Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Not to Run a Restaurant

Our least satisfying restaurant experience on this trip wasn't from some hole in the wall in remote Peru. Surprisingly, it came from our last night in Bonaire when we went to a restaurant that had been recommended to us - Richards. 

We're always a little cautious about recommendations because a restaurant may be great and yet not have much for vegetarians. We checked the menu and there was almost nothing vegetarian so we stopped in and asked, since many restaurants will make something not on the menu. We were told "no problem", they could make rice, pasta, or potato dishes with vegetables. 

So a few days later we went back for supper. The restaurant is in a lovely location, right on the water, facing the sunset and the waves. We started with a glass of wine and a Caesar salad, which was excellent. 

The owner was circulating (at least his name was Richard and he was acting like the owner). We listened to him describe some of their dishes to the table behind us, going on about the spices and sauces and the creativity of the chef. My mouth was watering just listening to him. 

But when our meals arrived it was a big disappointment. It was, literally, what they had told us - rice/pasta with vegetables. But that was it - no sauce, no spices, no flavor, no presentation. Just a pile of plain rice or plain pasta with some boiled vegetables beside it. Neither of us ate much of it. We drank our wine and ate the bread. Eventually the waitress asked if everything was alright and I said no and explained. She was young and taken aback and didn't know what to say. (I didn't get mad at her, just explained.) 

Obviously, she told the owner because a bit later he told her (in front of us) not to charge us. But he pointedly avoided talking to us. If he had come and talked to us, with an explanation if not an apology, that would have gone a long way to appeasing us. They could have offered to make us something different.   A free dessert wouldn't have hurt either. Getting the food we didn't like and didn't eat for free was better than nothing, but not really what we were looking for. 

I'm not sure what the story was. Maybe the chef thinks vegetarians are stupid. I don't have a problem if a restaurant chooses not to cater to vegetarians - just say so up front. Don't tell us you'll serve us and then do a crappy job of it. It doesn't do either of us any good. We could easily have gone somewhere else. Or came here just for dessert. 

It was especially bad in contrast with another restaurant we'd been to a few nights before - Appetite. They also had nothing vegetarian on their menu. They also told us they would come up with something for us. But, in contrast, their chef did an awesome job, serving us a delicious meal with a wonderful variety of ingredients, tastes, and presentation. (We love the local goat cheese.)

And another contrast was Sense, a restaurant we went back to s second time because we liked it so much. They didn't have to do anything special for vegetarians - they simply put enough vegetarian options on the menu to start with. Options that I'm sure lots of non-vegetarians took advantage of. 

So, Richards has a great location, and may have good meat and seafood dishes, but if you're vegetarian I'd pass. And if you have a problem don't expect it to be handled with much finesse.

PS. After leaving Richards we walked into town to go to Bambu (another place we liked) for dessert, but they were closed :-( Restaurants here seem to close quite randomly and regularly. 

So we went to the restaurant next door - La Luna (a place we hadn't tried) but when we asked if we could look at their dessert menu the waitress told us she was too busy to serve us, even though the restaurant was barely half full. And it was past the peak supper time by now.

We decided we were fighting a losing battle and went back to our room to pack. 

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