There's a Waiter in My Soup

Even the greatness of Mark Militello's cuisine can be ruined by bad service.

But money can't buy happiness at Mark's City Place. We could spend and spend and nobody would deign to be any nicer to us. Out of desperation, François had decided to just get drunk. He finished his wine and ordered another mojito.

I'm not going to take a lot of space describing our food here. The point is that no matter what the fare — exquisite or middling — service can make or break a dining experience. What came from the kitchen that night was uneven. Some of it was very good, some mediocre, some hideous. The high points were the flaky, moist slab of grouper with fresh crab and wild mushrooms; a beautifully seared duck breast with creamy brie risotto; and a pair of crab cakes touched with tropical mango, citrus, and avocado. For dessert, some of the most delicious ice cream — vanilla bean and banana — I've ever tasted. The uneven dishes included my ruby-hued rare tuna, with a beautiful texture like soft butter, that was encrusted with such an overdose of pepper that it ruined the palate for any other flavor, including the delicate celeriac and potato purée it was served with. The mozzarella in our salad was ancient and had absorbed all the smells of the refrigerator. Crispy vegetable spring rolls ($10, ordered to replace the spoiled mozzarella) were as good as you'd find in any Asian restaurant but given zing with a terrific kimchee slaw. Margarita clams with tasso, tomatoes, cilantro, and sweet corn were overseasoned and didn't compare well to the much more subtle flavorings of the same Southwestern dish we'd sampled at KM at the Grapevine in Lauderdale. "Roasted" (?) lemon pound cake ($8): dry and crumbly. And for the truly disgusting — a deconstructed "cheesecake" ($8) of sweet cheese filling funneled into pastry straws tasted as if they'd been made with every artificial ingredient at the kitchen's disposal.

Our bill had reached $318. As our waiter stacked dessert plates on his arm, I asked him to remind me what the flavors of the ice cream had been. "I need to go get rid of these dishes," he said. "Then I'll let you know."

Bless you! Our bill arrived, and it was wrong, low by a whopping $51. My spouse, ever the virtuous Girl Scout, pointed this out to our waiter. "Oh," he said. "That was the manager's mistake."

As he scurried off to re-tabulate our total, we wondered if maybe "I'm sorry — thanks for pointing that out" might have been a more effective rejoinder. Our emotional ebb had reached low tide. François was waxing nostalgic over the wonderful meal they'd had at A&B Lobster House in Key West two nights before. Woe was us.

At home, I Googled "Mark's City Place." It hadn't been just an off night — not even a problem with our individual server. Every customer review was a heartbreaking lament:

Went to Mark's at City Place in August with some friends. It was all around the worst experience for all of us. The waiter was on another planet... At one point he went missing. We brought this to the attention of management, but nothing was done, and nothing improved.

In a word... AWFUL! Made a reservation for 8 adults.... when we arrived they acted surprised that we wanted to sit together. It took them 10 minutes to get a table together and this was just after they opened for the night. From there it only got worse... All in all, a real disappointment... and worst of all was their attitude! What an awful night.

The food was mediocre, the service unacceptable. Just not a good dining experience. My third time at this trendy little dining spot is my last.

God and Militello have turned their backs on City Place. Unless you're the type who digs abuse, you might want to make other plans.

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