Monday, March 7, 2011

Travail - Fabulous Food, Wholloping Wait, Sucky Service.

We finally got a chance to try Travail Kitchen & Amusements in downtown Robbinsdale Saturday night, after hearing friends and critics rave about the food for months. We had a babysitter lined up and our friends L & K had planned a date night as well, so we decided to make it a double date and meet there at 7:30 pm. Since they don't take reservations, I knew we'd have to wait for a table..but didn't think we'd wind up waiting more than 2 hours for a table of 4, which we did. They told us it would be 80 was really more like 145. It was annoying, but our friends nabbed two seats at the bar and we ordered the fries and charcuterie to nosh on with our vino. Both were quite tasty and kept us from leaving..but we all agreed a 2 hour + wait for a table at a restaurant in Robbinsdale is seriously beyond ridic.

Normally at a restaurant serving food of this caliber, someone would apologize for such a long wait, send over a glass of free wine or an appetizer..but not here. They don't have people doing those lame restaurant jobs such as "host," "manager," "bartender" or "servers"..apparently the chefs who created the menu are the ones who bring the food and can grab you a glass of wine if you sit at the bar. I thought this would be a good thing..assuming the chef/server who created the dish would be able to recommend the tastiest things on the menu. It's extremely basic - on a chalkboard it just says Chicken, Steak, Scallop, etc without any descriptions at all, so that you are blown away when you get your dish. Everyone who helped us during our 2 hour wait at the bar was very nice and helpful. Unfortunately the guy who served us did not feel like explaining the menu or recommending anything other than the $60 10-course tasting menu for two people, which is a good deal. Our friends decided to go with that plan, which was great since we got to try everything - and it was all delicious. Jeff and I both knew we weren't hungry enough to get that much food and didn't feel like spending that much money, so I asked our server what he recommended. He recommended ordering the tasting menu. I said I didn't want that. He asked me why, and kept pressuring me to order the tasting menu. It was borderline rude and very strange.

I wound up ordering the steak, and Jeff ordered tater tots and a scallop. The tots were pretty good, the scallop never arrived. I did truly love my steak with potatoes au gratin - its probably one of the best I've ever had - and for $8, its definitely the best deal in town. I understand they want to surprise and amaze their customers with their culinary prowess, and they did. But the service really left a bad taste in my mouth. I hardly ever complain about servers..I worked as a server in all sorts of restaurants in San Francisco and Laguna Beach for five years and know how annoying people can be. But we were just trying to enjoy a delicious meal after waiting for a table at a new restaurant for more than 2 hours - something none of us have ever done in SF, NYC, Miami, Chicago, LA or anywhere else. Leave it to that poppin urban oasis of downtown Robbinsdale, where we managed to have an almost 5 hour dinner. By the time our friends got their final course and we finished dessert, it was after midnight, everyone else in the restaurant was gone and they were putting the chair up on the table. Guess that means its closing time.

So, I would not recommend going there on a weekend night and don't plan to ever go back on a weekend unless they can figure out how to organize the restaurant better. I'll probably give it another try for lunch or on a weeknight because the food truly is amazing and really cheap, and I like the decor - feels like it could be in Sonoma or Napa - and what they are trying to do. But I think they need to stop trying to be foodie cowboys and have someone who knows how to organize a dining room - like a host - seating people, especially on weekend nights. If you tell people it will be an 80 minute wait, you can't make them wait that plus an hour. And have servers who can recommend something other than the tasting menu who don't try to pressure you to order things you don't want. Then, it will prettymuch be the perfect restaurant.

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