A periodic look at my recent communication with readers.
Nancy Segal, the couple’s daughter, was understandably upset when she learned her mother wasn’t allowed to sit down ahead of her father. “They kept telling her she could sit at the bar — and it’s Friday happy hour,” Segal, a member of the dinner party, wrote me. “What happened to common sense and common courtesy?”
It’s the same thought I had when I contacted the modern Greek restaurant for a response. General manager Timothy Galvin replied via email that Segal’s mother arrived 45 minutes ahead of the reservation and “seemed perfectly happy” to be offered a chair in the entry. When her husband came in, “he immediately began berating our 20-year-old hostess,” which prompted the staff to break its policy and seat the early birds, a move that involved some shuffling of parties, says Galvin. Subsequently, Segal and her companion showed up on time for a dinner that “they all seemed to enjoy,” the manager recalls. Partly because of the perceived slight, gratis champagne was sent to the table. Even so, Segal, who complained on her way out, says Kapnos Kouzina lost four customers “and my respect.”
While I wasn’t there to referee, my takeaway is this: Rules should be bent on occasion, particularly when there’s an available table and a customer in need.
At what he describes only as a “nice” restaurant, Andy LaVigne and two other diners rated their entrees “spot-on delicious.” LaVigne’s wife, on the other hand, took one bite of her grilled dorade and pronounced it fishy. “I tried it, and agreed with her,” emailed the Arlington reader. “She did not want to make a scene and didn’t want another entrée at that point. What’s the best way for someone to deal with a situation like that?”
For an answer, I reached out to Fabio Trabocchi, the owner of one of the finest seafood restaurants around, Fiola Mare in Georgetown. Like the professional he is, the chef said: “We love when guests tell us when something is wrong. It’s our responsibility to recover.” Had the situation occurred in one of his restaurants, he says his staff would have sprung into action by preparing either a fresh version or an entree of the customer’s choice. Meanwhile, a small portion of pasta or soup would be whisked to the table so the diner could eat along with the other guests.
The best time to complain about something, Trabocchi reminds us, “is when the guest is still in the restaurant.” Afterward is often too late to make proper amends.
Speaking up shouldn’t be viewed as disruptive, by the way. Raising a problem can be done subtly, without drawing much attention to oneself. Phrases I’ve used in the past include “This isn’t what I expected” and “The chef might want to taste this.” Both beat leaving a restaurant disappointed or hungry or both.
They’ve checked off Komi, Minibar, Obelisk and the Source , and can’t do seafood or spicy at the moment. Also, they won’t be drinking much. Where, in other words, should expectant parents go for a splurge meal before their baby arrives? That’s the question posed by District reader Jason Kleinman, who wants to keep the tab under $150.
Kinship, the intime creation of chef Eric Ziebold, home to an exquisite roast chicken for two for $56, certainly fills the bill, as does Masseria . The romantic Italian retreat is watched over by Nicholas Stefanelli, who turns out exquisite pastas and squab cooked beneath a brick, all of which can be ordered a la carte (between $28 and $38). Yet another choice table awaits at the Dabney, a source of Mid-Atlantic fare and a handsome hearth, where the signature small plates top out at $20.
On a visit to a family-run restaurant in Washington state, Barb Keeler of Kilmarnock, Va., got more than she bargained for in a bowl of chowder: “a pearl-sized rock that nearly broke my tooth.” She handed the pebble to her waiter, who informed the chef, who in turn told Keeler, “I can’t scrub every clam” — then walked away.
“What is the etiquette in this situation?” asks Keeler. “I felt like I should apologize!”
On the contrary, the chef missed an opportunity to smooth things out with profuse apologies (at a minimum) and the offer of a replacement or anything else the diner wanted — preferably sans foreign objects. Restaurants are in the business of making people happy, after all.
Other than the rock, how was your meal, Mrs. Keeler? “It was marvelous,” the easygoing reader shared on the phone.
A couple’s plan to celebrate their 30th anniversary with a Sunday night reservation at Equinox in Washington came to a literal halt recently when they encountered Secret Service and District police near the restaurant. “Apparently there was a suspicious package and car, and nobody was allowed to enter the block,” emailed Marguerite Tom-Wigfield. The Silver Spring resident and her husband, Allan, waited an hour before calling to cancel their reservation. A hostess encouraged them to return, as the situation had been cleared up, and so they did, only to find a room packed with diners who had been turned away from other restaurants. “We sat in the bar, had a drink, but decided we were ready to call it a night.”
Chef-owner Todd Gray came over to apologize. “He encouraged us to return and to contact him directly when we made our reservations so that he could do something to make up for the evening,” wrote the Silver Spring reader. But that wasn’t all. “He was concerned that we would have no place to go for dinner since it was getting late on a Sunday night,” so Gray rushed back to the kitchen to whip up “two complete dinners within five minutes.”
The couple were so thrilled, they messaged me from the road. “We are driving home not feeling disappointed,” emailed Tom-Wigfield, “but rather elated with tremendous gratitude and appreciation” for the chef’s kindness. A photo of their care package, alongside a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, followed.
Confirming the details of the night, Gray said, “Our goal is to exceed people’s expectations.” ■
Next week: a review of Haikan, a new ramen shop in Shaw.