Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Foodventure #10: Chat Noir (Costa Mesa)

My first foodventure in the O.C. -- and grim foreshadowing: this restaurant is a perfect case study about how poor service can ruin an otherwise fine experience. I also wonder if it's just that I have bad luck with first foodventures?

Chat Noir is part of David Wilhelm's Culinary Adventures restaurant group (which also includes Chimayo on the coast of Huntington Beach, Sorrento in Laguna Beach & their flagship French 75s in the LA & OC area.) I've been to Chat Noir before, so was doubly stunned by this meal.

It started all pretty good in the beginning: having arrived a bit early for my reservation and noticing it's still their "Bubbly Hour" (4-7pm on weeknights), I hopped to the bar for a drink. Champagne drinks are half-priced, and carafes of wine (2-3 glasses) are the price of a glass. I ordered the Kir Imperial (champagne + creme de cassis + Absolut Kurrant, left) and at the bartend's suggestion, the Chanel (champagne + strawberry liqueur + cointreau + cognac). Both were good overall -- the champagne was obviously nothing fancy, but the fizzling cocktails made from them are delicious, not too sweet, not too fruity and just strong enough.

Topping it off was a free cone of freshly-fried potato chips, still warm and full of crispity goodness. And if I hadn't already planned on dinner there, I would've chomped on some bar food, which included their "French slider" burgers with roquefort cheese on brioche, short ribs in red wine sauce and of course, Belgian-style pommes frites.

After finishing my drinks, I ask for a few dinner recs from my bartend, closed my tab and took my table--where things start going for the worse.

Strike #1: For a nearly completely empty dining floor (3 tables/boothes occupied out of about 25), I got sat next to an obviously tipsy & very conversational couple (which I found out later, from their loud talks with each other and our shared waiter, are business colleagues who apparently likes to talk about relationship and sex a lot!) -- not particularly comfortable for a solo diner with a book but something I can overlook.

Shortly after came strike #2 -- when the waiter did not tell me what today's specials are (after raving on and on about how great they were to the next table.) Thank goodness I overheard since the appetizer did appeal to me . . .

Seared foie gras on toast with plum gastrique and balsamic vinegar. Absolutely delicious -- after the crispy exterior, the foie gras bursts into warm buttery goodness -- with just a hint of duck and no liver (which is great for me, since I hate organs as a rule.) The gastrique & vinegar mixture was a nice balance to the richness of the foie gras on toast. I savored every bite and used the bread to lap up the remains . . .

Then came the entree - suggested by the bartend . . .

Chicken and Forest Mushroom Crepes in Truffle Cream Sauce plus REAL vegetables that didn't look like they came out of a frozen bag and oversteamed (i.e. that broccoli-cauliflower-zucchini-carrot coin combo.) This dish wound up looking better than it tasted. The crepes were too soggy from the get-go & the chicken and 'shroom filling didn't have much flavor on their own. The sauce (which seemed to be a mixture of herbed cream & truffle oil) could have been good except it wasn't mixed well enough--one bite I'd get an intense blast of truffle flavor, and another it'd just be sweet cream. The vegetables were perfectly cooked.

During my meal came strike #3 - when the waiter talked fairly extensively about his personal life to the other table (relationships, other jobs, etc.) -- loud enough, again, for me to hear practically every word. Even though he's not directing this towards me, it's highly unprofessional especially for a finer dining place such as this (when I used to work at a pub, even I wouldn't go at lengths about this.) Could be different standards, but I definitely felt it's something the waiter could be more discreet about, should he choose to engage in it at all.

After my meal, I was weighing whether to get dessert, except -- strike #4 -- it has already been decided for me, by the waiter who served me with a bill. I thought, "Oh well, their loss" and paid the approximately $44 bill with a $50 gift card I got from a friend. Then came the very major strike #5 ... no card back! Did he just assume that the extra $5-6 would be his tip or that I would have no future use for it?! And so... I docked my actual cash tip as appropriate. (and decided to sleep the night off before actually writing this, so you can imagine how POed I was then.)

The bill:
Kir Imperial & Chanel ($5.50 each) = $11 (paid for separately @ bar)
Potato chips = gratis (yay!)
Foie gras = $17.95
Crepes = $19.95
Coffee = $3
"Supposed" Pre-tax & tip total = $51.90

The rating:
Ambience/Decor: 4.5/5 (really nice for a place with no exterior views -- dark woods and burgundy, live pianist on a weeknight, dimmed lighting with candles and lamps)
Value: 3.5/5 (happy hour prices & bar food is decent -- dinner stuff definitely felt overpriced)
Service: 2.5/10 (bar service is great; the waiter is nice but very unprofessional on several levels)
Food: 13.5/20 (ranged from mediocre (the crepes) to excellent (the foie gras), so I guess it's a mixed bag)
Bonus/Demerit: -1 (see above about the gift card)
TOTAL: 23/40

Other notes:
~ Valet & self-parking available - free for at least 2 hours (duration of my stay) if validated for self-
~ They also offer a prix-fixe "Theater dinner" option for $40/pp, includes a drink, an app, an entree & post-show coffee & dessert for OCPAC going crowd. More info here.

So yes, major disappointment (even more so considering my higher expectations from previous dining experience here.) If I do return (and that's a really big if), I probably would stick dining at the bar. I still have another $50 gift card for this restaurant group, but would most likely use it now at Chimayo or Sorrento--where I hope the service would be better.

Chat Noir
655 Anton Blvd.
Costa Mesa
(714) 557-6647


Chubbypanda said...

You're right. That sort of behavior is totally unacceptable. Waiters at fine dining establishments are supposed to be unobtrusive.

Sounds like he might have been working the more affluent-appearing table for a larger tip.

Next time, ask the host to get you the manager, then ask to manager for another waiter. There's no good reason to put up with that crap.

- Chubbypanda

H. C. said...

Oh I'm sure he was, especially when (I cannot emphasize how clearly audible they were!) they mentioned their whole dinner was on company expense--after which he suggested one of the most priciest wines and recommend they try the real (& not on menu) Kobe-style beef they have.

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