In the strip mall next to the Luther Burbank Center—called by some the Wells Fargo Center—there is a new vegetarian restaurant, The Garden. I’ve heard from reliable sources that the food’s good. I wouldn’t know, personally. I couldn’t get served.
I went there before an eight o’clock concert at the Center. I walked through the door at about 6:45. From the front door you can see through the sidelight into the kitchen and I looked at a cupboard loaded with fruit; yellow bananas, apples, green, yellow, pink and red, citrus and a whole lower shelf piled with limes. It was a lush and welcoming image. First impressions can be deceiving.
The place is less than half a mile from the concert venue; this seemed like plenty of time, and it would have been, normally. There was a line a people ahead of me; a couple, two young women, and me. While I waited to get my name on the list for a table I looked around. The place has lots of windows, which give it a light, airy feel. It’s small. The Max Capacity sign read 48 and I think they had exceeded it. The bare walls and the tile floor bounced the sound around like silicon putty. To say it was noisy doesn’t really describe it. While I waited, a couple of pasta entrees were brought out of the kitchen and I have to say they looked very good. Lots of tomatoes, vivid greens and reds, and –even though this is a silly thing to write—the pasta did not look mushy. They also brought out a couple of salads. Those looked good too.
I noticed they had a large party, probably eight people, seated when I came in.
After six minutes I got my name written on the list. The couple who had been sitting down waiting when I came in got seated, then the two young women who’d been chatting.
Eight minutes after I’d put my name on the list, the cheerful hostess said, “We have a table for you!” and led me through the restaurant to a small table between the piano and the back door. It sounds bad but it was actually a pleasant table. I should know. I spent a lot of time there. I sat down. By now it was past seven o’clock. A serious young man in black brought me a glass of water. Behind him, a slender young woman carrying a pitcher (very classical) brought me utensils wrapped in a napkin. I asked her what the soup was. “Creamy vegetable,” she said. “Your server will be over soon.” Serious Young Man came back with an oval wire basket that had three slices of bread in it. He left one basket for me and one for the two young women who were seated just across from me.
I looked at the large party of eight. They didn’t have their food yet. It occurred to me that I should be worried.
Serious Young Man returned with a shallow dish of olive oil and vinegar for the bread. It was about ten after seven. I began mentally scaling down my order from an entree to soup and an appetizer. The soup was already prepared, right? And appetizers are supposed to be fast. Time ticked by and, as I often do when I’m stressed and do not feel in control of the situation, I began to engage in magical thinking. I won’t open my book, because if I open my book to read, they’ll think I’ve been taken care of. I’ll move the menu across the table from me, because then they’ll know I’m ready. Oh, wait, I’ll move it back, because they might think I’m waiting for a second person if I put it over there. I’ll just. . . keep. . . watching them.
None of this mattered. I could have leapt atop the table and begun Irish step-dancing, and it wouldn’t have mattered. They weren’t going to wait on me.
At about seven fifteen, the large party got their food. About five minutes after that, the server came to take the order of the couple who had been seated before me, and before the two young women next to me. Serious Young Men and Women With Pitchers (2 each for a total of 4 bus staff) circled like confused hummingbirds, but they did not take orders.
I’d like to make it sound like I was huddled in my corner nibbling stale bread, but the bread was quite tasty. They use whole wheat flour and the texture was soft—dinner roll texture. They must use honey or some kind of syrup as a sweetener; the bread was quite sweet and the vinegar made a nice counterpoint although it wasn’t the best balsamic-style vinegar I’ve ever had. They also have gluten free products on the menu.
At seven-twenty-five, the server who had brought the food to the big party came over to our part of the dining room. She brought the check for another couple who had been there a long time. Then she approached the two young women and expressed surprise that they had not been helped. This seemed odd since, as near as I could tell, she was the only server on the floor and, unless amnesia is a problem for her, should have known whose orders she had taken. On the other hand, amnesia would explain quite a few things. She told them she would be right back to take their order.
Yes, you read that correctly; right back to take their order.
I threw a dollar on the table, got my coat and left.
In retrospect, why the dollar? Looking back, I thought I had been weak and foolish to leave a dollar on the table. For what? A tip for Serious Young Man and Young Woman With Pitcher? For the bread? Shouldn’t they have to pay me for wasting forty minutes of my time? However, when I told the Sig-O this story, he said, “Did you pay for the bread?” so I guess that’s what I was doing.
I went down the strip to Bad Ass Coffee where there were people in line ahead of me. In spite of this disaster—eek! Customers!–counter staff took my order in just a couple of minutes, and served me my drink less than a minute later! Miraculous!
Obviously, The Garden was experiencing technical difficulties that night. Still, they’ve been open for two months, and they probably chose the location because it is close to a concert venue. Did a server call in sick? When you’ve got bus-staff standing around looking for something to do, can’t you figure out a fix? Like maybe the bus-staff deliver the food, once the waiter takes the order? I don’t work in food service and even I thought of that.
I might give this place another try, but right now they are in the category of Epic Failure.
Update: Writing this post clarified my thinking and I called the restaurant to speak to the manager. I told her how disappointed I was. She apologized for my experience. She said that they only had one server that night; and that person had to leave at 8:00 and that they weren’t used to it being so busy before a concert. She hopes I will try the restaurant again when things aren’t as catastrophic. Maybe I even will.