Friday, March 21, 2008

Porter & Frye

So, of course, with all the controversy, I just had to go check it out. Luckily, my attorney and occassional brother in law, invited Matt and I to meet him for lunch this week. Even though I was lucky enough to get today off of work (Spring Day! WOO HOO!), I had no problem making the trip into downtown Minneapolis for the chance to dine at Porter & Frye in the Ivy. There was no menu available online and every review I've read thus far has been for dinner. I had no idea what to expect.


We're experiencing this annoying March snow storm. The heavy, wet snow is beautiful, but it's also everywhere. I think we're supposed to get 9 inches in all. We parked accross the street from the restaurant in what had been for a very long time, that abandoned builded accross the street from the parking ramp attached to the orchestra. "God, I've always thought this was the ugliest building," I said.


"Really? I've always thought it was really cool. It looks so old and different. It's always been chillin' doin' it's own thing."

"It's a giant rock collection. It's pavement." I squinted and was sloshed our way accross the street to the entrance. "Please use the Ivy entrance" the sign informed us. So, we aimed for the next nearest door. It was locked. Great, the Ivy's entrance was around the corner and practically about a block away. It was sopping wet and cold. My shoes were soaked. What was I thinking wearing the cute ones on a day like today?


The double doors slid open and there were four black clad men standing there. Heads still down, we marched towards the lobby. One guy broke away and was trying to stand in front of us, "Hello, how are you doing today?" Fine (cold, wet and hungry, but fine.) "May I help you with anything today?" No... no we're good. Please stand aside - I need food!



"Hello, how are you today?" Two women were blocking the entrance. "Yeh, hi - there he is!" Matt said and we tried to weasel our way around them and get to the table where Patrick was waiting for us.


"Oh, your party has already arrived." Like he's a VIP or something? "May I take your coats for you?" Okay, yes, that was nice.


We settled into our seats. I looked around the room. It was nicely lit and pretty. Despite the concrete surroundings, exposed piping and walls, mostly painted off white. The wood was dark and polished on the tables and chairs. There was a little divider between the dining room and the bar. There was a gorgeous flower arrangement there. We talked to Pat about his work day - he was excitedly looking foward to suing some people this afternoon. He really likes his job. He asked after my good friend, who is a paralegal. I said she's good - getting married this summer, we're all happy for her. Matt was telling him about some of the classes that he's taking at the U - he was explaining some of the different directions he could end up going - watershed management would most likely be involved. Back off ladies, this one's taken.


Not in any of this time does anyone show up at the table and offer so much as a glass of water. After a couple of attempts, I finally grabbed a guy and said, "Can I get some water?" I was really parched.


"Oh, no one has brought you any water yet? Do you have a server?"


"No," what kind of a question was that?


He grabed a guy that was walking past and steered him to our table, he put his hand on my shoulder, which, for some reason felt creepy.


"How are we doing today? May I get you something to drink?"


"Yes. Please. I would like some water."


"Sparkl-"


"Just tap is fine." Finally somebody showed up with a cold pitcher and I downed it fast. It's been like 20 minutes so we were more than ready to order our food. I wanted the Chicken Little sandwich and the chowder to start with. The chowder wasn't clam, but prepared with shrimp and sausage. Matt ordered the Ceaser salad and the arctic char with jalepeno sofrito. Pat had the Greek salad and the gnocci. When the waiter took our menus the wine list in the middle knocked the tiny salt shaker over for about the fifth time. I thought, "Hey, I don't have to work. Why not?" I started to look over the list when the waiter grabbed the menu out of my hand. "Um, I was reading that."


"Oh," he handed it back.



They continuted to talk family stuff while I started studying the other tables. A man and woman that had walked in after us were tucking into their salads. Hey, was that bread? I looked around. Hey! They have bread! And it looks good... We're past the half hour mark and I'm sipping my ice water jealous of bread. At this point, I'm getting crabby and thinking of all the other first impressions that I've read of this place. Yes, it's still a new place, but come ON!

Our waiter reappeared, "I am so sorry. We are all out of the shrimp roll."


