Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Aragosta, Battery Wharf, Boston

Dining out, eating in restaurants, is a luxury.  It is the act of paying someone else to do a task that you could do yourself.  However, we dine out, we eat in restaurants for the experience, for the treat of it.  Sure, some of us tell ourselves it's to try something new, to check out a new cuisine, to find inspiration for our own cooking.  These may all be true, however beyond all of that, dining out should be like a little gift we can give ourselves.  This is the reason, I believe, that it is so upsetting when a restaurant fails to deliver.  When we are served something over cooked, or under cooked, something under salted or over, or something just off, well it rankles us.  We have committed to treating ourselves, but are finding dissatisfaction. Never good.  However, far worse than an overly salty bite, or perhaps a tough piece of meat, is a bad experience service wise.

Saturday evening my family and I headed out to celebrate both my birthday and my mothers.  We selected our restaurant of choice, the newly opened Aragosta on Battery Wharf, as the site of our festivities.  Aragosta opened just about two months ago in the Fairmont Hotel and has been receiving great reviews ever since. Their menu read like a delicious dream, and our anticipations were high.

We arrived on time for our reservation, and after a wait despite numerous empty tables, we were led to our table.  My first concern with dinner popped up just as we were sat and our server arrived to take our drink order.  Now, on this particular evening, in a cruel twist of birthday fate, I was under orders to not indulge in alcohol.  Anyone who knows me, probably knows that this was a curse worse than bad birthday cake for me, but I was trying to make the best of the situation.  I read through the drink menu, found one that sounded tasty, and asked if it was at all possible to make it non alcoholic.  Given that the selected drink was a mojito containing just rum with seltzer water, and fruit juices, I thought it might be relatively easy to convert to non alcoholic.  My request, as easy as I thought it was, was met tentatively, with our server stating that it was possible to do, but the bartender may choose to charge me for the drink as it is on the menu, alcoholic or not.  After some back and forth, and the word "silly" being tossed around quite a few times, I requested anything non alcoholic and that surely they could accommodate the request.  The bartender refused to not charge the full price, but, our server to the rescue, offered to absorb the cost of the drink.  I appreciated the offer, but I was left to wonder, what type of a restaurant was I in?  How could they not accommodate a non alcoholic request?

I got my answer throughout the course of the meal.  While our server continued to be helpful and kind, the service around her was an abomination.  The much anticipated drinks took about 20 minutes to be delivered.  They were delicious (alcoholic and otherwise) but were tinged with annoyance.  We ordered a couple of appetizers, the much acclaimed truffled lobster and white bean crostini, as well as a beat salad served with goat cheese, pine nuts and a pomegranate reduction.  The lobster crostini stole the show this round.  Thins of toasted baguette were topped with a creamy white bean puree, and then large pieces of lobster meat were loaded on, gently enhanced with truffle oil.  The decadence of the lobster and the truffle oil were beautifully balanced by the earthy beans, and the crunch of the toast was a perfect texture change.  The beet salad was also tasty, but nothing remarkable.  The duo of beets and goat cheese are time honored, and I had hoped that the pomegranate reduction would have been a unique twist but unfortunately it didn't create the flavor burst I was looking for.  All in all though it was a solid dish.

The time between our appetizer course and our entrees was the most unforgivable issue of the evening.  We waited between courses for approximately 45 minutes to an hour.  We spoke with our server who was understanding, and then I spoke with the manager, who found it amusing.  He laughingly told me that I should be using the time to build my excitement for the food I was about to be served.  Let me tell you- there are very few places where a wait to that length would be used to "build excitement" and not anger.  Those places would be run by world renowned Ferran Adria or Grant Achatz-those are restaurants where the presentation is art and the food is precise.  Aragosta, open for 2 months in a forgotten hotel on Battery Wharf?  You have not yet achieved that pinnacle of expertise and command of your craft.  I was not excited to wait for your creations.

The truly sad part about this was that my entree, seared tuna served over roasted fennel with marcona almonds and sweet raisins was delicious.  The combination of flavors and textures was spot on.  It is clear that the chef is beyond competent, and is, rather, brimming with creativity and strong execution.  His competency however, was completely overshadowed by the abhorrent mismanagement.

I spoke with the manager for a second time for the evening, this time him instigating the conversation I'm sure to receive a glowing report that the food was stupendous.  I agreed that it was delicious, but completely overshadowed by the poor experience of the long wait.  He seemed unphased.  

We were sent dessert to make up for the issues, an incredible chocolate cake, a light and beautiful olive oil cake and a plate of three types of gelato, each delicious.  The underlining notion, even here, was that the food is exemplary, but the service is lacking.  

Aragosta has a wonderful chef team.  Their food is precise.  It is imaginative, well contrived and artfully prepared.  However, if front of the house management is unable to clean up their systems and properly staff their dining room, I fear that the kitchen will forever be overshadowed and under appreciated.     


Kristen said...

I can't believe it. Honestly, they need to get it together! I am so glad you liked the food but wow the service is such a shame! I will report back on how my sister and her friends fare tonight!!

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

That is too bad that you encountered poor service, and on your birthday no less! At least the food was good. I am going there on Thursday, I'll take note of the service. I think that great service really ads to the enjoyment at a restaurant and it's too bad that Aragosta service doesn't seem polished/hospitable enough yet.

The Small Boston Kitchen said...

Sorry your birthday dinner wasn't the best experience..sounds like we'll just need to celebrate it again!

In and Around Town said...

The food sounds amazing, but I totally agree, when you deal with such bad service it is hard to get excited about the food or the experience. The floor manager needs to learn a bit more about dealing with customers - his responses are crazy!

Emily @ A Cambridge Story said...

ugh! I was looking forward to trying this place out - and I couldn't agree more that poor service completely overshadows an excellent meal. Same thing happened to me at Lineage in Brookline. A major disappointment.

Jen said...

Happy belated birthday, first! I'm sorry you experienced such arrogant service at dinner. You're right, no matter how delicious the food, bad service always leaves a bitter taste.

Sounds like a perfect candidate for a little Gordon Ramsey "Kitchen Nightmare" action!

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