Old Budapest is Hollywood's version of an Old World restaurant, with lots of music, lots of Teutonic trappings and lots of schmaltz. Put a Las Vegas nightclub in south central Europe and you've got the idea. But take away the strolling violinist, the heavy chandeliers with their teardrop crystals and the grandly set tables and what you have is a pretty awful restaurant. Behind the baronial facade is a kitchen that makes a disgrace of Hungarian cuisine and a staff that gives new meaning to the word novice.
Indeed, service at Old Budapest has been abysmal. Not only does the dining room staff appear to be overworked, it is sadly lacking in the most basic of service skills. At dinner one evening, after a 20-minute wait for appetizers, we asked our waitress for something to tide us over until our orders arrived -- perhaps a basket of bread, we suggested. "The busboy's supposed to do that," groaned she, nevertheless obliging. (She shouldn't have bothered, for it turned out to be no more than warmed-over toasted white bread.) Indeed, "the busboy" was blamed for similar oversights on another visit, but strangely enough, he seemed not to exist at all as far as service was concerned.
Another evening, a waitress deposited two empty beer bottles on our table so she could take our order -- and left them behind after noting our selections. Indifference was evident during every visit, in fact. At the conclusion of our first dinner, the waitress brought coffee to the table and offered, "I'm not sure this is any good -- let me know." In fact, the coffee wasn't good -- neither were the dreadfully grainy tortes, for that matter -- but she didn't stick around for our response.
As if such missteps weren't enough, there were long waits between being seated and being acknowledged by the staff and between courses as well. What's worse, the food matched the quality of the service.
About the best that can be said for a lot of the cooking is that the vegetables weren't overcooked, or the chicken paprika was moist or the lamb kebab was cooked as requested. But the fact of the matter is that most dishes were appallingly lacking in taste: an appetizer of french onion soup was a sheath of anemic cheese over a bowl of broth that had no more flavor than hot tap water. A bowl of vegetable soup was full of vegetables all right, but proved equally vapid. Even the packaged crackers were stale on two visits.
Among the hors d'oeuvres, only the cream cheese-like liptoi cheese had much taste, flavored with scallion bits and a dusting of paprika.
Main courses followed suit: a pork feast included an adequate if insufficiently seasoned cabbage roll, some off-tasting red cabbage, a pork chop, and a dreadful, crumbly piece of tough sausage. An otherwise tasteless garlic steak, doused with a thin, dull wine sauce, suffered from an overdose of garlic. But the most disastrous dish was a veal entree stuffed with crab meat and swiss cheese: The veal was raw, mushy tasting and inedible.
What's worse than Muzak? Possibly enduring a last-minute change in entertainment -- a recital by the featured pianist's adolescent son -- which diners sat through one night, or a group sing-a-long of "Edelweiss" another evening.
Clearly this is meant to be dining as entertainment, with none of the setting's glitz making its way onto anything that comes from the kitchen. To be sure, I'd rather view "A Comedy of Errors" from a theater seat than from the dining room of a restaurant.