A few weeks ago, my friends and I made plans to go to Charlie Palmer's on Capital Hill. I'd been to the place before for my company Xmas party so I was curious to see what it looked like on a regular night and was expecting an evening of great catching up, great steak, and exquisite libations. Instead, I ended up in a restaurant that resembled a trendy CAFETERIA, over-eager servers (noticed this is plural) and an amuse bouche (A little "taster" meant to excite the palate) that, had I not asked my friends what it was, since server #2 never told me, could have sent me to the hospital.
The evening began with a little faux pas in our part, we were running late; so we called the restaurant and informed them---they were very accommodating.
Once we sat down server #1 stopped by and took our drink order. One of my friends ordered bottled water...which suddenly sent servers #3 and #4 in a mad rush to get rid of as many bottled waters on the table. Yes, it gets the check total up, I get it, but the rest of use were fine with iced water which never came since the never-ending bottled water flowed like the proverbial waterfall.
Next came server #2 with the amuse bouche."Compliments of the chef." he said putting down a spoonful of something that I thought looked a little fishy. I asked my friends if they knew what it was and right before I put it in my mouth one of them answers, "It's a ceviche." Apparently, the compliment being sent to me by the chef could have given me a very ugly allergic reaction. As I offered my amuse bouche away, I realized the only part of my palate that was titillated was the kind that left a rather sour taste in my mouth. I was not, by any means, amused. (sigh)
The rest of our dinner went ok and that's the problem with the establishment, it's just OK. The food isn't anything new to the Washington dining scene. Throwing the words aioli, emulsion, and ragout doesn't constitute "...signature progressive American cuisine." as the website boasts.
But perhaps what bothered me the most was that we never knew who our server was, there were so many buzzing around that it felt totally impersonal. There was no rapport whatsoever and we had to get a different server's attention each time to get more drinks throughout our meal. In their defense, it was a very busy night, I can totally understand that, but a small part of me felt that perhaps we were being ignored because we were on the younger side. Being a twentysomething Washingtonians might be a curse on the Hill where old fat cats drop black Amex cards all the time.
Sadly all of my friends had at one point been in the industry, and had our service been--not great, not amazing, merely adequate, we would've probably tipped a lot heavier. Instead, the standard 20% was given to food that was average, service that was below par, and never ending bottled waters.
Ambiance: not a date place whatsoever. It's modern look is somewhere between the National Geographic cafeteria and Dragonfly on 18th and Connecticut. Loud with no sense of intimacy.
Food: You can find the same menu at any FINE DINING restaurant downtown with a better atmosphere. Try Zola in the spy museum instead. The service is much better, ambiance is the same but the menu is much more exciting.
Prices: I THOUGHT it was fine dining but the only fine dining part I caught were the prices. A $21 fois gras app. (Which wasn't as delicate as I thought it'd be.) to a $41 duck dish that was disappointing.
Would I go back? That rib dish is the stuff food dreams are made of, but I hope IF I return, the compliment from the chef won't threaten my health. ;-)