Thursday, March 18, 2010

Boston Restaurant Week - The Butcher Shop

Wednesday night was the Butcher Shop. A wine bar / actual butcher shop, it's a tiny place with maybe 20 seats at tables and another 10 seats at the bar. A butcher block table is set up in the back where a few (maybe 10) people can stand and have a drink and a snack while waiting for a table. And against the back wall is a set of glass refrigerated cases where you can see the meat, sausages and sides available to take home. The place is supposedly a favorite of Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen.

Where Toro was down-to-earth and unpretentious, the Butcher Shop is the exact opposite. It's not just that it was d-bag central in there; a surprising number of people seemed to have no idea how to behave in public. (Seriously, random person. Are you really going to sit on the butcher block table that people are eating off of like you're in your kitchen at home? Seriously?) And the prices on the regular menu, while not astronomical -- and, yes, that's totally a scientific assessment ;) -- were fairly silly when you could see right in the refrigerated case how much less you'd pay if you took it home. And, then, 1.) you wouldn't be standing around for 20 minutes waiting for a table even though you have a reservation, and 2.) you wouldn't have to hang out with the kind of people who go to the Butcher Shop. For example, the duck hot dog was $16 on the menu (and it's just the hot dog with a bun and a few chips), but I could have bought the hot dog itself for $3. In terms of value, portions were not particular big either. A 20-something dollar entree of meat is just that -- sides are extra. Of course, really none of this (the people, the wait, the money, the portions) was unexpected to me. But what about the food?

This was their restaurant week menu:

Duck Consomme or
Endive Salad

Pork Shoulder or
Skirt Steak

Chocolate Mousse or
Lemon Curd

Since it was the two of use, we got everything on the special menu. The soup, the salad, and the desserts were all fine. The pork shoulder was quite good. The only really excellent thing was the skirt steak. Perfectly medium-rare. The jus was perfect, the crust was perfect (crusty but not at all burnt, so yummy), and finally the delicious center was perfect (juicy, tender, buttery). I didn't know skirt steak could taste like that.

So, not spectacular but quite good. Would I go back? I'm definitely never eating there again (although I'm still a little intrigued by the duck hot dogs). It was not worth the regular prices. Value is, of course, subjective. So what if I were X times richer than I am? Still no because there's still something I haven't commented on: the waiting and the service.

We had reservations at 8pm. When we arrived, the host says that they're not quite ready and puts us at the butcher's block to wait and for drinks. Later, he says that some guests are taking longer than expected and offers us seats at the bar -- which we take. We sit at around 8:20pm. Our appetizers arrive at 8:45pm. It took 45 minutes to get any food -- even bread. The bread, by the way, comes with some fancy honey that Sean quite liked. Our entrees arrive somewhere around 9:20pm. The dessert arrived at 9:45pm. We managed to get out of there at 10pm.

Now, one might think of a lot of reasons for such slow service: 1.) giant influx of people, 2.) not enough waitstaff, 3.) mean or lazy waitstaff. But none of these are what actually happened. As far as I can tell, the Butcher Shop is just completely inefficiently run -- disorganized and possibly incompetent. As I listed before, there's about 30 seats in the whole place (not 30 tables, 30 seats). To serve those 30 people, there was a bartender, 2 waiters, 1 host, and one other person whose exact job was unclear but also added up checks, took drink orders, etc. There was 1 service person for every 6 people in the restaurant. If you include the people who were waiting and got drinks or snacks, there's still 1 service person for every 8 people. You'd think that place that size should be able to get by with half the number of workers. And it wasn't that the people working were sitting around doing nothing -- they were constantly doing stuff and talking about how they can clear a table for new people. But somehow, in some way I cannot fathom, they were incapable of handling everything. Seats went open for 10 minutes or more because no one could get around to cleaning it up or seating new customers. People with reservations had to wait for a seat because 'guests were taking longer than expected' probably because those guests had to wait to be served. And, you might think that maybe the kitchen was the hold up, but most of the menu requires little more than pouring wine and slicing pate, so that's seems fairly improbable too. You would expect a lot of things at a place like the Butcher Shop: the people, the prices, the portions, and hopefully really good meat. But this ineffectualness in the service, the overall dining experience was shocking and completely baffling.

No comments: