This episode starts a while back at a restaurant we used to frequent regularly for both brunch and dinner, Zeus. The food was excellent, the service, brusque but complete. At one point we noted new faces and some missing ones. Brunch fare became uneven and the service…. It’s nice that you went to a concert last night but to continue your conversation with someone 10 feet away in the kitchen while your placing a plate in front of me is, at best, unprofessional, at worst, rude. Our last visit was so bad that I felt the need to place a phone call to the owner.
During the call I outlined the many shortcomings of his new staff and the sudden inconsistency of the food. He apologized, offered a free brunch, and outlined the staffing problems he had been having with training a new crew. I lamented the missing faces. He trashed them. Seems we have a bit of bad blood. The phone call soon ended. We have not taken him up on the offer of the free brunch.
Last summer we found the missing faces as owners of the new Carytown eatery, Karsen’s. A trip for brunch on their gorgeous patio led me to comment – ‘Zeus, taken up a notch.’ The missing faces did not trash their former employer during our welcome there. We took a peak inside (very impressive) and a look at their dinner menu (a bit pricey). Chaos conspired to leave them off our dining card since then, till last night.
Arriving, no sign of the missing faces, we were seated. My first impression was that they were moderately busy but seemed understaffed. The menu seemed very ambitious, almost pretentious in it’s descriptions. The prices seemed to have moderated a bit since our glance at the menu last summer. There’s a bit of a disconnect between what’s actually on the menu and what the website says is on the menu.
The waitress concerned me from the start. When eating at places striving to be fine dining, the monotone recitation of the specials by someone staring at the ceiling while counting them off on her fingers is disappointing. Service issues continued throughout. When silverware is removed it needs to be replaced. Food items should not be ‘auctioned off’. Empty glassware should be removed. At Waffle House I expect to ask for replacement silver or to have to answer the question ‘Who ordered the Veal?’. When the bill for two and a half people is going to be three digits the service level should be a bit higher.
M started with a chopped salad. Pine nuts, crisp lettuces and some sort of balsamic vinaigrette. Finn had the Mac-n-Cheese Cabbonara with White Truffle Oil (Brandon Eats just wrote a really good piece on high end mac-n-cheese and other gourmet comfort foods, highly recommended). M enjoyed hers as did Finn, I gave high marks to the Mac-n-Cheese as well.
I started with the Crab, Spinach and Mushroom Cassoulet/Casserole. It was rich, creamy and lacking in crab or crab flavour. Too much and too heavy for a appetizer it was nearly a small entree. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with the crunchy topping but I kept flashing back to tuna casserole day in elementary school.
The wine was a bit more of a success. D’Arenberg Love Shack Shiraz, 2004. The waitress, in a brief moment of high end service, described and praised the wine well and even informed us that it was only available in restaurants but that J at River City Cellars had been able to get it for sale to the general public (looks like a trip to RCC for me!). Service returned to normal as she had difficulty getting off the screw top….
Entrees arrived and were ‘auctioned off’ by the food runner…
M had the Veal Saltimboca with Plum Tomatoes and Gnocchi. The dish was not bad, the flavours correct, the sauce a bit too runny. The problem is that you can get that dish, the same or better, at half a dozen different places around town for less. A good dish but didn’t live up to the price.
Had I read In Vino Veritas’ post on Karsen’s before this morning I would not have ordered the scallops. The asparagus and andouille sausage were all fine. The savory grits weren’t bad. The scallops were seared to the point of having a brown crust, overcooked throughout, dry, tasteless. I did not finish them and kept trying, unsuccessfully, to foist them off onto M’s plate.
Amazingly, we ended on a high note. The bread pudding with sweet cherries was delicious. The white chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis was outstanding. My espresso was actually still hot when it reached the table.
We will probably give brunch another try at Karsen’s. We might even stop in for dessert sometime. Not so sure about dinner. The price, while it may have come down from last summer, does not quite justify the food or the service. I hope, for the missing faces sake, that they are ultimately successful but I don’t think they have found their stride as yet.