By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
It's easy to forgive slow or bad service in a busy restaurant. Serving is hard work, and having financed my college career by waiting tables, I have the utmost respect for the people who do it. But there were all of four, maybe five tables occupied inside the place on this Friday night, with a few more two-tops outside on the sidewalk. And yet, our service wasn't just bad; it was amateurish. A bottle of Broquel Malbec we ordered for the table — another reasonable South American wine at $28 — was poured by the owner himself into my drained water glass. And when one of us finished our wine, our waiter would return and scoop up the empty glass instead of offering to pour more.
A flatbread pizza we ordered for the table also came out completely wrong: We had asked for the Florentine with spinach, capicola ham, and garlic-cream sauce ($12) but instead received a Mediterranean pizza with olive tapenade and artichokes ($10). My friend Miche cringed at the Kalamata paste — he hates black olives — but we ate it anyway, since we had waited so long for our food to begin with. Worse, when the bill later came, we were charged for the more expensive Florentine pizza instead — not to mention a sneakily applied 40 percent gratuity that we luckily caught.
What arrived correctly was not much better. Fenton eagerly awaited a bowl of oxtail soup ($8), but when the baked-over crock arrived, he was disappointed. "This could be any kind of meat at all," he said, pulling stringy bits of beef from the broth. With a chunk of crusty bread melted over with Manchego cheese, it tasted like a poorer version of French onion soup.
And then, the music launched into high gear. For some reason, each dance remix — ranging from R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" — alternated in volume such that at one moment, the place was near silent and at others, we had to scream across the table to talk. By the time the saxophonist arrived in her fishnets, we were all smiling and nodding without any clue as to what the other was saying.
Our entrées rescued us from strained conversation for only a brief time. Fenton's grouper ($25), wrapped in salty Serrano ham, was a mess of stale flavors. Its side of artichoke couscous was lousy with oversweet figs. A plate of pork loin ($16) was just as confusing: A layered vegetable tart was topped by the sauced, boneless loin chops, resulting in a visual clusterfuck that looked as if a team of middle schoolers were trying to imitate Jackson Pollock. Miche and his girlfriend merely shrugged at a listless helping of squash tortellini ($18) napped in oily sage butter. His Delmonico steak ($22) resting on a mound of mashed potatoes was at least well-cooked and plated.
But perhaps the worst thing on the table was my paella ($25). There was an episode of Top Chef this season in which Hollywood chef Ron Duprat was sent home for "deconstructing" paella by separating each element — the saffron rice, the seafood, the chorizo — and heaping them haphazardly across the plate. After this, I have to wonder if Dziurzynski and Duprat were sharing crib notes. It was entirely the same dish: mealy chorizo, overdone shrimp, bland clams, roasted red peppers, and passable scallops, each eternally laid to rest on a bed of bland rice. If this is supposed to be paella, then give me a dress and call me Padma. It's time to pack those knives and go.
At this point, we were tired, battered by obnoxious music, and ready to leave. Crowds of clubgoers in sparkly shirts had filtered in, and the music was on full blast. "I don't care what happens," demanded Fenton. "I'm not leaving without that cheesecake." And so, like Marines who won't return to base without a fallen friend, we devoured a piece of the exceptional cake with tactical precision before extracting ourselves for good.
That cheesecake still vexes me. How could this one dish be the sole thing at Satoro where contrast is played properly, where elements are not just tossed together in some disparate stew but massaged and folded? In some regard, it gives some hope that if Tover, Dziurzynski, and the rest of the team could revisit the menu and spruce up service, they'd have something special. But until then, that dessert is nothing but a brass solo in the middle of a bad tune.