Monday, March 28, 2005

Belga Cafe - The agony and the ecstasy

We've been anticipating our first trip to the Belga Cafe. They are right around the corner from our apartment and eagerly read the rapturous reviews ABOUT THE FOOD. Our first encounter with said restaurant was when the very nice owner dropped a polite note on our doorstep, asking if he could tie up the alley that his restaurant shares with our apartment. Said note included a free dinner for two at the Belga Cafe. We had high hopes for the place given the world class chef and the politeness of compensating us for the use of an alley we don't use.

So we decided to take our friend (who is hard of hearing) to the Belga Cafe for a late brunch on Saturday. And boy is that restaurant LOUD. Not Cafe Asia loud, but loud enough that we had to concentrate to hear each other. While we were seated promtly and our orders were taken fairly quickly, it took a while for the waitress to actually give us something. Like water, or bread. We continually had to ask for everything. And speaking of water, since none of us felt like breaking the bank with this meal, we all ordered water as our beverage. The server asked us whether we wanted sparkling or still and we said still. This is key to the absolute horribleness of our service. While I am never into service where the server sits down with you and tells you their life story, our server was brusque even by my standards. We had to ask another, much nicer server to get us things like water and bread.

The true joy as a foodie about being in a relationship is being able to split your entree with your partner. As J and I could not decide between a sweet or savory brunch dish, he got the sweet (Belgian waffle with caramelized apples) and I got the savory (smoked salmon in wafflized puff pastry) which we split and we both got orders of fries and mayo. Our friend got the sea bass with melted spinach. The food was uniformly wonderful. I was truly delighted with both of our dishes and agree with our friend that the fish and spinach was perfectly prepared but a bit underseasoned. The puff pastry salmon came with a simple and yummy mesclun salad with a divine vinaigrette and a somewhat incongruous helping of Asian greens with sesame. And yes, the fries were incredible. Definitely best in class.

Unfortunately, service was really lacking. As mentioned before, we thought the Chilean sea bass only needed a spritz of lemon to be a true memorymaker. So we asked for a slice to acheive cuinary perfection. And we asked. And asked. And asked. It took 15 minutes for the lemon. While the place was full, it was not completely packed, the way we've seen it on a Friday or Saturday night.

The sad-ass ending to our meal was discovering that our flat, DC-tap-tasting water was going to set us back $11. While it was an honest mistake, and we were willing to pay for it, when we mentioned to the brusque server that maybe they could be a little clear when someone would be spending as much on WATER as we would spend on a lifechanging dessert at 2 Amys, she told us that we should have specified TAP. I was seriously ready to get some steeled toed boots and do some tap on a certain pissy server's head. Seriously, in all of my experience dining in some pretty nice restaurants, water was water - no charge. If you wanted bottled water that you PAY for, you specified it.

Luckily, a diner next to us affirmed that we weren't crazy and said he was a friend of the owner and would have a word with him about it. But really folks - WATER.


DC Food Blog said...

Wonderful review-- just to add, the server said "sparking or not sparkling."-- "Still" MIGHT have tipped me off, but "not sparkling" sounds like faucet to me. What gets me is that it was beyond here that free water would have been an option.

Anonymous said...

We had similar bad service - and even for good food, there is only so much of that one can take without having your meal tainted. Unfortunately, we won't be going back.

Anonymous said...

I have had bad service on repeated trips to Belga Cafe but I was never treated as poorly as tonight, when I had called and been assured that my party of three would be given a table early because it was not crowded (Congress, after all is in recess and this is CH). When we arrived, the pleasant woman who had taken our reservation for 8 pm at the latest had to put up with a maitre d' who wanted to have us wait an extra half hour. We advised that we could not wait that long, and were encouraged to wait at the bar until a few large parties were seated. They seated two groups of two and one group of four who said they did not have reservations (we could hear them--customers can do that you know) before we were seated. In fact, we were never seated. When we complained that we had been cooling our heels at the bar for an hour, they said they did not make us go to the bar and order drinks. As it turned out, we enjoyed Banana Cafe perfectly well--it was cooler, the noise level was lower, and the food is consistently good, even if it's not as trendy, cool, and filled with snotty attitude as Belga.

Anonymous said...

We had almost the exact same experience with being pushed off to the bar and then not being seated at Belga. My fiance and I met up with another couple who live in CH and figured we'd give Belga Cafe a try since. We didn't have reservations, so didn't mind getting a drink at the bar as we waited. The gentlemen at the front told us 30-45 minutes max before we would be seated. No worries right, we're with friends and having a Belgian beer sounded good. After 30 minutes we asked how close we were to being seated, "15 minutes or so" was the reply. 25 minutes later, "15 minutes or so" was the reply. At this point 15 minutes or so wouldn't do, but the gentlemen would not budge and gave us attitude about it. Needless to say, the owner who apparently is always there and must hear nothing but complaints all night, got a word from us regarding our opinion on his service before we also left and went next door to Banana Cafe.

Anonymous said...

Try the Belgium food too