJ Simpson find the real coq au vin sauce.  Please learn how to make rich and delicious mashed potatoes before trying to make a truffled version. Your peanut butter ice cream was the highlight: luxurious, creamy, nutty, and slightly salty. Do more of that.

The thing with all restaurants, but especially high end dining, is they need a force, someone in control who sets the tone. They need more than just loads of money thrown at them, faux marriages, Robert E. Lee's camp stove, and press conferences. Restaurants need someone to care about the place and the comfort and enjoyment of the guests on a daily basis. There is a saying in football that if you have a dual quaterback system, you don't have a quarterback. I think that applies here. We left wondering who exactly is in charge?

We are well past the days where one expects to see a chef owner in the kitchen. Usually a chef with other concerns leaves a lieutenant or two to watch over and to make sure his or her vision is executed.  I left unclear as to what the vision at R'evolution even is. Is it fresh spins on classic Creole and Cajun cooking? A high end steakhouse? A time capsule of two men's cooking careers? What are they trying to do?

Until they figure out what they are, I'll complain as best one can, by going somewhere else.

21 comments:

Mike said...

Completely agree. We didn't order a lot of the same things, but had very similar issues. Had cocktails in the bar beforehand, and the cocktail waitress had no idea which liquors were on offer, suggested Bourbon Street-worthy cocktails not befitting a very high-end restaurant, and required us to cash out before moving to our table.

Our head waiter was excellent, but the other servers seemed constantly confused, pouring the wrong broths into the gumbos (caught by the head waiter, but took another ten minutes to rectify, while the other dishes sat on the table. Sorry, but in a restaurant of the caliber this one wants to be, all dishes should have gone back and been delivered at the same time.)

Food was all good, but nothing was truly excellent. I had the same issue you did with confusion over the kitchen's identity. Did they want to refine classic dishes, or just make classic, rustic dishes and charge more for them? Plus, the course sizes were terribly planned. If you ordered as the menu seemed to suggest, the richness and size of the courses would prevent you from even thinking about finishing.

Overall, I just didn't get it.

Cade Roux said...

And now I'm gutted that I gave a gift certificate to R'evolution as a Christmas present. Note to future self: only give gift certificates to places you have tried...

Fat Harry said...

I realize that it is gauche to comment on the price, but holy nutbutter is this place expensive.

Kevin said...

I know people who say they've had the meal of the year at R'evolution.

All I know is that I bellied up to that beautiful bar, which had every liquor under the sun along with tinctures and extracts and a dizzying array of high-end cocktailian ingredients, and asked the barman for a club soda with lime. He not only didn't have any limes cut, but had to go looking for whole limes because no one had stocked the bar with the basics. That summed up my experience there.

Rene said...

Mike,

I edited out a bit about portion sizes, but they are comically huge, which I guess sort of maybe justifies Fat Harry's well-placed point about the expense. But not being ablt to finish your entree isn't always a good sign.

Kevin,

It really makes me wonder if anyone who actually owns the place has sat down and tried to eat a meal there?

Anonymous said...

Yes. I think most of the people who claim to have had great meals there are reluctant and afraid to admit otherwise for fear of looking foolish at having wasted the time and money to go there...especially in light of the alternatives this city has to offer.

thomas cook said...

This is great. I never liked the idea of those two together anyway and it always perplexed me. Saves me the trip, for a few years anyway, and the money I dont really have.

Anonymous said...

What you describe is very similar to my own experience back in October of 2012. Service was inattentive and amateur, food was lackluster. I've been surprised at the number of positive nods the restaurant has received on the web, I was beginning to think we experienced a very off night. Too many better options in town to bother with a return.

Anonymous said...

Went there last night for the first time. Had a reasonably good experience, but I could definitely see hints of what others are saying here, plus some things that are just obviously screwy.

In the obvious department, the decor is schizo. The place is just not big enough (or segmented enough)to theme each room differently. Antoine's can do this because they're freaking huge and each dining room is its own world; R'evolution, not so much. The inconsistent table clothing only served to further highlight the discord.

The other thing that is objectively screwy is the menu. Too big, too disparate, and the layout almost guarantees you will order too much food if you do not tread lightly.

Service was good overall, but that's mainly because our headwaiter was on point. The ancillary staff were rough. The kid who brought out our amuse stumbled through his presentation, as did our bread guy. It's almost like they hired a handful of skilled, professional waiters, then hired kids off the street for the rest.

The food was fairly good overall. We shared the burrata cheese and caviar app, which was good if pricy. I also had an order of hogshead cheese which was good and inexpensive, though the accompaniments were overkill, especially the random handful of trail mix on the board. For entree, I did the scallops and foie gras, and based on most other scallop dishes' sizes I got a side of artichoke and mirliton au gratin. The wife went the pasta route with the goat cheese tortelli and we added an order of the sizzling oysters appetizer to share. This ended up being too much food because the entrees were larger than expected, though in the case of scallops this may not be so bad. The scallops were cooked exactly right, the foie was a large serving, the truffled white bean puree was tasty without being overwhelming, but the dish was a touch on the salty side, probably due to the bacon vinaigrette. Overall, a nice dish, but filling. The au gratin wasn't bad, but I could only do a couple bites after my entree. It worked well as a leftover this evening, but it wasn't anything special. The wife liked her pasta, but it wasn't very memorable. The oysters were your run of the mill "oysters baked with stuff" dish that everyone does. They were done well, but again, nothing special.

