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November 29, 2010

Top 10 Tuesday -- the civility list

Please contribute anecdotes and examples of a restaurant's having gone an extra step, either by anticipating a need or concern or by responding nimbly to one. This could be anything from the first time you were offered a large-type menu, to the nice, non-shouty way a waitress recited the specials to a hard-of-hearing guest, to the bartender who put on your favorite cd without your asking.

The topic is civility, but I got there in a roundabout way. I remember it all so clearly now. ("Wayne's World flashback effect -- Diddly-doot! Diddly-doot! Diddly-doot!")

News of Diablita's closing sparked some talk about what effect the restaurant's nonborhood* had on business. That made me think about other obstacles to dining, real and perceived. Smoking is not the complete non-issue you might think. Baltimore restaurants have been slow to implement non-smoking outdoor seating areas -- I'm thinking they're going to have to sooner than later.

Then, I got way of track because I started reading up on ADA compliance issues. I need more time for that one.

So, this week it's positive stories, and maybe next week we can rip people apart.


*nonborhood -- a transitional space between two or more other well-defined neighborhoods. 
Posted by Richard Gorelick at 1:35 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


This example is from California, not Baltimore, but when a large group of us gathered for my niece's birthday dinner, the food was spectacular, with the sole exception of the one dessert we ordered for the table. Someone also expressed mild disappointment that it came without a candle for the birthday girl. The waiter quickly produced a second (much tastier) dessert, adorned with a candle. Way to increase the tip!

I was having a business dinner at 16 (in Trump Tower in Chicago) and had already been wow'd by the place - the tremendous view of the Wrigley and NBC buildings, the exceptional service (the kind of place where the waitstaff serves first the women simultaneously and then the men simultaneously), the excellent drinks and appetizers, and the between-course noshes they put on the table were each equally impressive.

As the bread guy (I'm sure there is a name for the role) came around, one of the diners declined each time (she has a gluten allergy). The waitstaff noticed (and perhaps checked what entree she had ordered); from then on, they softly pointed out each gluten-free shared plate that was placed on the table. I asked the diner about it afterward - she hadn't said a thing to them about it.

I'm always pleased when my water glass is refiled regularly (I drink a lot of water) - but to have a gluten-free diet accommodated without a word being said? That's stunning.

Unfortunately, this is a reverse of going out of their way.
I took my wife to the Inn at Little Washington for her birthday this past summer and we dined at a table in the kitchen. In addition to an enormous charge for the table, we also had the Chef's menu with matched wines. Needless to say, it was an expensive evening.
Although it is a very nice restaurant and some of the dishes were terrific, I was taken aback by what I considered to be neglible and inattentive service. The lowlight was when we were served a course that consisted of three pieces of tuna. After we had consummed our course my wife realized we had not been given the matched wine.
When she mentioned this to the server she requested one more piece of tuna for each of the diners to go with the wine.
He dismissed her request in an almost curt manner.
We had other service issues before and after the dinner and you can rest assured we will not be back.
It's always been my opinion that service can make or break a dining experience much more than the food itself.

Also from California ... Farallon in San Francisco. We asked a concierge at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel for a recommendation for our 25th anniversary. After tactfully determining our budget, he made a reservation for us at Farallon. We did not hear him tell them it was an anniversary, but they sure treated us like it was. We were served an amuse bouche between each course and the two glasses of champagne we ordered as our first wine never made it to the bill, on which was written "Happy 25th!!!"

When I took my wife to the Prime Rib for her birthday a few years ago, they brought out a small cake with a candle for her. That part is almost standard- although no one should ever expect it- but the waiter kept his back to us as he circled the dining room, and to serve her around her shoulder he had to squeeze himself between the empty table behind her and the wall. Anyone could have brought a cake to the table; he made sure she was surprised.

2008 was my year of experimental solo dining. For my birthday at The Prime Rib, seated at my favourite premium table on a busy night, my favourite cake with a candle magically appeared, with, as usual, the bottomless cup of coffee. On new year's eve, again at my favourite table, I was treated to the same, unhurried excellent service. We (yes, we) rarely eat out so we can enjoy the occasional Prime Rib splurge. Pure pleasure. Pure civility.

During Restaurant Week at Meli I informed the host that our group of 5 was celebrating a birthday and that I'd like to order a bottle of sparkling wine and pay for it before the birthday girl arrived so it would be a surprise, and that they bring a glass of ginger ale for our pregnant friend so she could toast with us. Not only did they have sparkling cider for our expectant friend, but they comped our bottle of prosecco that I'd requested. It was a great surprise and helped make the already delicious evening even more memorable.

