My Top Restaurant Pet Peeves

Having worked at Westchester restaurants as both a waiter and bartender in the past, I have the utmost respect for those in the service industry. It’s a tough juggling act to maintain an extensive knowledge of the menu and wine list, to ensure the food and beverages are presented properly while also making sure your customers are content. That being said, its not freakin’ brain surgery. The best servers are knowledgeable, enthusiastic (without being annoyingly peppy) and are able to recognize the table dynamic in a matter of seconds. But even the worst of servers should be able to follow a few of the most basic guidelines as to not ruin a customer’s dining experience.

1. GET THE DRINKS TO THE TABLE

Anyone who has ever been to a restaurant with me knows this is far and away my biggest pet peeve. Within the first few minutes of sitting down a server should greet the table and take a drink order and I would expect to have the drinks shortly thereafter. No drinks and no server makes WWG an angry customer. Remember servers, drinking customers are happy customers.

2. OPEN THE BOTTLE OF WINE AT THE TABLE

I understand that at a local pizza place they may not go through all the proper wine service steps. I don’t even mind if they don’t offer to have someone at the table try the wine first to make sure that it is drinkable. My expectations are pretty low. However, I do not like when they bring the bottle to the table opened with the cork stuck back in it. Call me skeptical, but I have seen some shady things behind the scenes and I’d like to make sure what I am drinking is what was put in that bottle by the winery, not by someone in the back of the restaurant.

3. CONDIMENTS MATTER

I always try and order all the extra sauces and add-ons when the food order is being placed.  Regardless, whenever I order buffalo wings with ranch dressing instead of blue cheese 4 out of 5 times they forget to bring it. Sometimes they rush right back to the kitchen and bring it out which is fantastic. But more often than not they completely forget as it is such a small thing and I am stuck staring at my wings for 5-10 minutes as they get cold and I get frustrated.  The same goes for ketchup with a burger and fries and crushed red pepper with pasta. Call me crazy, but I’m not eating the dish without the condiment that enhances that dish! The condiment can be just as important as the dish itself, so having them come out at the same time or shortly thereafter is a crucial aspect of basic service.

4. WATCH THE SWEAT AND BE SURE TO PUT ON THE DEODORANT

As I mentioned earlier, I worked as a server in a very fast paced environment and I understand these guys are busting their ass. However,  sweating and stinking is not a good look for a server.  Even worse is when drops of that sweat make their way into the drinks on the table… gross.

5. THE FUGAZI KNOW IT ALL WAITER

I admit, I can be a little high maintenance as a diner. I ask a decent amount of questions as I am curious about the dishes and wine list, and am always looking for further insight from someone in the know. However, if it seems like the server is uninterested and is just an order taker that’s fine too and I lay off with the interrogation. But what drives me crazy is the server that gives the wrong information regarding the dishes or the wine pretending they know what the hell they are talking about. If you don’t know, say you don’t know and see if you can find out the answers. I am much happier to wait for the right answer than to find out later the immediate answers given were wrong, especially when a dish comes to the table completely different than described.

Some of you may read this and say “Stop your bitching and just eat the food”…at least that’s what my wife tells me. But when spending your hard earned money to enjoy a meal out of the house, it is disappointing when the simplest of things ends up ruining your dining experience.

Oh, and that’s not me in the picture above…but I feel that dude’s pain 😉

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Review of Two Popular Westchester Restaurants…Flames and Il Sorisso

This week I had the good fortune of eating out at both of these well known Westchester dining establishments. They are very different in style, cuisine and even location. But quite frankly I find that most people just won’t read a full restaurant review, so I figured I would consolidate and do a 2 for 1. But the overall consensus on both places is that they are worth attending, as long as you are aware of a couple of subtle flaws.

First, Il Sorisso in Irvington. A large group of us went on Saturday night for a Birthday celebration. We were about 16 people and they put together a great package dinner menu. For around $50 a person it included salad, pasta an entree and all the beer, wine and coffee you could drink. They also let us bring in a few bottles to start with for a minimal corkage fee which I am always a fan of. Team Bruno killed it and graced the table with a Pride Cab, a Mondavi Oakville Cab, a Jordan and the Anderson Conn Valley Right Bank blend… all fantastic! However the Pride Cab they brought was the 09 which would still be a bit young, so I swapped them out with my 03 that I have had stored for about 5 years. Holy crap was that drinking well!! But I digress…

While the food was all really solid (I had the Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage and a “Homemade” Veal Parmigiana) and the service was great, I still left the restaurant with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth… and it was not from the food or the wine. My wife and I were the first to get to the restaurant and Game 7 of the Ranger vs. Caps series was being played night. There is a flat screen TV over the bar that had a rerun of Sportscenter on. I asked the bartender if he could put on the game instead, but he said the owner had to make the call on that. I figured it would be an easy enough call, but boy was I wrong. I asked the uninterested owner if he could put on the game, but the combination of the restaurant being a bit busy and the remote control being ALL the way in the basement just made it impossible to put on the game. Seemed a bit odd to me, but I am not a huge Rangers fan, so I kind of let it go. But I informed him I was part of a large group that was going to be spending a good amount of money in his restaurant and there were about 6 big Ranger fans coming in that would certainly have the same request. His answer… a very nonchalant “OK”. So he was prepared to shoot down another 6 requests for the game, which he basically did. I mean, we had to harass the guy for the 45 minutes we were waiting for our table to get the game on. And of course by the time he finally caved, our table was ready.

So I guess my end take on Il Sorisso is this: The dishes were all fresh and well prepared and the pricing is somewhat reasonable. The staff was very attentive and moved us through the meal wonderfully. However the owner has not quite grasped the whole “customer experience” concept which makes it a tough place for me to frequent, especially when there are so many solid Italian restaurants in Westchester that are the exact opposite.

Next up, Flames Steakhouse in Briarcliff. This is arguably one of the best steakhouses in all of Westchester when it comes to the beef, depending on the night. We had a work function on a Thursday night and when we all discussed the meal the next morning, everyone had different opinions on the steaks based on which cut they ordered. Those of us who got the NY strip thought it was fantastic, while the ribeye fans thought it was a little too fatty…even for ribeye. The filet was solid too, but not of the same caliber as the strip. The issue is if you go on another night it can be the exact opposite. Obviously the quality of the cuts the restaurant is getting from their meat distributor has a lot to do with this, but for the price of their steaks you would expect a little more consistency across the board.

Flames also mixes in a good amount of Italian fare into the dining experience. Again, we went with a large group so we were able to order a bunch of small apps to start. The eggplant rollatini may be the best in town and the lobster ravioli literally melts in your mouth. But it’s tricky to pull off this Italian restaurant and steakhouse combination, almost like the restaurant has an identity crisis at times. We ate in the wine cellar, which I would highly recommend, and they have a nice secluded outdoor patio section as well. But the interior is sort of a retro throwback to the 70’s and again, its tough to tell whether you are in a steakhouse or Italian restaurant. Personally, I like that throwback and somewhat “wiseguys” kinda feel…but I have a feeling I am in the minority on that one. But unlike Il Sorisso, Nick (the owner) will make you feel right at home and is looking to make your dining experience as pleasurable as possible.

So while I can’t give either restaurant a glowing review,  I can tell you that I really enjoyed my meal at both Il Sorisso and Flames. Are they my top choices to go to for Italian food or Steak respectively in Westchester? No. But if they are in your neck of the woods and you haven’t been yet they are both worth a shot. Just be sure there are no important sporting events you are planning on watching at the bar that night 😉