Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ambrosia -- An elixir of the cyanide kind

801 N Main St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Tel: (714) 550-0811

It was supposed to be a happy evening spent with friends in celebration of a birthday. What transpired was not only bizarre, but an experience I had never encountered, until tonight, in 15+ years as a professional food writer, cookbook author and now, blogger.

As soon as we walked in, we knew it was going to be an interesting evening. The dining room was kitschy like one would find in a 70s restaurant, complete with lounge singer and another accompanying on the piano and synthesizer. The plastic foliage should have been a dead giveaway, but we were marveling at how a restaurant only 3 years old could be so dated in every possible way.

Our server Cesar was the start and end to our problems. The minute he offered us water -- sparkling or still -- and heard we were fine with tap, was the start to the ill-treatment we received. His immediate response was to remove all the wine glasses from the table before we’d even had a chance to peruse the menu or wine list for that matter. Such pre-conceived notions perhaps that maybe, people who like to drink tap water are somehow too gauche to want wine with their dinner is why he removed the wine glasses in the first place?

With the wine glasses, he also promptly removed the a la carte menu leaving us with only the prix fixe version. He then informed us that we all had to order the prix fixe or the a la carte menu—there was no mixing and matching allowed, but if we were to order the prix fixe, then side selections from the a la carte were acceptable.

He started with me when he took the orders and after I had selected my appetizer and entree, proceeded to ask what I would like for my dessert off the prix fixe. I asked him if I had to tell him right now and his answer? ABSOLUTELY YES! I sighed and gave him my response.

Our appetizers of flambed shrimp and beet salad were so-so. It didn’t blow us away, but they were just average. The general manager who flamed our shrimp is an eccentric Frenchmen who actually gave a damn about our dining experience. He was pleasant and inquired about our meal a couple of times throughout the evening.

However, when our entrees arrived, we realized that every one of our meals were cold. The plates they were served on were cold. Not only that, but the steak frites was ordered medium and arrived rare. The most bizarre thing was that the meat tasted off. It had the gameyness of unfresh meat. I immediately spat it out.

Incredibly, the braised Colorado lamb was not gamey at all, but I was surprised that it arrived like a ragout served with undercooked pappardelle which only needed a minute more in the water for it to have been perfect. Such a waste of homemade pasta too.

I found it strange that seabass could be overcooked since it’s such an oily fish. I cook it all the time at home and never have I found seabass to turn out dry. But there is always the first time for everything.

When a busboy inquired about our meal we informed him that the steak was not edible. His immediate response was an apology, followed by a ‘what would you like me to do’, and then ending with the shirking of responsibility off to the kitchen stating he took no part in preparing the meal. He did say he would send a manager over.

What we got was Cesar who says to my friend “I see you’re going to take your dinner home”. My friend with the steak shook her head and told him no. He then replied “that’s good news since we’ve run out of ‘to-go’ boxes and I was going to suggest you finish it since you won’t be able to take it home”.

Perhaps it was just as well that my friend didn’t understand his sarcasm but it wasn’t lost on the birthday girl who was quietly seething away. We didn’t even know how angry she was until the general manager stopped by before she let loose her contempt for Cesar.

Not having a good meal happens sometimes. Kitchens have bad nights, it’s totally understandable. But if you’re working at the front of the house, it’s your job to make sure your diners are having a good time regardless of how the food is. Not only did we have a subpar meal, but the blatantly rude behavior of Cesar just pushed us over the top.

Although the GM ended up comping out meal, it was too little too late. The birthday celebration was ruined. The birthday girl was devastated, and birthdays only come around once a year!

*I have never been so distracted that I didn't even feel like taking photos, but as you can see there is only one photo to accompany this entry and a shoddy one at that*


melissa said...

Yeah... you? No photos? Yikes.

I feel terrible for the birthday girl and want to smack Cesar. I'm glad the GM actually tried to help, but it doesn't change the night. What a shame.

icedgreentea said...

It's still unbelievable to me! And the fried onions still look disguisting.

nrc said...

That's really terrible. I was planning on trying that place out, but I'm not going to bother now. I hope they get rid of that server.

Casey said...

I am an employee at Ambrosia and I would like to apologize. Mainly for Cesar, he was fired for his behavior that evening. I know that doesn't make up for your terrible experience but all of us at the restaurant are very happy, he was the worst server I have ever seen.