John Curtas is …

Letters of the Month – Hospitality Hell

“We (restaurateurs) are not in the food business; we are in the hospitality business.” – Sirio Maccioni

ELV note: We take a few weeks off and things start going to hell in a hand-basket. Not with the food being dished up by some of our favorite restaurants, mind you, but with their service. Submitted for your (dis)approval: three recent tales of woe….

Dear  Eating Las Vegas,

Hello, we are from the Chicagoland area and enjoy reading your restaurant reviews.  Since it’s late (actually early) I’ll get right
to the point.  My wife and I ate at Estiatorio Milos this evening, we shared the snapper, the fried zucchini with tzatziki (the Milos Special) and a baklava.

As of this moment we are both currently in our suite at the Encore throwing up and dry heaving.  The way I’m feeling right now, diarrhea is probably on the way as well.  Hooray!

So that you know, we are both attorneys but are not overly litigious and are not looking to hurry-up and sue someone.  In fact that’s the last thing we’d want.  But we are kinda pissed off.  This was our one big getaway.  If this thing passes quickly, the more likely we are to forget about it.  If it does not, then someone owes us a vacation.

What I’m wondering is whether this has become a problem, that you know of, at this particular restaurant. My wife called the restaurant.  The conversation did not go well.  We were not clear who this guy was (that she spoke with) as he had an accent and was somewhat hard to understand. The bottom line was that he did not believe her and since we’re from out of town there is nothing he can do.  Huh?

A bit of concern really would have gone a long way.  Instead that conversation only firmed up our resolve to tell people about it.  She was going to contact the restaurant again or the hotel itself- will talk to you first.  Thanks again and will be speaking to you soon.

We are also wondering in your experience how long something like this typically takes to work itself out.

Hopefully you can offer some insight.  Thank you.

Ralphing Robert

ELV note #2: If a spoiled Saturday night while on vacation wasn’t bad enough, we received this missive, on Valentine’s Day eve, from a disappointed diner whose dinner turned dreadful:

Dear Mr. Curtas,

You need to review this place (Marche Bacchus) again – 2nd bad meal in a row and simply horrific service. Where to begin?

They over sold the restaurant for Valentines day. The table they sent us to was still occupied; so found another. We were eventually seated and 20 minutes elapsed before they got around to opening the wine. The $75 prix fixe menu was billed as beginning with champagne and soup as a first course. No champagne.

I was presented with a tea spoon for the soup because they ran out of soup spoons at 7:30 pm. Soup was almost cold. Roasted veritable salad was really raw vegetables; medium filets were raw. Small bowl of berries and vanilla mousse for dessert.

Champagne finally showed up 90 minutes and 4 requests late. And I almost forgot the mandatory 18% gratuity at the end of the night made it very special.

Never again. Simply a terrible Valentine’s Day dinner.

Let Down and Livid Leon

ELV note #3: Finally several readers wrote rants reviling our renowned recent rave review recommending a repast at  1900 Asian Cuisine, the most relevant of which requires reciting:

Dear ELV,

After reading rave reviews on your site about this restaurant I decided to give it a try. Absolutely piss poor establishment. I expect poor service at a Chinese restaurant but the service I experienced at this poor excuse for a restaurant was abominable. I thought perhaps the food would make up for the horrific service however that was a let down as well. The hot and sour soup was impressive however the various other dishes recommended by the waiter were horrible. They smelt funny, tasted horrible, and caked your mouth with salt. This restaurant review made me lose all respect for the palate I thought you had. You know nothing about cuisine.

ELV note #4: Not content to revel in his remonstrations, the writer then rudely repeated:

This place is awful. Horrible service and horrible food. Any respect for your palate I might have had is gone. You know nothing about cuisine.

Signed,

Deigning to Denigrate Denzel

ELV responds:

To Ralphing Robert,

We at ELV are saddened and surprised by your news of such an uncomfortable experience at Milos. Any restaurant, no matter how diligent, can serve a piece of contaminated food. So, we are not surprised that you got sick (and from all you have told us, it does seem like a classic case of low grade food poisoning — such as a Campylobacter infection). What concerns us more was the restaurant’s response to your malady. People who dine at a top flight place like Milos are not the sorts who go around trying to scam restaurants out of money or free meals. As you said, a little concern and an apology would have gone a long way to making you feel better.

