Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Tale of the Perfect Meal

Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman who had her dining experience ruined by the evil waitress serving her. Okay, so I'm the beautiful young woman (because I am. Really!) and the woman wasn't evil so much as extremely inattentive.

You see, it was my friend J's birthday. Now, birthdays aren't as fun for us as they used to be. It's that slow climb towards middle age that sometimes feels like it's happening at the speed of light, mostly when an unwanted gray hair pops up out of seemingly nowhere. She chose Staccato for her birthday dinner, the benefit of being older that you can afford to treat yourself when you want. We'd been there before, both for dinner and just for drinks or happy hour. L happens to think that their chicken pesto pizza is just about the Best Thing In Town while I am particularly fond of the Wiseguy cocktail. I highly recommend it if you are one who can handle your alcohol. It is instant happiness in a glass. On all of these occasions, we had perfectly pleasant experiences. The food is very good with excellent presentation and I'd never had a single complaint. Until the evening in question.

As I said, it was J's birthday. Now, we didn't mention this when making the reservation because we had no reason to expect that we'd enjoy our evening any less than we had on previous visits. How wrong we were. First, we were seated at the very first table behind the hostess station. Not the best place, rather disappointing, but someone has to sit there and it turned out to be us that night. We grumbled a little bit while we waited for our first drink.

Our server, who will be known hereafter as Ms. Ignore-the-Table-in-the-Corner, seemed nice enough at first. She came to take our drink order and took our appetizer order when she brought our drinks. And that was the end of that. She brought our appetizer and proceeded to ignore us for the rest of our meal. She didn't take our dinner order until we had eaten all of our appetizer. This made for a very long wait between courses. She neglected to let us know what the specials were, we had to ask. She was very slow in asking if we'd like a second drink and never asked if we'd like a third. She never came to check on us or ask if we needed anything else. There was a young girl who brought us water and we ended up asking her if she could bring our check and box our leftovers as she was more attentive to us than Ms. Ignore-the-Table-in-the-Corner.

Something you should know about me is that I might complain to my dinner companions about the service we receive but I truly do try to give someone the benefit of the doubt. There is a reason that waiting tables isn't my job. Maybe she was having a bad day/her dog was sick/her boyfriend just left her. But we watched her and every other table got her prompt attention. She walked past us dozens of times while serving them and completely ignored us. Wouldn't even look at us. It was like we were invisible to her. Or else a really dirty pile of laundry in the corner that she'd rather not deal with.

Needless to say, her poor service and inattentiveness ruined our dinner experience. J was especially unhappy since it was her birthday and this was supposed to be a treat to make her feel better. We had planned on splurging on dessert even, but by the time our dinner finally arrived we only wanted to leave and it couldn't happen fast enough.

And here we come to the part of the story where I did something I've never done before. I wrote a complaint to the restaurant. I have friends who have complained very publicly about poor service and rude restaurant staff. Some of you may be familiar with the Kanpai Incident from a couple of years ago. I never felt that any experience warranted that much attention. And I didn't this time either. After thinking about it, the real reason I wrote to Staccato is because I really like it there. I had enjoyed all of my visits up until this one and I thought that if that evening had been my first visit, I would never have gone back. And I didn't want someone else to feel this way about 'my' restaurant. It actually mattered to me, odd as that sounds.

So I sat down with my friend the laptop and sent off a quick email to Staccato Management. I really didn't expect a reply. I suppose I'm used to the attitude that people don't care anymore. "So what." "Who cares about you." "We have a full house tonight so you must be wrong." I certainly didn't expect the response I got. Susan Pasquetti, co-owner of Staccato, wrote me back personally and quickly. She sincerely apologized, and seemed honestly surprised by Ms. Ignore-the-Table-in-the-Corner's service as she was one of the original staff members and apparently had the reputation of being "extremely attentive to every detail." It was a surprisingly heartfelt and much appreciated response.

Fast forward three months to last night. A rare night out with L. An actual Date Night. I decided to give Staccato another try. As much as L loves the pizza, he'd never actually been there for dinner and, although aware of my previous bad experience, had no expectations of his own. It turned out to be one of the Absolute Best Dinners Ever.

We were seated at a cozy table in front of the fireplace. Our server this time was Amy. She introduced herself to us right away and took our drink order. Throughout the entire meal she was prompt, courteous and attentive. She answered questions about the food knowledgeably and complimented my choice of entree. (I don't know why I get such a kick out of it when they do that. I just do.) She brought us more bread to dip in the delicious tomato broth that the clams and mussels came in. She brought L more coffee. She boxed our leftovers neatly. She was absolutely perfect.

The surprise of the evening came when Susan Pasquetti herself brought my entree out personally to meet me. She is a lovely woman. And before you say anything, Amy asked at the end of our meal if I know Susan. I replied that we had just met, having the impression that Amy wasn't aware of my complaint letter. I believe her wonderful service was indicative of how she treats all of her customers.

