Food 9, service 2

I’ve been hearing about Lungomare, in Jack London Square, for a while now, and tonight we finally managed to get there.  I find myself very conflicted about this place, and can’t wait to talk about it.

Restaurants management is divided into the front of the house and the back of the house, generally with different managers for each.  The concept is pretty easy to grasp: food prep is the back of the house, and is under the iron rule of the chef. Service is front of the house, and is directed by a FOH manager even when the chef owns the entire place.

I have no idea about the ownership of Lungomare, but it was clear to us that the kitchen turns out excellent food while the service is so poor that I can’t recommend that you eat there.

In fact, just the fact that we were eating there was a bad sign.  Gail made a list of well reputed East Bay restaurants for Saturday night, and I couldn’t get us a table at any of them–it’s a holiday weekend, after all.  Opentable provided me with a list of places with open reservations, though, and there Lungomare was–why should they have so much availability?  Their location is excellent, in Jack London Square where Miss Pearl’s Jam House was, where indeed there has a busy restaurant for the entire half century I have lived here.  It’s easy to get to and the valet takes your car so you don’t have to park.  (On the wall of the valet station is their list of rules for the staff.  Rule #2 is “don’t hit anything”. That gets right to the point. )

Walking in, we told them we had to add one to our reservation–daughter Kate came with us.  No problem, there were plenty of tables available.

The building is very attractive, with glass walls facing the estuary and the square.  The design is casual, there are no tablecloths and the “napkins” are kitchen towels.  This keeps costs down, but increases the noise level.  Unfortunately for us, we were next to a table of 14, who were having a very good time–each round of drinks raised the volume a few decibels.

Our waiter arrived, nose ring and all.  I try to be hip, slick and cool, but I just can’t get behind nose rings.  He explained the things on the menu, sort of, using the phrase “pretty much’ for pretty much every item.  I was pretty much not happy with the service already.  We ordered drinks, noting how proudly he mentioned that they offer no Coke or Pepsi-type products, only specialty drinks.  Fortunately, they did have iced tea.  We were perhaps a bit too casual, but it seemed like an exceptionally long time before our dinner order was taken.

They offer a burrata appetizer, which Kate loves as much as I do, so I ordered it.  For $11 we got a bit of burrata, which was very good.  A couple of exceedingly thin slices of very very salty smoked salmon and 5 tasty fennel/rosemary crackers.  

We finished our burrata and nothing happened.  Lungomare doesn’t seem to have any bussers, our plates just sat on the table.  Finally, after about 20 minutes, the hostess came over and picked up the serving plate and one of the three small plates for service.

Our waiter re-filled my iced tea with more tea–but no ice, so I had warm tea.  The other two service plates stayed on the table.

Eventually, because they have to bring you some food if they want to call themselves a restaurant and not a library, my salad came.

Panzanella salad

Panzanella salad

This was a great salad, in a Florentine tradition.  The chunks of bread were slightly crispy, but not hard like croutons.  The balance of oil and vinegar was just right, and the grilled peaches and nectarines were wonderful.

Gail and Kate shared a bowl of the tomato and bell pepper gazpacho, somewhat uncharacteristically because neither of them is found of cucumbers, which are an essential part of my favorite cold Spanish soup.  The chef must be a wizard, though, because they scraped the bowl clean.  I managed to get a tiny taste, and have to agree that it was a superb imagining of gazpacho.

Trofie with pesto

Trofie with pesto

I had a simple bowl of pasta, a variety they call trofie.  The sauce was a basil and hazelnut pesto, and it, too, was excellent.  It may take entirely too long to get some service in this joint, but there is not complaining about the food.

Then Kate had something truly exceptional:

Porchetta

Porchetta

Porchetta is an Italian stuffed pork roast.  The stuffing here seemed to be a spicy sausage, not unlike salami.  What is particularly special is the size of the portion–it is huge.  Vast.  Enormous.  There must have been over a pound of meat on the plate.  Kate ate her fill, then I finished what I could, then Gail had a bite or 3 and there was still meat left over.  This portion goes beyond generous all the way to silly.

As good as the meat was, Kate says the grilled stone fruit on top of which it was served was even better.  I can’t say–she didn’t leave any for me to try.

Taking no chances, we flagged down the waiter and asked for the check even though we weren’t finished eating. We knew there was no chance we’d risk  another eternal wait for dessert.

The bill was quite reasonable for 3 people, and I didn’t have to spend a lot on the tip, either.  They validated the parking and we were out of there for under $135, parking included.

So I love the back of the house, hate the front of the house.  The waiter was just not very good, and there doesn’t seem to be any bussers at all.  The hostess tries to compensate, but that isn’t really her job and she doesn’t have the time.  The food is flat excellent and the prices are good, but I can’t recommend Lungomare until they shape up their front of house management.

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