Everybody thinks they can run a restaurant. If you’ve made a bazillion dollars in a rock and roll band, it seems like a sure thing to leverage your fame and your obvious genius by opening an eatery. It doesn’t really work all that often, but people keep trying.
In San Rafael, Phil Lesh, one of the founders of the Grateful Dead, has opened a place called Terrapin Crossroads along the waterfront on the southeast of town. It includes a performance space, where he appears regularly with one of the 3 or 4 bands he is currently involved in, a great idea that feeds customers into the restaurant before and after the shows.
We ate there tonight, and I have two completely different opinions. The food was excellent, the service sucked the big one.
We got there about 6:30, and there were a ton of people lined up outside, but they were in line for a show. The dining room was not crowded, and we were shown to a table promptly.
The building has been there for ages–this is not the first time I’ve eaten in that room, but the first in this incarnation. There doesn’t seem to have been any remodeling–this restaurant looks just like hundreds of others built in the 70’s and 80’s, lots of wood, a vaguely nautical theme, large bar along one side.
The menu is California modern–lots of fish and pastas, plates both small and large, a few salads and a daily soup. The waiter found us, stumbled through the specials and took our order.
Here’s my starter–the burrata crostini. I’ve become a burrata addict, and this was a particularly good presentation. The cheese was spread on warm toast, not some shingle hard piece of stale crust, napped with olive oil and topped with flash fried basil.
My iced tea came, with at least 2 ice cubes. Small ones. I thought I was in Paris. I only had to ask twice to get some sweetener. Gail and Brad had a bottle of wine, and asked for some ice to go with it.
The entrees came. I love pasta, I love duck, I loved this dish.
My ice tea need refilling. The bus boy brought me a fresh glass, with all tea and no ice whatsoever. I mentioned that it needed ice, so he poured the new glass of tea into my old glass, with it’s tiny pebbles of ice remaining. He promised to return with more ice.
Gail and Brad asked for ice for their wine, again.
Why Brad wanted a burger, I have no idea. But he did, so he had one. It was a good burger. The fries were crispy, but they needed catsup. There was no catsup. There was no waiter to ask for any.
I got tired of waiting, got up, went to the bar and got two glasses of ice. I may have mentioned to the bar manager that we had no waiter and no busboy.
Gail and Kate had the salmon, which they both pronounced excellent and finished every scrap. Their plates included Yukon gold potatoes fried in duck fat, sort of a heart attack on a plate. Sadly, there were the weakest link in the entire meal–they seemed to be excessively salty.
Eventually, the waiter reappeared to ask if we wanted dessert. We didn’t. He brought us a check, and I left one of the smaller tips of my life.
This is really sad–I like the food here. I like the things on the menu that I didn’t order, but might order the next time, if next time there should be. But there won’t be a next time, because of the dreadful service.
When the food is bad, you figure the chef isn’t very good and it won’t get better. When the service is bad, you don’t know if it is systemic or just the waiter you had who will be fired next week anyway. So while I think you would have a very good dinner at Terrapin Crossroads, I have no idea if you would have good or bad service.
Eating here is sort of like the denouement of a Dirty Harry movie–“Do you feel lucky?”