Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Could Have Been At Bistro Blanc

Burgers at Bistro Blanc
Just for the record, they invited me for burgers at Bistro Blanc.

The mass email on Wednesday promoted half-priced burgers, and I made an impulse decision to go to Glenelg for gourmet beef and beer.

It could have been great.  The pickle was awesome.  The dehydrated mushrooms were inspired.  Some of the fries were the perfect  execution that you'd want in a high-end restaurant -- scattered with melted parmesan and served with sweet roasted garlic cloves.

But the night had collapsed by the time those arrived.

Five minutes waiting for them to set the table we had reserved.  Five minutes standing at the empty bar hoping in vain someone could tell me about the beers.  Forty minutes after ordering that we waited for our meal.

Forty minutes, and we weren't alone.  At one point, there were only two tables with food, and everyone else was waiting.  The table next to us waited longer than we did, and they were actually told "We ran out of buns.  They're bringing more from the supermarket.  They'll be here in four minutes."  Then the waiter promised a cheese plate that no one delivered.

By the end, the entire staff had given up.  Our waitress just apologized.  Clearly, something had gone wrong in back.  Really wrong.  We knew immediately that the burgers were medium rare, not medium well.  We just couldn't endure sending them back.  Mrs. HowChow ended up leaving the raw center on her plate.  One of the "supermarket" burgers must have been similar because the other table did send it back.

We have friends who really enjoy Bistro Blanc.  We even loved bits of the meal like those pickles, the mushrooms, sprouts and lettuce garnishes, and the bread basket.  But we have had a series of sloppy, disappointing dinners, including an epic failure in 2009.  We couldn't get over last night's experience -- a lonely 40 minutes and badly-cooked meat.

Most of the time, poor meals just disappear for us.  We recommend good things on HowChow and just don't mention the disappointments.  But Bistro Blanc wants to be something special.  That burger normally costs $14.  It can't be raw on the night when they invite people over for burgers.


Rob said...

Thanks much for this review. I know it's not easy to call out the less-than-stellar experiences, especially at a place that has been highly rated, but it is important for the readers. It ain't cheap, in terms of dollars and precious free time these days, to take your loved ones out. I certainly don't want to spend either and get frustration in return.

Balancing Act said...

Thanks for sharing your disappointing experience. I appreciate that you are usually trying to be kind, but I strongly feel that honesty is the most important factor in a review. We all respect your opinions and count on them to be accurate and true. BTW, had an amazing meal at Mutiny Pirate Bar and Island Grille recently (in Glen Burnie, so a short drive from HoCo) and I think you'd really enjoy this place.

zevonista said...

Enjoyed the food when I've been there. But while the servers have always been enthusiastic, they've not always been informed. I once wanted to try wine from their automated machines, but none of the servers could explain how it worked, and the manager never stepped up to explain.

RHfoodie said...

I was there once evening & ordered the burger after a very long wait at the door & then to be served. When the food finally arrived, my burger was so over salted I couldn't eat it. The waiter whisked it away quickly and then returned with nothing. No replacement. Nothing...I went home & ate.

It's a shame...the food can be very good but consistency is not their strong suit.

Anonymous said...

I have been to Bistro Blanc twice. We were disappointed both times with both the food and the service. Unfortunately, when we want something special, we head to Baltimore to Woodberry Kitchen or Cinghiale. It's too bad we don't have better options out here.

nicole said...

Bummed to hear about your experience. The one time we ate there, on my birthday in 2011 we had a great meal and a nice time. Hope they fix whatever is going wrong.

Trip Klaus said...

I was there last night as well (didn't see you or I would have said hello) and had a similar experience. I eat at Bistro Blanc quite often and usually the pace is much better. While I didn't choose the burger last night my gnocchi was wonderful (if slow to be delivered). They seemed more busy than usual and frankly I think that they have a problem when they are that busy. They seem understaffed and sometimes under trained for those rare times when they have a "Friday" crowd on a Wednesday. uch a shame because the food remains among the best in the county.

Penny said...

I eat at Bistro Blanc occasionally, and by and large have had very few complaints. There was one incident where a server was poorly trained and said some kind of shockingly odd things, but the management apologized and the next time we went back the service was again excellent.

The food is almost always top-notch -- not earth shattering, like Volt, but equivalent to Woodberry Kitchen or the like.

That said, I've never liked the way every show on Broadway ends with a standing ovation -- the only way to achieve top tier service is to hold the restaurant accountable. I'm glad for your review. I hope they read this, so the next time I go I don't experience what you did.

Philosoraptor said...

I have been watching a lot of old episodes of Gordan Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. It is interesting to hear somebody having an experience just like you see on that show. Helps to prove it isn't all editing of film that shows an evening falling apart like that.

Annie Rie said...

Interesting. It sounds like they didn't put on enough staff.