We looked at each other and all re-ordered. "And I had the chowder and chicken sandwich." He crossed out French Onion and wrote down c-h-o-d-e-r.





I went back to reading the wine menu. It was a different set up than what I've seen before. There were four different catagories, each listing red, white and sparkling wines. Each different catagory has a different price. You can order 3 oz, 6 oz pour or a bottle. I grabbed the waiter guy and requested a 6 oz pour of a middle priced red. Matt did the same.


We went back to waiting. Fifteen more minutes of breadless waiting. I couldn't even pay attention to what they were talking about at that point. "I don't want to be an asshole," it felt odd swearing in such a nice restaurant, "but am I going to have to go behind that pour my own glass of wine?"


"Yeah, what is going on with this place?" Pat asked. I think he was a little relived that I was ready to drop the charade and acknowledge that this service was terrible.



The waiter re-appeared on cue carrying a tray with two glasses, a wine bottle and a glass of Coke on it. He strolled over to another table, delivered the Coke and seemed to be having a lovely little chat. What.the.hell. Seriously. Eventually, he came over to our table. "Would you like a bottle, or just the two glasses?"


I wanted to hit him. Matt laughed in his great disarming way.


"No, we'll just go with the two glasses," Matt said.


A nervous young man set a white bowl full of sliced bread in front of us.


"We do get bread!" Pat squealed. We lobbed the little balls of butter at each other and began stuffing them into our faces. I was starting to get worried about Patrick. He had to be in court later this afternoon. I wondered if he was ever going to be able to get fed.


Just then our first courses arrived. Matt was presented with a plate of charred romain covered in cheese. Patrick got this really odd plate with a wedge of Iceburg lettuce, a peeled whole tomato and two little ribbons of curled up cucumber. I got this wide plate with a little hole in it filled with what looked like cooked merpoie, sausage and these little teeny tiny shrimps. What the hell? Where was the soup part? A guy leaned over me and poured a cream colored broth into the hole. The waiters vanished and Matt dug into his lettuce with a concerned look on his face.


I picked up my butter knife and fork and looked at Pat, "What's wrong with this picture?" He covered his mouth and started laughing. Matt lept from his chair to chase down someone - I think he practically went into the kitchen - requesting a spoon for me. He seemed kind of mad. Aw, chivalry is not dead.

Our bumbling waiter laid a gigantic spoon next to me. I picked it up and stared at it. This had to be a joke - it was a serving spoon! And it was an odd shape, kind of rectangular. Here's a picture with my butter knife for scale.









It was HUGE - and it's unweildly nature made it impossible to eat with. I kept spilling soup all over the white expanse. The shrimps were those little teeny kind and tasted like they had until recently been frozen. The broth was pleasant and not overly creamy. The sausage had a lovely, smokey flavor, but kind of overwhelmed everything. After a couple of ladle fulls I just quit. It was kind of stupid and mediocre.


I tried Matt's salad. It was wonderful. The whole thing was covered in this little crumbled, mild cheese. The flavor combinations were delightful. It was served with four slices of heavily buttered and grilled bread that was also fantastic.


"I'd let you try some of mine, but I can tell you what it tastes like," offered Pat. "It tastes like bland." Honestly, I didn't want to taste it. I couldn't even tell you what was Greek about it. The peeled tomato looked a little green and there was all these little black things all over it. They weren't poppy seeds, not seasame seeds... maybe little shaves of black truffles? I ask you this, when was the last time that you thought to yourself, you know what I"m really craving? Man - I could go for a whole head of iceburg lettuce! Yeah.



I waved down the server and handed him my plate. Patrick just kept staring at his plate blanching. Matt was hungrily gobbling up his lettuce and mopping up the cheese and dressing with his buttery toast.


Two waiters, our gomer and the first guy that I had approached. They looked at the finished plates in front of the guys. I could see the other guy looking at gomer like, "Aww, man - you moron!" Still they served them, while Matt and Patrick held the old plates aloft. I was guzzling my wine. The wine was delightful and thankfully distracting.



