Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Luma on my mind

The tasting menu at Luma

I woke up this morning reliving last nights book launch and dinner for The Flavour Principle at Luma restaurant. As I drank my morning coffee, I smiled remembering my encounters with Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol. I laughed, reliving some of the conversations I had with my dinner companion and with others who were at the dinner table - it was a communal dining style at the restaurant. I remembered how beautiful the restaurant looked. The setting for the launch was warm and intimate. It sounds good and it was, but something was bothering me. What was it? Then it hit me: the service.

I've been in the food industry for about 20 years now. I've done my time working the front and back of the house. By no means am I calling myself an expert, but I do have a thorough understanding of who is in charge when it comes to food service. The guest, the customer or whatever you wish to call them. They rule the service kingdom. This rule rarely strays regardless of whether you work in catering, a restaurant or a fast food burger barn. Servers are well aware that providing food and drinks to paying customers can be a difficult job, but like most jobs if it's not worth doing, don't do it.

Last night's event and service was similar to what you would receive when you go to a catered event. Guests were treated to a three course dinner, skillfully prepared by Luma Chef de cuisine Michael Wilson. All of the food was based on recipes hand-chosen by Ms. Waverman and Mr. Crosariol from the new cookbook.

The first course was a tuna ceviche and watermelon salad paired with Piper (pronounced peeper) Heidsieck Brut champagne. Both were simple but delicious and Beppi's right, champagne really does go with everything! The second course consisted of a Morrocan style chicken breast and thigh served with preserved lemon and couscous, and roasted eggplant jam with orange and radish slices. It was so incredibly flavourful (with a bit more salt), and I will definitely cook it at home. It was paired with an amazing Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria red, which Beppi mentioned is VERY difficult to find at the LCBO. Luma, however, was blessed with a case of it, and we were the very lucky recipients. Now prior to this point in the evening there were already a few little, but ignorable, incidents happening with some of the male servers, but the wine service was where it really started to become an 'issue' for me.

Now maybe it was because of that exclusiveness regarding the Cerasuolo that could explain why one of the servers seemed so reluctant to refill our wine glasses when he was asked to. Or maybe he was just a pompous ass. Either way I watched his face when a guest asked for more wine, and he wasn't thrilled to give it to him. As more people asked, he ran out of the wine and when I asked for more, he first gave me a dismissive 'just one minute' hand movement, then completely disappeared. I bit my tongue hard on that one. We wondered if he would even return. He didn't. Seven minutes later (yes, I counted - told you I was a stickler for service) one of the female servers happily replenished mine and a few other glasses. Still, where did he go? Was it no longer his job to finish what he started?

Finally, we had dessert consisting of a dense cardamom cake with lemon ice cream and candied plums, paired with a fantastically light, somewhat fizzy but refreshing Massolino Moscato d'Asti. An after dinner drink of Delamaine Cognac was served, and it rounded out the meal quite nicely. Feeling warm from the cognac, I was in a distinctly good mood. Yet I knew something was just 'off'.

I've stated on this blog that reviews really aren't my thing. That doesn't mean I won't post a review if I see something that makes me happy, or mad. I am admittedly a real stickler to watching service performed in restaurants. I'm attuned to it much more than I am to reviewing the food (but I'll still do it). It is absolutely thrilling to see it done professionally, and I love watching a guests reaction to outstanding service. Everyone is relaxed, smiling and trust me, the gratuity wallets tend to open a little more when you make the guest feel that they are the centre of attention.

On the flipside, I absolutely detest attitude in waiters and waitresses, and usually won't stand for that behaviour when I'm in a restaurant. I honestly find it offensive, not to mention a potential waste of money if you are trying to enjoy an experience that you are paying for, only to be pulled into the sullen world of an unhappy server. No one is asking that as a server you become happy sunshine and lollypops, but there is a huge difference between taking your job seriously, and just being disdainful, dismissive or downright rude. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth and your head that inevitably stains what could have been a pleasurable experience. Believe it or not, a servers attitude matters every bit as much as the food, and it really does have a serious effect on whether a patron will return. More importantly, that encounter has an impact on what a customer or guest will say to others about the restaurant. Word of mouth is still very powerful, particularly in this social media world.

Maybe the service discrepancies could be blamed on the switch to catering, which in turn may have caused confusion in the back of the house. I say that because you NEVER start a new table without checking to see if every guest has was been served at the previous table. Never! This was a frequent mistake perpetuated by the male servers. These glaring service glitches were even more surprising because Luma is an Oliver & Bonacini (O&B) restaurant, and O&B are renowned in culinary circles for it's incredible service! Guys, you need to watch your fellow women servers, they were right on top of the mistakes you made.

This post really sounds like a boys against the girls situation, and I apologize for that. Last night, however, truly became a case of which sex did it better, and the women won. I cannot say enough about how professionally on point the women were and because of them, I'd consider returning to Luma for a true restaurant experience.

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