I’m sure that Gordon Ramsay would prefer that his name be associated with the four-star restaurants where he has been chef and owner. However, most Americans know him through his BBC show, “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,” where he spends a week trying to save failing restaurants. So now, having a “Gordon Ramsay experience” has very little to do with a gourmet meal, and more to do with absolute dining disasters and dysfunctional restaurants. I say this as a preface to the review of our meal at Larkins on the River, which turned out to be a Gordon Ramsay experience of the latter definition.
We had selected Larkins because it is right next door to the Peace Center and we had tickets to the night’s performance of Spamalot. Laura had Larkins cater one of her events for the SERMACS conference last fall, and she raved about the food. We had never been there for dinner, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
This space was specifically designed into the overall plan for the Peace Center complex as a place where patrons could go for a meal either prior to or after a performance. However, it is independently owned and operated, and is not part of the Peace Center, per se. Previously, it had been operated as Rene’s Steakhouse by the late Rene’ Rott. Larkins has now occupied the space for several years, and also caters events at the open air Wyche Pavilion right on the banks of the Reedy River.
When we made our reservations, the only thing available was patio seating. We decided to take a chance and go for it. The brief glimpse we got of the interior revealed a bar at the entry, and a smaller-sized dining area with elegant dark wood tones. The patio looks out across the Reedy River, with views of River Place, the Peace Center amphitheater, and Wyche Pavilion. The Pavilion and the Peace Center Caberet actually serve as extensions of the restaurant for special functions.
We were first presented a “show menu” for those that planned to attend a Peace Center performance. This consisted of a three-course meal with salad, entree’ and dessert for a fixed price. There was a steak option, chicken, and seafood. Prices for these ranged from the upper twenties to mid-thirties for the steak.
The regular dinner menu is a la carte, and while it more extensive, it’s also quite a bit pricier. The entree’s by them selves range from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties, similar to the the entire meal for the show menu. However, anything else costs extra. It seems that everything is either &7, 8$, or $9. If you want a side of vegetable with your meat, that’s an additional $8 for each side.
As for selections, the menu is typical for a higher-end restaurant, including a variety of appetizers, several salad and soup options, steaks, chicken, and seafood. There is also an extensive wine and martini list. The entire menu is available on their website.
We started with a three-cheese spinach and artichoke dip with deep fried pita chips, accompanied by a chardonnay for Laura and a standard vodka martini for me. The flavors of the dip were wonderful, and the chips with crisp without being too hard.
Laura and I ordered the Caesar’s Salad for two, since that seem to have the lowest probability of setting off her allergies. The salad was supposed to be prepared table-side, but there were problems (which I’ll elaborate upon in a bit.) What arrived were two smallish salads that were very unimpressive, especially given the price of these things. I don’t know if it would have actually been any better prepared table-side. We were both glad that we had ordered the appetizer.
For entree’s Laura ordered the Chilean sea bass and shrimp with a side of snap snow peas. I ordered lump crab encrusted grouper with a saffron reduction sauce and with a side of asparagus and tomato au gratin. All of the food that actually made it to our table was fantastic. The grouper was very tasty, and not too heavy even with the crab stuffing. The saffron reduction sauce was an excellent accompaniment, and was also nice and light without being overpowering. However, we never got a chance to taste the sides because they never arrived.
This ran the gamut from initially snippy and rude to pathetic to apologetic with a bit of blame shifting. First, the rudeness. Our waiter took a long amount of time between each visit, which was bad enough. He dropped off menus, and we waited. We ordered drinks, then we waited. While the show menu was certainly more economical, we didn’t see what we really wanted. The waiter assured us that we had time for the regular dinner menu, so we took his advice. When we asked about the additional cost of the side dishes, his was a very short snippy reply that it was all a la carte.
Now for the pathetic. It took twenty minutes for our drinks to arrive, and thirty for the appetizer. After waiting forty minutes for our salads, our waiter came by and apologized for it taking so long. He said that they only had one cart for preparing the Caesar salads table-side, and that was what was taking so long. He said we could either change our order have have the salads made inside. We asked him to have them made inside.
As we continued to wait, we watched others who had arrived after us receive not only their salads but their entree’s as well. As we passed the hour mark since having first been seated, we flagged down the manager. He apologized profusely, and offered us a couple of glasses of chardonnay on the house. Finally the salads did show up, over an hour into the meal.
The entree’s arrived a little quicker, now that we had their attention. However, as previously mentioned, the sides didn’t come with them. Our waiter first said that the sides would be delivered shortly. However, when he came back by to check on us and there were still no side dishes, it was clear that he had no clue what was wrong. He wasn’t keeping track.
And finally, the apologies. Our waiter said that things were crazy in the kitchen, and that was what had caused the delay. We did know that there were lots of things going on at the restaurant. However, he never once took responsibility for his own culpability. He apologized for everyone else, but not himself. He did bring out another bottle of chardonnay. We had a bit of wine in our glasses already from what the manager had brought out. Apparently the wine with which our waiter refilled our glasses wasn’t the same type, and the blend of the two was not as appealing as either alone.
Both the manager and the waiter offered us dessert and coffee, but by this time things couldn’t be fixed. Time was slipping away, and a long wait for dessert and coffee was the last thing we needed. We had made 6:00 reservations so that we would have plenty of time to make it to an 8:00 show right next door. We had even arrived early for our reservation. As it was, we were rushing to make it to our seats on time.
When we arrived we spotted a knife stuck in one of the flower pots next to our table.
We should have taken this as a sign.
The chef made a good choice in creating a simplified menu for the pre-show crowds. I think that if everyone had stuck to that menu, things would not have gone so badly, even with the huge numbers of crowds. Our waiter is to blame for leading us astray onto the more expensive, and ultimately more anxiety inducing menu. Kitchen delays don’t explain the delay in delivering the initial drinks or appetizers, so he should rightly take the blame for that.
The food was great, when it actually did arrive. I think I would have loved to have tried their desserts. However, we were so put out with them over the entire experience that we were ready to be done with Larkins, regardless of any freebies they offered as apology.
We will probably try Larkins on the River again. However, we’ll go on an evening when there isn’t a popular Broadway show and a Symphony Chamber Ensemble happening right next door and when we don’t have a time constraint. Also, at the first sign of rudeness or food delays, we will immediately leave and walk to one of the many other nearby options that also feature great food. This is far too expensive of an endeavor to end up with heartburn because of a bad experience.
[tags]restaurants, Larkins on the River[/tags]