Chicken little:


The toasted warm bun was yummy and the chicken had a delightful citrusy flavor. The problem was trying to eat it. I had to keep shoving the wilted, warm lettuce, watery tomato and Munster cheese back into it. On my third bite the entire contents shot out of the bun and across my plate. It was annoying and no where near worth nine dollars, but tasty. The fries were super salty and doused in malt vinager. At first I liked them, but the salt started to get to me. I had to dip them in ketchup to cut the saltiness.


Matt's arctic char was beautiful and served in this huge bowl/plate thing.



(And notice the appearance of the bread "basket." All slices of bread had odd dried fruit in it.)


The fish looked fine, but not being a huge fan, I didn't try it. The odd beige pastey lump was pretty good. I have no idea what it was. Really, we tried. Was that supposed to be the sofrito? I dunno. Matt enjoyed it and I avoided any more bites. The wilted greens were delicious. Cooked down and delicate, with a delightful spicy and lemony notes. Really good.


Pat's gnocchi was good, but not great. "It's good, but I think I've had better at Pazzaluna."





The picture didn't turn out very well, either. (Hey! Nice tie!) There seemed to be a sauce of sorts made out of sundried tomato and it was topped with a cheese that tasted like Humbolt fog. It had a rind and tasted a little bit like crumbly goat cheese. It was good, but the gnocchi were completely bland and a little rubbery. Meh, it was okay. Man, for the guy that was picking up the tab, he was really geting screwed over.



We weren't even done eating when Matt asked for the check. The guy came back, dropped it with Pat. Pat gave him his credit card. After a few minutes he returned and dropped the bill on the ground. God, this guy was so bad that it was just getting really uncomfortable now. He picked it up and laid it on the table.



"May I get you anything else?" he asked.



"How about my credit card?"



He fumbled about a bit, when the other waiter came up behind him and handed him Pat's card. "Ahhh... Then I'm going to need to run that again."



?



Finally, we got it, Pat paid and agonized about the tip. He didn't stiff the guy, but it kind of hurt to give him much. The guy was terrible. What were they thinking? I was anxious to get the hell out of this place. I wanted go home. I wanted tons more of that wine, but somewhere else.



So, I don't care if it's still too early to judge this place, or if it isn't fair to judge after just one trip - I wouldn't ever eat there again, even if it is on somebody else's dime.

18 Comments:

At 5:56 PM , Blogger Jason DeRusha said...

I wonder if the dinner experience is different, because my wife and I had dinner there Wednesday night and it was awesome. Our waiter's name was Jorge (although he was using a French accent and calling himself "Georges", but I digress). He was FANTASTIC.

I had the tenderloin (it was perfect) and my wife had swordfish (it was like a piece of art). We had the hot potato salad -- inventive and tasty, and the celery soup, which was also really good.

So go figure. Did you guys tell anyone about the awful service?

 
At 6:10 PM , Blogger cindyMN said...

Sooo Kathie Jenkins was actually right about the place?!

Sounds like the place is really really up and down with service and quality of food.

 
At 6:24 AM , Anonymous j.lo said...

Wino here, do you remember the name of the wine you drank?

 
At 6:41 AM , Blogger Joy Estelle said...

I think it's just really uneven, and that could be chalked up to still being new, but... I would think that when the most common complaint is terrible service (at least from what I've read) wouldn't you address the front of the house?
I wish I'd gotten Jorge. (My favorite server at Barbette often faked a French accent - he was the best!) The most uncomfortable part was that our guy seemed to know that he was screwing up our service at every possible turn. I would normally have said something (you know - it's so hard to force an opinion out of me) but there wasn't anyone that I felt like I could say anything to. Maybe they needed to have a manager on duty? There were only 6 tables with people at them (including us.) Must not be a popular lunch service.
I just wanted to flee. And, because of that, I've completely forgotten the name of the wine. It's a shame, too, because Laura - you would have loved it.

 
At 6:45 AM , Anonymous Peggy said...

I have not been, but I have worked in restaurants. I am a really good server, but I digress.

Bad service can KILL a restaurant. They have to deal with this issue YESTERDAY.

The checks are plenty large in this place and I know the competition is always fierce for waiting jobs in higher priced places. There is no reason to have sub-standard service.

