Third time may not be the charm
Restaurants come and go. There is no business riskier to get into, yet there seems to be an endless stream of entrepreneurs willing to give it a go.
Dinner last night at Sunol Ridge on Locust in Walnut Creek. This is the third incarnation we have seen in this specific location, and may not be the last.
The facility is quite attractive, dark and cool with lots of wood and modern decor. There is a bar in front with 36 craft beers on tap, dramatic lighting and sufficient sound dampening that the place isn’t too loud.
Sunol Ridge styles itself as a “gastropub”, whatever that means. Probably something to do with all the different beers and wines they purvey and a hearty menu. Since I don’t drink I don’t have anything to say about the alcohol choices, but there is plenty here if you like that sort of thing.
Four of us at dinner, and three chose exactly the same meal: the tomato and stone fruit gazpacho and the stuffed branzino. Gail had the rib eye steak, but that’s because she wanted something to take home to the very spoiled dog.
The gazpacho was much spicier than I would ever have imagined, which pretty well obliterated any flavor from the stone fruit. Ramping up the spice in the food makes it more macho, but that isn’t really my main goal in fine dining.
The branzino, on the other hand, was interesting as all get out.
A whole fish, mostly deboned (I found a few lurkers), stuffed with tiny tomatoes, cipolini, summer squash and who knows what else. The accompanying roasted carrots were superb dipped in the dish of oil and garlic, which I also drizzled over the fish. I liked this dish, lots.
Gail’s steak looked good to me, but she said it was not as medium rare as one would expect.
So we finished our fine meals. And sat there. And sat there, dirty dishes in front of us. It was an absurdly hot Sunday night, and the place was not crowded at all. Nonetheless, it took ages before our plates were cleared.
I was undoubtedly cranky at this point, but being asked twice if we wanted dessert, when I had said the first time we were ready for the check, did not make me think more kindly of the operation. I felt like she was more interested in selling more than in providing quality service. Sunol Ridge is not McDonalds, they shouldn’t push the upsell the same way.
Yet again, it’s the service that makes or breaks a restaurant. I like the food here, the ambiance is pleasant, I’ll bet it’s great for a beer lover (if Mamula ever comes to visit I know where to take him). Still, if I’m not to try the fourth new restaurant in this location, they need to pick up their service game. Plates need to be cleared promptly and customers must not be nagged to buy more. You’d think this was the easy part of food service management, but you’d be wrong. Virtually every restaurant that fails does so because of the service and the customer experience or other staff problems. It’s much easier to cook good food than to get it to the customer properly.