As much as we love Milos (and we consider it one of the ten best restaurants in town), the response you describe is disappointing and another example of our find-em-and-fleece-em tourist economy. In any other town, the establishment would make amends and bend over backwards to keep you as a customer. In Sin City, it’s a numbers game, and too many places care more about what convention is going to fill up their behemoth of a eatery, rather than trying to solicit a single customer’s repeat business.

Your letter also brings up an important point: What is the appropriate response for a restaurant when confronted with a situation such as yours? In high end joints, one would expect a more solicitous response — a small amount of appeasement and apology, if you will, coupled with a mild, polite disclaimer stating that it IS possible that your illness could have come from somewhere else. We will leave it to our commenters to enlighten us on this point.

To Let Down and Livid Leon,

As we mentioned on  Facebook, Valentine’s Day is the second worst day of the year to eat out (Mother’s Day is the absolute worst; a noshing nightmare, a tsunami of stressful service and sorry sustenance – by a long shot). Regardless of your poor choice of dining days, the situation you describe should have been dealt with by speaking to the management rather early in the nightmare you experienced. A well placed (and polite) complaint early in the meal (with the management, not the waitron) often results in crackerjack service throughout the rest of your visit.

We understand that on special occasions, people do not want to complain or deal with confrontations — no matter how civilized they might be — but putting in a word early on can save you many a headache later. That being said, your server (and the manager on duty) should have been aware of the cascade of  service lapses you were experiencing, and it was their responsibility to make things right….and they should have….before you got home to your keyboard.

Unfortunately, since we are well known to many places both on and off the Strip, we generally don’t review or comment on the service we receive (with the occasional exception such as you will read below).

To Denigrating Denzel,

We are forced to agree with you on the service at 1900 Asian Cuisine. A recent visit found the place in such disarray that we walked out before half of our meal could be served. This was after waiting an hour for our food, at lunchtime, in a restaurant with four other customers. Three different people came out to “wait” on us, and they each disappeared (one even left the premises entirely) for long stretches in which no one was in the dining room. (A party of four Chinese people came in, got menus, and was left hanging for 25 minutes before they left in disgust.)

When service is this bad after the place has garnered glowing review after glowing review, someone is clearly not minding the store, and we can no longer recommend the restaurant — no matter how good the xiao long bao and hot and sour soup are.

As for “know(ing) nothing about cuisine,” your comments about things that “smelt funny” “tasted horrible” and “caked your mouth with salt” leads one to believe you are far from acquainted with authentic Chinese food — much of which does all of those things to a palate weaned on kung pao chicken, egg foo yung and sweet and sour pork. For those looking for the real deal, 1900 has the goods, if you can get them brought to your table.


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10 Responses to Letters of the Month – Hospitality Hell

  • While I agree that the response by Milos was unfortunate, I have to wonder how “Raplhing Robert” handled the phone call in the first place. I am a foodie, and an avid traveler. I have gotten food poisoning from some exceptional restaurants. It happens. It’s one of the potential pitfalls with eating out, no matter where, or how much you spend.

    His comment that “someone owes us a vacation” is ridiculous. Literally, shit happens buddy. You say you’re not particularly litigious, but you sure sound it.

    Anyone familiar with the Vegas restaurant scene knows of the disaster at Firefly. When THAT happens, the restaurant is to blame. But how many people dined at Milos the day he was there? Clearly there wasn’t a widespread outbreak. He got a bad piece of fish, and shared it with his wife (too cheap for two entrees?).

    So you threw up and had diarrhea, there are greater travesties. If it came on that fast, it’s going to be gone that fast. Next time, take some Pepto and get on with it.

  • Something about Ralphing Robert’s story is fishy. The timeline the illness occurred in is not clear, the only hint we have is that “it’s late (actually early)” which implies they had dinner from the selections they discussed and were sickly later that evening.

