Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bistrot Lepic: Being French Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

Admittedly, we hadn’t put too much research into our choice of restaurants in Georgetown. We had taken Citronelle off the list, because H didn’t have a jacket with him. Oh well.

We found this well reviewed French bistro, Bistrot Lepic on Wisconsin Avenue. We got there after a bit of a hike. We walked into a narrow hallway with a flight of stairs straight in front of us (up to the winebar). We entered the restaurant which opens right into the dining room of tightly packed tables. Luckily, we got a slightly larger table further back in the restaurant.

Our server came right up and gave us our menus. He didn’t come back again until he took our order...and THAT was a bit longer than it should have been, so no drinkie to help us decide.

H started with the black trumpet mushroom risotto with snails. Very flavorful, very rich. I had the mussel soup with leeks and potatoes. It was rich and tasty, but a little too thin. Very nice warm crusty bread (with cold butter) was offered... piece by piece...I guess that's why the French are so thin.

Our entrées didn’t come…and didn’t come…and still didn’t come. And our table was completely ignored by any type of waitstaff. Anyone that came near just rushed on by with nary a word of explanation.

Finally, when every single other table had been served, even later arrivals, the waiter stopped by quickly and said it will be soon. Still waiting, more waiting. Then a higher-up person and said in a very thick French accent something about the tickets being confused. No apology, no trying to smooth over things…just a quick word. He did offer H another glass of wine. I was being passive aggressive, so I said no to another flute of the house champagne. Our entrées still didn’t come.

I wasn’t hungry anymore, I wasn’t happy anymore and I wasn’t interested in whatever I had ordered half an evening ago. Just then, of course, the food came.

My scallops were sautéed and sitting on top of a broccoli purée surrounded by ginger butter with pretty speckles of chives and sprinklings of paprika. The ginger flavor was repeated in the broccoli to good effect. H’s medaillons of beef with polenta and an old time shitaki mushroom sauce were good he said, but I thought the dish looked a little dowdy. The polenta WAS delicious.

After the table had been cleared and crumbed, a selection of desserts was shown as I said, "You must be kidding." "You think I’m going to spend one more second in your lousy bistro and wait for you to get a dessert order right, sometime before sunrise? You are joking!” Oh, wait, that’s just what I said in my head. To the server I said, JUST the check. I got my coat on and we left as quickly as we could.

It was a shame. As I’ve said before, I don’t go to restaurants to fight and moan. The FOOD at Bistrot Lepic was wonderful. The service was worse than unfriendly. It was inefficient and unprofessional. You don’t leave a table just hanging there, when you KNOW there has been a problem in the kitchen. That’s what’s so hard to understand.

If the loss of the order had been acknowledged (at all) and the staff had been at all interested in making us happy, I probably would have thought, oh, they made a boo-boo, but weren’t they nice to bring us a salad while we waited or whatever…As it was, they ignored the problem AND US and ruined an day that had been so gloriously started by my brush with reality television royalty.

Why does every discussion of a restaurant degenerate into a discussion of the service? No matter how good the food is, bad service casts a pall over the entire meal. Good food means nothing if it’s brought 40 minutes late and without apology or redress. I guess the truth is you don’t have to be French to stink at service, but it’s way more disappointing if you are…


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Well, it's rare that a dinner can be so good that the service doesn't matter, and when the service is really good, it can really put a smile on your face as much as the food.

I would have been very tempted to say what you were thinking to the waiter when he offered dessert. It was too late for him to spit in your food if you were leaving.

There are some places that are going to ignore the non-regulars and non-elite customers. I've been ignore in restaurants because someone obviously knew the owner or the host. If I feel I'm deliberately getting the cold shoulder, I make sure I don't ever go back.

Sue said...

You're right!!!
I forgot that the prospect of hepatitis from the kitchen or waitstaff wouldn't come into play if we didn't order dessert. And, unfortunately, they won't care that they'll never see us again.

But I almost never say anything, in keeping with my philosophy that if I wanted a fight I could just call my daughter and tell her I didn't like her boots, or latest haircut, or really anything.

Carol Ott said...

I had a bad experience there years ago and hoped it was just a fluke.

One of the most fun French food evenings I ever had was at the Bistro Francais on M Street. Actual French patrons, too, which only added to the fun. :)

Sue said...

Hi Carol,
I wish I'd known...I'll keep the other place in mind if we ever go back...

Emiline said...

I'm sorry you had a rotten experience. It could have been a really nice evening, since the food was so good, and you were in a nice city.

Makes me want to try harder with my job.

One time, my family went into a coffee house/restaurant, and ordered our food at the counter. I think we were the only ones in there. We went and sat down, chatted a bit, and waited, and waited. By then, we knew they had forgotten about us, but we still sat there for a little while. It was an hour later, and still nobody had brought our food, so my dad got his money back, and then we left. I couldn't believe it.

Sue said...

That coffee shop sounds awful. The worse thing is that they didn't sound at all apologetic. I hate to say it, but you probably could have gone next door to a Dunkin' Donuts and you would have had your "food" in 30 seconds...as well as heartburn and an elevated blood sugar, I guess.