We eat there two or three times a month. It isn't a restaurant where dinner is made quickly. Nor, where we go for a basic meal. When we do want to eat quickly, we sit at the bar, and just get flatbread and maybe gnocchi or risotto. Marc is an outstanding chef. It is hard to keep staff out here, I have heard. The really good ones leave for busier areas.

Was the owner there? If he was, I hope you let him know about your service.

georgina said...

I recently moved within a few miles of Bistro Blanc, and my husband and I enjoy upscale dining, so I was thrilled there was a choice nearby. However, we have gone three times (2x more than i might have elsewhere) hoping each time was a fluke. Extremely slow service especially when you are getting that first drink. You can endure a lot if you just have some wine! Food was overall fine but not worth enduring sometimes rude and always vanishing servers.

Marcia said...

I know people love this place but we were not impressed. Not at all. We went once and won't be going back. I was tempted to give them a second chance when we got that 1/2 price burger email, because people rave about their burgers. Glad I decided against it.

HowChow said...

Thanks everyone. I have heard great things about Bistro Blanc. Our first meal there was terrific. Our returns have not been succeesses, but Trip Klaus, Annie, Penny and the others are real voices with good lessons.

@Annie -- I didn't see the owner who I have met before. Honestly, I didn't see anyone except waiters and the receptionist. They were all embarrassed, but there was no manager or anyone else who stepped in with anything -- explanation, drink, snack, etc. I think that rudderlessness contributed to the problem. I've been lots of places where the food was late and we had a fine time. This was different -- both the tone of the night and the way that the food finally came out. I made sure to tip on full-priced burgers and the beer that they comped so the wairress didn't suffer and didn't think we blamed her. I knew it was a hard night for everyone.

Annie Rie said...

We always sit in the bar these days. The food is exceptional, if you have Marc cooking. I don't know why they decided to do a half price burger night. It isn't something we expect there. Usually, half price food nights stress the staff and the chef. I might have to give the owner my thoughts on why I think they are a bad idea.

I remember years ago, JK telling us he eliminated his half price nights because his staff hated them.

Their cellar dinners, in the private room, are some of the best food we have had. They do one every six or eight weeks. We also go on Tuesdays for half price wine night.

Bring wine from your cellar. Tell Marc in advance what it is. He makes a small plate food pairing to your wine. Seven or eight courses, depending on how many couples attend.

Brian said...

I've been to Bistro Blanc several times, although not for a while, and I've always liked it. Not quite as good as Woodberry, but much closer to my house. But I've definitely heard a few stories like this suggesting they have some off nights. I'll have to give them a try again soon and see what the service is like now.

HowChow said...

@Annie -- How do you know when Marc is cooking? I didn't expect a star chef for the burger special. But I be sure if I went back.

Anonymous said...

I had submitted this to OpenTable over a year ago, but it was denied because it mentioned raw duck. In general, I think Bistro Blanc as fallen downhill...

The review that was redacted from OpenTable:
I'm hoping it was just an off night at Bistro Blanc -- I've dined
there previously and enjoyed nice food and wine with only small parts
detracting from overall great experiences. However, this time only one of five dishes was completely solid (a great arctic char preparation), three dishes had only small problems (scallops had unusual flavor, parts of the duck were raw, etc), and the cheese plate was served so
cold it was pointless to try and eat it. The service seemed very
variable based on your server, and we must have pulled the short straw
-- our server tried hard, but her knowledge of food and wine was
abysmal. Additionally, twice we were served dishes without the
required utensils and were not followed up on in a timely manner.

Anonymous said...

I have had the same experiences and stopped going...stepping up service and food would go a long way to improving this poor immatation of the Iron Bridge

WoW said...

There is a great 1/2 price burger nite on Mondays within walking distance at the Glenelg Tavern.

Lynn Mann said...

Your experience very closely mirrors ours at Bistro Blanc. The service was so terrible, and the food took so long to arrive, that we had actually gotten up to leave. None of the wait staff offered to explain anything about their beers or wines and everyone, incl. the manager (owner?) was unpleasant. We will never return there.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why the restaurant failed HowChow, but I am sure that the failure was an exception. There are 144 reviews on OpenTable that average out at 4.2 on a scale of 5.0. That makes Bistro Blanc one of the highest rated restaurants in the entire Baltimore area. I look at many reviews before I decide whether to go to a restaurant, and HowChow's is definitely in the minority.

teamdewitt said...

We ate there this past week and it was one of the best meals ever! The oysters were divine, & the portobello & parsnip soup was luscious. I'm very surprised to see these reviews

Anonymous said...

The food is great, inventive and the menu is well thought out. The kitchen does a great job. I love going there.
BUT the service is weak to poor to indifferent. Sometimes the staff forgets to mention the specials, which is annoying for both the kitchen and the guest. At times you feel ignored and we order at east 3 courses and wine or drinks.

It's also loud and the tables are not well spaced.

It's not as if they are arrogant and indifferent to their customers but the staff is not well trained and they are easily rattled by a packed house on a Saturday night. Go during the week and enjoy.