    1) The first course of action after getting such a poor response from the restaurant should have been to call the Nevada Southern District Health Department. They need to know if this is fact a foodborne illness so a proper investigation can take place. Additionally I would have called the hotel to notify the Food and Beverage department, management must be made aware and then I would have gone to the hospital for a proper medical diagnosis. With that said, the minimal evidence so far points to something other than a typical case of food poisoning, but it is certainly possible – let the professionals determine the cause and proceed accordingly.

    2) The vast majority of food poisoning claims are actually false, hence why it is important to follow the procedures in #1 above and let the professionals that are trained to investigate and protect consumers do their jobs to determine the actual cause. Its just a fact of life that people get sick, they can get sick at the same time when they spend significant amounts of time together, and the timing of when they get sick could be after eating because humans just happen to eat three times a day. Its hard to know if the source of the illness was foodborne or some other source without scientific study.

    3) Campylobacter jejuni is an unlikely cause, it requires a 2-5 day onset time after ingesting the affected food item. I would advise reviewing the list of foodborne illness provided by the FDA – http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm103263.htm

    4) Coincidentally there was what appeared to be Norwalk virus (or its equivalent) outbreak around the time of Valentine’s Day, I heard from a few friends on twitter who complained about vomiting the week prior. These things happen, and it shows how hard it is to pin distress to one specific source without the help of a trained professional.

    Its true that the staff at Milos responded poorly and the staff member should be reprimanded for their poor service, but keep in mind that when diners get foodborne illnesses so do the staff who are reviewing and tasting individual items as they are being prepared. Often the staff go done for the count first which means management should have some warning prior to consumer complaints. Case in point the recent norovirus outbreak at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal that occurred at the beginning of the month, there were slightly more staff infected than diners that evening. Since foodborne illness tends to congregate over multiple people at the same time, a single couple calling in to complain is a warning of a possible problem to come – not a confirmation of a problem.

    In closing I am not a health professional, and I am not in the hospitality or casino industries. I am just a passionate and well educated foodie that believes the truth will set us free. Before responding to this post I reviewed the information provided by the FDA and my trusty copy of Modernist Cuisine Book #1, page 114 as well as skimming through the chapter on microbiology for cooks to re-affirm my suspicions. I am also not a writer, my editing skills are subpar, so kindly forgive any grammar errors in this reply. I do hope Robert and his wife have recovered quickly, and that Milos’s staff are better trained to provide improved customer service when these issues occur in the future, they should have instead advised the couple to seek professional help and contact them if the professional diagnosis confirms food poisoning with the likely source being Milos for an immediate refund as well as reimbursement of the medical costs.

  • Based on (in part) your recommendation, I went to 1900 last night and got what I expected. A delicious green onion pancake with beef that looked consistent to your photo, soup dumplings that were among the best served anywhere in this little berg of ours and a fresh noodle dish that harkened back to our time in the Orient.

    Was the service laughable, of course. Did people walk in and leave after not being addressed, absolutely. Were we appreciative of the extra 30 minutes to gab without being interrupted by someone asking us to pay and leave, without question.

    If you walk into a restaurant like 1900 and expect stellar service than you have unrealistic expectations. I had a great meal at a stunningly normal price of $32 for an over-filling meal for two. Destroying a place like this, in this location, at this price point seems like a by-product of the entitled Yelp diner era in which we currently live.

  • My husband and I dined at Marche Bacchus on Valentine’s night, and had a fantastic experience – quite the opposite of Leon. The food was delectable, and it was a total treat to know Alex Stratta was in the kitchen.

    The butternut squash soup with accents of duck confit was dense, flavorful, and just the right portion to whet the appetite without squelching it. The winter vegetable salad combined crunchy root vegetables, creamy burrata and tangy balsamic dressing to harmonious effect. The main course – we both had the sea bass, so I can’t comment on the fillet – was incredible. The fish was seared to a delicate crunch on the outside, while remaining succulent and almost impossibly flavorful on the inside. Dessert (to share) was a bowl of berries atop a dollop of mascarpone, and was a sublime way to finish the meal.