And now I must take a moment to tell you about our meal because it was that good. I'm not a restaurant critic, I just like good food and this was exceptional. We started with the clams and mussels. I told you that Amy brought extra bread to go with it. This is because the tomato broth is so good I wanted to soak up every last little drop of it. The bread is also worth mentioning. Crispy, crunchy crust with a soft, pillowy inside. I am somewhat of a bread connoisseur and this is really excellent bread. If I had to choose only one type of food to eat for the rest of my life it would probably be bread and cheese. See? I'm really a simple girl.

Next, I knew I wanted the Caesar Roulade salad. Similar to the traditional Caesar, it is served as a heart of romaine with goat cheese stuffed inside the leaves. I happen to have an obsession with goat cheese lately so I really just love this salad. L chose the same and was also pleased.

For my entree I had a bit of a debate with myself. I've had the Mock Beef Tender before and loved it. Bread, cheese, meat - simple girl, remember? No comments from the peanut gallery necessary. But then Amy came to inform us of the evening's specials. Staccato has a risotto special every night. I've seen other people order it before and while the presentation was beautiful, I was only briefly tempted to try it. Last night's risotto consisted of duck, roasted red pepper, a goat cheese mousse and shaved truffles. Then she told us about the mahi mahi with two kinds of sauces and an apple-crab salad on top. Darn. Steak? Duck? Mahi mahi? I normally go with what I know, but threw caution to the wind last night and went with the risotto. When duck is done right, there's not much that beats it. And this was certainly done right. I expected a few pieces of duck with mostly rice. I got a moist, delicious duck morsel in every bite. And the risotto? Just the perfect amount of cheese, not overwhelmingly rich, like the kind of rich where you have two bites and you're done. I wanted to eat all of it but after the clams and mussels, extra bread and salad I just couldn't do it. Which just means I have a delicious little lunch waiting for me today.

L went with the Mock Beef per my recommendation. This comes as beef medallions with the most delicious goat cheese gratin (obsesssion, remember?) and beautiful, flowery stems of broccolini. He loved it. Described the steak as "melt in your mouth." And it did. I stole a couple of bites. Little bites of heaven.

Last night being Date Night, and having such success so far, we went for it and ordered dessert. I was very disappointed to learn that they had run out of the creme brulee trio but L spotted the pumpkin cheesecake right away so I settled for that. Settled does not turn out to be the right description. I'm not even a big pumpkin fan, but this was as close to the perfect cheesecake as I have ever had. Topped with just the right amount of whipped cream, swirls of caramel on the plate and the prettiest and most delicious piece of pumpkin seed brittle on top. More bites of heaven. Four to be exact because I was absolutely stuffed. The cheesecake also ended up in a little box and is in the fridge waiting to be fought over later.

It was, in the end, The Perfect Meal. Impeccable service, exquisite food and the company? A Date Night to beat all date nights. I couldn't have been happier.

The moral of the story dear readers? Not everyone deserves second chances. Not what you thought I'd say? It's true. But anyone who honestly and sincerely tries to do their absolute best for you does deserve another chance. Susan Pasquetti and Staccato fit this category to a T. Thank you Susan, Amy and the Unseen Chef for an incredible meal and a truly remarkable evening! My love affair with Staccato will continue.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Don't pee on your sister!

A few months ago I couldn't imagine why I would say this particular phrase. Now I say it all the time.

I have two dogs, which would normally require two leashes. But I'm a genius and got a double doggie harness, which hooks one leash to both of their harnesses. Now they are the ones fighting if they get tangled up instead of me wrestling with two leashes, switching hands, undoing the mess they get themselves in. Brilliant! Except for one thing.

Remy loves to stop and pee on every bush, tree and rock every 10 feet. Daddy encourages this behavior, probably because peeing outdoors is one of the few ways in which he can actually bond with said dog. Mommy thinks it's gross and says so. And little Ruby? Well, the poor little girl is often in Remy's line of fire even if she's not actually a target. He's somehow managed to miss her so far. Until today.

I decide it's a beautiful day, nice enough to go for a nice, long walk by the river. No stress, right? Wrong. Because here we are, strolling along, until I get stopped short by Remy sniffing a tree, a rock, a bush, a pine needle. And more often than not, Ruby is smack in the middle of Remy and his desired pee target. So I tug on the leash and say "Don't pee on your sister." We go on our merry way.

Until It happens. I don't catch him in time. He stops, sees a tree, doesn't even give the warning sniff. He just lifts his leg and marks his spot. His spot ends up being his sister's neck, because she is standing in the unfortunate location of Between Remy and the Tree. And it's the white part of her neck, so there's a nice yellow pee stain for the remainder of our walk. And I'm yelling at my dog, "I told you not to pee on your sister!!" like some crazy person.

Ruby is recovered now, even if I'm not. I got her all cleaned up and sprayed her with pretty puppy perfume for good measure. I sprayed Remy too, just because it scared him. That'll show him!
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