They don't have to re-invent the wheel. Find a restaurant that has good service and find out how they hire, train, etc.

On another note. A $100 lunch should not include a head of iceberg lettuce. I'm just sayin'

 
At 6:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Porter and Frye is not going to make it.

It promotes itself as luxury, has incompetent wait staff mediocre food.

on my last visit I was refused my reservation because "They have a VIP table and they need our table." We had reserved a week prior, and secured with a credit card in a private dining room.

I looked at the hostess and asked her to tell the other party that they were not going to get it. We paid for it, end of discussion.

So we walked over to our pre-paid space, and sat down.

They stalled, claiming the room was not ready.
they told us to go have a drink and they would have us seated in a few minutes.

A lady came up to us telling us how important they were, and how it was necessary to give them the privacy they so deserved, and then gave each of us some cheap bubbly.

I handed her back her champagne, You can't buy off a hundred dollar pre pay with cheap wine.

How dare they lie to me!

At that stage we started calling other places. Got a reservation at La Belle Vie.

So myself, and the other four chefs who came from New York City to enjoy Steven's cuisine were rebuffed, lied to and encouraged to have a seat and order dinner in the bar.

Four of the top chefs in the country were not VIP enough for you? Is it the fact that we all sit on the JAmes Beard Foundation board?

What is it? Why did Porter and Fry lie to us? Why did I waste 350.00 flying here just for dinner?
Why did that hostess lie to me?

Yes again why did you lie to me?

 
At 6:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife and I visited Porter and Frye on a recent weekend where we were greeted by a "manager" who appeared to be as a deer caught in headlights, apologized and thanked us over and over, apparently in advance of the debacle that was lunch then could not be spoken to as she ran around in some sort of frenzy (which we witnessed as we waited interminably for our meal), luxury it is not (yet anyway) the food was good though (when we got it) hiring is the issue it seems, still time to work out the kinks

 
At 6:20 PM , Blogger cindyMN said...

OK..is comment 6:50 for real?

 
At 10:38 AM , Blogger Joy Estelle said...

It's hard to say when someone doesn't include their name. The anger sure seems real.

 
At 3:42 PM , Blogger cammelot67 said...

Joy Joy Joy,

For you to give up on restaurant after one experience is beyond me. As you stated so eloquently, or not so eloquently depending on how one reads your ramblings, misspellings and run on setences it seems to me you already had concluded what you're experience was going to be before stepping foot in the restaurant. Can we say 'objectivity'? Give the restaurant the opportunity to correct any problems it faces within the first month whether it be service, quality of food, or any other mistakes that occur. You call your server gomer, was this his name? You seem to be observant on all other matters, such as water service, bread service, wine service, etc. I know all the staff at Porter & Frye wear name tags so what's the deal? Are you trying not to embarrass this particular server, or are you content with calling him names? Whenever I have had a bad experience at a restaurant, I go out of my way to let the management know. You stated that id didn't appear to be a manager on duty. Did you request to speak with a manager? Apparantly not. You also stated that your friend agonized over what to leave for a tip, if service was so awful why leave anything at all? Maybe you're friend was giving the guy the benefit of the doubt. Keep in mind that like everyone else in this world people do have an off day. To blog and rip apart a new restaurant after one experience puzzles me. There are a number of people that will read your blog and determine that Porter & Frye isn't for them. I find this sad since you didn't allow Porter and Frye to make things right.

 
At 7:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cammelot:

I am the brother-in-law. I eat at a lot of restaurants downtown with clients. The lunch I had at P&F was the worst lunch experience I've had in my 15 years in Minneapolis, food and service. I usually do give restaurants a few times to get it right. But when I spend over $100 for lunch, I have certain expectations. None of them were met. P&F has had enough time to get things straightened out. I realize you likely work at P&F. I hope you can solve the evident service and food issues. I suggest the wait staff head over to Zelo or Vincent (or hell, Peter's Grill) to see what good service is like. My lunch the prior week at the St. Paul Grill was flawless. Efficient, helpful and timely. We enjoyed ourselves at P&F, but that was because of the company. I wonder how they handle a lunch service where there are more than 6 tables.