We looked at the desert menu, but were too stuffed to go for any. I will say that the LED backlit menus were obnoxious in the extreme. In lieu of desert, we got a jewelry box of bite-size sweets with the check. Neat, but not the first time I've seen that presentation.

Overall, we had a good meal, and would probably go back at some point, but I was not blown away. Since blowing people away seems to be the goal of the restaurant, it failed in that regard. The prices are also very high in relation to my enjoyment level. I keep thinking of the epic meal I could've had at Boucherie or Coquette for the same amount of money I spent on just a good meal here.

Anonymous said...

Finally! We've had two terrible meals there, one in the dining room and one at the bar bar. We went back the second time because we simple could not believe that our experience was typical. I am so sick of every restaurant in New Orleans being lionized just by virtue of their opening. Perhaps now people will stop looking at me like I have antennae when I object to a third visit.

bloggle said...

Never to be one mistaken as the smartest person in the room, I'm usually protected by my instinct. Last Fall I was invited to R/E and before my second foot was across the threshold I smelled a big, phony rat. If you tried by get me bitter by giving me a bottle of bourbon and Season 5 of Top Chef on DVD I couldn't have written a better review. In a city where real is valued and phony is shown the door, this joint is about as plastic and soulless and they come.

Brian C said...

#1. After 20 minutes with no drink, I am heading out.

#2. After looking at a menu and seeing shrimp and grits for 29 bucks, I am immediately heading out the door. I don't care how big the portion is.

Seriously, this is why I would just as soon cook at home. Even up here in redneckville, we are seeing restaurants opening with higher prices, and then, somehow, since it's high priced, the public says "hey, it must be awesome". Then, even if they don't think it's awesome, they are scared to say anything due to backlash from "those in the know". I think that is why so many places are going casual with higher end food. That is all.

Kim Ranjbar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim Ranjbar said...

Although I didn't have the service nightmare you experienced, I did have some problems with the food. My pasta, though flavorful, was mush and the bread was similar to yours, dry and old. It's a bummer because it's such a beautiful restaurant. Also, I wasn't paying so it didn't hurt as badly ;)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you went to the same restaurant....we were there sunday night and again today for lunch, each time was amazing and wonderful.

craigtrent said...

sounds like youre trying way too hard to slam this place as dramatically as possible. our group local busines owners, two of us in the restaurant business have dined here three times. each dinner was an absolute delight, served by a very polished, professiional, cordial staff. from the head waiter on down to the busser everyone did their jobs superbly. we have explored the menu enough to have confidence to order anything and know it will be better than good. twice we met mr folse, and once we met mr tramonto. proof positive that these chefs are actually in the kitchen, unlike many of the other star chef eateries. looking forward to visit four!

Sarah C said...

Folse's Bittersweet Plantation in Donaldsonville was my favorite special occasion destination in the early 2000s, so when we visited NOLA in early November 2012I had to go. The experience was a letdown, even including my once-favorite "death by gumbo." This restaurant has too much flash and not enough Folse.

Rohan2Reed said...

Sorry to hear you guys had such an awful time. This place seems to be to the Nola restaurant scene what Tim Tebow was to the NFL when the Broncos named him the starter. People on both sides of the "is it worth it?" argument. I have been twice (once dinner last August, once lunch last October) and both times we had very few problems with any of the food. At the dinner there were 9 of us and nobody ordered the same dish so I got to taste many things and I couldn't find a complaint about any of them outside of the chicken under a basket or whatever it's called. The service both times was pretty subpar though. Very clunky and unorganized. Hopefully they can par down their ambitious service and master the basics first before they get into the showy stuff, and also from what I've read from you and others the kitchen could certainly benefit from being more consistent .. and consistently good.

David said...

Gotta agree with craigtrent. The review seemed a bit harsh given some of the criticisms. It felt more like an effort to fill a review with as many puns and include as much wit/sarcasm as possible. Perhaps even too much R'Anting? You are correct in your new found decision that if you don't like the table the restaurant has given you, you should ask to be moved. And why wait for 20 minutes to get a drink? Get up and go speak to the manager. Let them know you have some concerns right away and allow them to fix them. Lastly, I don't see how some tables having cloths and some not is much of a negative. Questionable decorating maybe, but not much of a selling point in condemning a restaurant. I've had two good meals there. Both times the food was very good, and the service was above average. I think with a little more time the service will be able to catch up to the quality of the food. Given the solid effort on the food, the level of the service, and the environment they have created, I would say that R'Evolution is on par with its competitors and worthy of it's prices. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

we've been several times and enjoyed it. highlights: crab beignets (you're not supposed to get each of the sauces...pick a couple and enjoy), burrata and caviar, crab stuffed frog legs, the potted meats (a bargain at $5), and the excellent steaks. steak accompaniments menu is awesome. the pastas are good as well.

wine list is annoying as is the dessert menu gizmo. weakest point is the service, it's unpolished. definitely a lack of leadership.

but we have and do go back. mostly for the apps and steaks.

Anonymous said...

We had a similar experience in December. I didn't post it on Chowhound because I was afraid of getting flamed. They did not have our reservation when we arrived (made about a month ahead and confirmed that day). We stood for several minutes at the hostess stand. Not even a seat at the bar or a drink was offered. The service was confused and inattentive. They did seat us at a table with a cloth but made a point of mentioning it as though we should have been grateful. For a table cloth? The wild rice with the quail was inedible. Wild rice is lovely - but you have to rinse it and you can't serve musty old stuff. The fish napoleon was just sad tan mush. I was ill until 3:00 the next afternoon and no, it was not bottle flu.