As the bread guy (I'm sure there is a name for the role) came around, one of the diners declined each time (she has a gluten allergy). The waitstaff noticed (and perhaps checked what entree she had ordered); from then on, they softly pointed out each gluten-free shared plate that was placed on the table. I asked the diner about it afterward - she hadn't said a thing to them about it.egipt last minute

The owner of Charm City Cupcakes opened the shop after hours so, I could pick up my cupcakes after work. I needed them for an event that night. She showed up in the middle of her hair appointment and was friendly even though I was a huge inconvenience.

Wine Market – We recently went to the wine market for a friend’s birthday, and they surprised us with two complimentary bottles of prosecco for a toast to the birthday girl. A terrific start to a delicious evening.

Sammy’s Trattoria – We eat here pretty regularly as well, and they are always happy to accommodate any special food requests. When they are not slammed, the chef has even stopped by our table numerous times to check on the execution of the meal, especially when a special request has been made. Instead of being grumpy that the diner altered his creation, he actually went out of his way to make sure he had made us happy. Fabulous!
Dionysus – We have been two times since their new chef took over. They were not busy either time, and both times he has come out of the kitchen to speak with us about the food, and has given us complimentary tastes of new things he is working on in the kitchen. We will be back soon.

Petit Louis – My husband and I were married this summer. We dine at Cinghiale fairly regularly, and even had a dinner party there after my bridal shower in April. They always remember who we are and are incredibly attentive to details. We decided that on our one month anniversary we would go out for a nice lunch (we both had rehearsals that evening), and we chose Petit Louis, a part of the same restaurant group. We had never visited Petit Louis before, yet they surprised us with a complimentary dessert to congratulate us on our first month of marriage. The waitress said they got the information from Cinghiale when we made our reservation.Now that is some serious, almost frightening, attention to the details!

B&O – One evening about a year ago my brother flew into Baltimore last minute for work. We decided to meet up at B&O for dinner. When we arrived there was no one at the host’s stand. We waited almost 15 minutes, and the chef, who had been working at the prep counter on the first floor came and seated us himself. He apologized profusely for our wait, comped our first round of drinks, and asked if we minded him using us in a food experiment. He then gave us three complimentary appetizers that he was toying with before putting on the menu, and asked us to pick our favorite for him. What could have certainly been an annoying beginning to the evening, actually turned out to be a great deal of fun.

On a negative note - I was planning to review CR Lounge after going there for my birthday with a group of 14 friends. I know everyone is curious about that place, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The food was truly fabulous, but once I started writing about the disastrous service I realized it was turning into an obnoxious, ten paragraph rant about the three hours (yes it really took a full three) that we spent there.. Let’s just say, my husband and I (the most easy-going ones) may give it another shot for the terrific shrimp and grits and the coconut cake, but I’m pretty sure no one else from our party would ever dream of going back. If you do go, be prepared to feel sorry for an amazing kitchen that has to work with a terrible situation in the dining area.

Some amazing stories from Karen. We have also been impressed by Cinghiale's attention to detail, but I didn't realize they were networking with their sister restaurants.

On the negative side, my husband had dinner with a group at Petit Louis recently and everything was over-salted, including his salad. Someone in the kitchen that night had a very heavy hand with the salt.

Two more fabulous encounters in the past week

13.5% wine bar – Tuesday night my husband and I joined another couple to have a drink for a friend’s birthday. When we arrived the place was packed. We saw that there were two two-tops open, but they were not adjacent to each other. We assumed we would need to change plans and go somewhere else. Before we could decide on another venue the manager met us at the door to ask if we needed a table. When we told him we had a party of four he immediately asked some of the wait-staff to help him move the tables so they could be placed together, and to get some different chairs that would fit better in the new space. In my experience most restaurants are not very happy to move tables around, especially when the maneuver is difficult with such a crowd. The best part was that we didn’t even have to ask, and were not made to feel as though we were putting them out. We had fabulous service as well – will be back!

Sotto Sopra – I frequently sing Opera Nights at Sotto Sopra, and this week a group of my friends and family came to the dinner/show. My vegan friend usually calls ahead to ask if the restaurant can accommodate her, but forgot to do so this time. The kitchen did an outstanding job, and no one made her feel she was putting them out in any way. Opera Night is a six- course fixed menu, so we were all amazed that they not only were equipped to accommodate her at the last minute, but that they seemed to enjoy the challenge. Her food was both excellent and creative, and she was thrilled.

Thanks for sharing it here i am looking forward for your next placement

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner blog.
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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