    We were there later in the evening, so perhaps things weren’t quite as frantic as during Leon’s seating, but the service was cheery and attentive. Having said that, I agree that MB’s service isn’t always up to the quality of its food. After speaking with the owners about it following a prior visit, I do believe they’re committed to rectifying that.

  • It’s simple. The manager at Milos should have said something apologetic but without taking full responsibility, exchanged information, and offered them a free meal in the future.

    It’s hard not to roll my eyes at the others. It’s valentines day and most restaurants are just trying to squeeze you into the tiniest two top in the tiniest corner and then whisk you out before you can finish your glass of cheap champagne. This reviewer should have been less preoccupied with his missing glass of sparkling wine and more concerned about entertaining the person sitting across from him. Because everyone knows it’s not about the overpriced prix fix dinner, it’s about the romance.

    That being said, I’ve had some of my most romantic moments in chinatown. Where my date and I ate salty, funny smelling, tasty (and even sometimes not so tasty!) dishes all while recieving basic, brisk, and even hostile service. So you know, maybe he should have taken his date to chinatown. But then again, there’s no pleasing some people.

  • 1900 Asian Cuisine has take-out, right?

  • Now that was a public service all around . Thanks ELV.

  • I contracted food poisoning at the Four Seasons’ Verandah restaurant last March which ended up as an ER visit after 4 days of misery. BTW, I know the pathogenesis of food borne illness and the bugs that cause them very well and I used to dine at the Verandah weekly . . Needless to say, they (The Four Seasons) denied it up and down and despite multiple phone calls all the way up the chain of command to the actual hotel manager no action was taken by them except denial. So, despite being a regular customer and speaking to the right people, the establishment knows food poisoning is a hard item to assign to any restaurant given the varied inoculation to symptom time of the different organisms. Therefore, denial will always be the response unless the restaurant is involved in an outbreak.

  • Spot on as usual, ELV. While there may always be a bad night or plate even at the best or most expensive restaurant, the approach used by the diner who had the bad experience will also often dictate the response of management.

    The first letter reminds me of a very bad experience we had many years ago at Bartolotta – which was just hitting its peak – and where we had dropped huge coin on dinner, trying the ‘flown in this morning’ whole fish special. Roughly half-way through the meal, we made the manager aware of slow-service issues and the very bland/off-taste of the fish that evening….needless to say service was much better after our conversation. When the bill came, they had credited the entire cost of the fish (not an insignificant amount) and we paid for the other items and wine/alcohol and tipped on the total amount (with the fish). He also gave me a business card for the VP of Dining at the time. A few weeks later, I sent him a brief note explaining our experience and how well the manager had handled things – he responded by giving us a nice credit toward the best meal we’ve ever had at Alex on our next visit.

    While this was many years ago, we still visit Vegas for fine dining 2-3 times per year and try to eat one meal per visit at Wynn/Encore (not what it used to be but rebounding again – still have not been back to Bartolotta, though, and desperately miss Alex), so their professional and timely response continues to pay dividends. If fine dining restaurants had loyalty programs for diners who are willing to spend at these levels like they do for the gamblers, they would have many more frequent return visitors.

    We have never experienced bad service or food at any of the Spring Mountain establishments – all I have to do is mention that we’re there because of ELV and their recommendation and they always take it positively from there!

    Keep up the great work.

  • I didn’t get sick but had a terribly cooked Branzino @ MILOS. But still think it’s def in Top 10. I got deathly I’ll shaking, convulsing and light hallucinations just the other day after eating @ super bad ass Pho restaurant that only serves 2 types of pho each day of the week. Yes only 2 items on menu which change daily and they sell out by 1230pm and then just hang outside and smoke cigarettes and tell u to go F your mother b/c ur an idiot for not getting there sooner in the morningpretty sweet. Anyways one of the most deathly i’ll experiences ever but the soup was so good I made sure to go back the following 24 hours for my next first meal. Why because Crabflake PHO was best soup I ever had.. so I went back for a shrimp ball PHO and felt fine.. so my whole point is What a pussy this guy is and shit happens.

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