And I did agonize over the tip. I know it's hard work being a server, but at a fine dining restaurant, there is an expected minimum standard you must hit. He didn't even come close. We had better luck with the gentleman who brought us water.

Oh, and by the way, it is "sentences", "apparently" and "your", given your stated concerns about proper spelling.

 
At 5:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Headed into P & F last week for dinner reservations with some trepidation - ah, thankfully it was for naught. EVERYTHING - & I do mean EVERYTHING was wonderful. Service was top notch from the the host to the server. Drinks were reasonably priced and made to perfection. And the food - oh, the amazing food. I am currently craving the hock ham & shrimp soup - and never in my life did I think I would rave about Walleye - but I am - it was incredible - and the chicken was amazing. Can't believe we ate at the same restaurant because our experience was fabulous & I highly recommend it.

 
At 8:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe weekend lunch is different than dinner (everybody takes the day off)because I visited on a busy Saturday night and my experience was also flawless from top to bottom. The FOOD (Tenderloin, Chicken, Cheesecake) was the stuff of dreams, I can't wait to go back.

 
At 10:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spoke to my roommate who works at Porter & Frye...comment 6:50PM ("VIP" table)completely false. No question about it.

 
At 7:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was promised a specific table (chandelier above it) and was told at length about special cakes for my occasion and the extra special treatment I would receive. I did not get the table (was told that it was not guaranteed)I did not receive a cake (I got some small bites of something instead). So there is a lot of promising and not a lot of delivering. I am just saying, maybe there was some truth to 6:50's comments.

 
At 12:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tried this place again over the weekend (3 times now, I only can get away on the weekends). I really wanted to try Chef Brown's food. They have failed me every time. Where is the management...twice I have been told that either he/she is busy or is "downstairs" and would I like to wait for them (no thanks) I already waited for everything else. Never again. I won't be back.

 
At 12:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I arrive through the elevator to the main lobby of the Ivy with two of my girlfriends. We are meeting a group of people for a friend's surprise birthday. We decide we need to use the rest room before entering Porter and Frye. A women, who was a host I assume, walked over and as we were walking down the stairs to the rest room, leaned over the the stairs and loudly says "what are you doing, can I help you?" We say "we are using the rest room". She then says "Well are you going to be going to the restaurant?" We say "YES". And she says "What is your party under?". We are so upset and annoyed that is women in such a disrespectful tone has the nerve to accuse us of loitering. We all march up the stairs after using the rest room and lay into her asking her if there is a problem that we use the bathroom. She just makes up excuses of how she needs to make sure reservation parties get sat and with so many people coming in. We get brought to our table and not one other party was in the restaurant and only a handful of people were at the bar. It was about 7:15 and the table had been reserved for 8:00 but we wanted to eat before the party showed up. She then made it a point to say we should have sat at the bar but it was ok to sit at the table because there was not any room at the bar. She continued to act like an idiot. Then a manager of some sort who was very nice came over and apologized for her and said she would make the rest of the night better. And she did. Our server was great, they brought out our cake with lit candles on cue and then cut and presented it to all of us. The drinks were good and the food (we ate off of the bar menu) was descent. The main menu didn't have much for selection and nothing stuck out as new and exciting. The hotel is beautiful. I don't know if I would go back or not.

 
At 8:25 PM , Blogger Devin P said...

I understand that people should have certain expectations if they plan on spending a decent amount on lunch or dinner. But some of these comments make me laugh. Let go of your ego! I don't care what you do for a living or how much money you make. Most people don't care either. If you wait an extra few minutes, or have to repeat yourself after you've already answered a question, big deal. Don't be like my 3 year old son when he doesn't get what he wants.

I had a very pleasant experience at Porter and Frye. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable. I had a question regarding wine comparisons, and the answer lead me to making a great wine selection. The entrees were presented well, and delicious, except a side item was too salty. I felt that my experience here was excellent and I would certainly go back.

So maybe if you "want to hit" the waiter because he is clarifying what you want, you need to take a look at your own attitude. But from the way you present yourself in this review I doubt you hit very hard!

 

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