A comedy of errors regarding a Valentine's Day dinner evoked strong feelings of the sitcom staple of the plans of a couple going comically awry on that special day. The consensus during a dinner at a restaurant that can I consider The Ninth Level of Hell's Dining Room and that many people apparently love was that it most closely related what was recalled as Joe and Helen of the "Cheers" companion series "Wings" experiencing Hell every Valentine's Day.
The consensus regarding the setting of our meal of extreme discontent was that it was the restaurant version of "The Golden Palace," which was the titular Miami hotel that The Golden Girls (sans Dorothy) owned and operated after their original series ended, We also determined that Queen of Ill-Conceived Promotions Linda Belcher of "Bob's Burgers" would have tried something akin to the failed concept that lead to adding insult to injury.
Also in sitcom style, our narrative is shifting from the present of the primary "sit" that provided the "com" to the genesis of those unfortunate circumstances.
Back in July, your not-so-humble reviewer planned a "thaw-out" trip to Sarasota, Florida. This revolved around staying at the absolutely fabulous Hotel Indigo in that city. We subsequently learned more about the exceptional H20 bistro in the hotel.
On booking the vacation, we discussed where to celebrate Valentine's Day. The then top-rated restaurant Antoine's seemed pricey. Then number-two (currently number one) restaurant Dolce Italia was mid-priced and seemed very good. I asked my highly significant other (HSO) to book the reservation on Open Table.
I mentioned the dinner several times in the interval between July and February and ALWAYS referred to the restaurant as Dolce Italia. My HSO always responded that the correct name was La Dolce Vita. Knowing that I was correct but determining that that error was harmless, I always dropped the matter. On the other hand, I constantly confuse the Mexican chains On the Border and Border Cafe; I cannot remember which one I prefer.
We arrived in Sarasota on February 13, and the contradictions regarding the restaurant name continued. Having the privilege and the pleasure to speak with H20 Executive Chef Sol Shenker for an article on that eatery added more "com" to the mix in the form of Shenker repeatedly inviting us to have Valentine's Day dinner at his restaurant.
I advocated for eating at H20, but my HSO reasonably wanted to honor our commitment to the other restaurant. Shenker shared that he knew the chef at DOLCE ITALIA and that the food there was very good.
My HSO and I riding past Dolce Italia prompted me to say "there it is" only to be told that we were looking for La Dolce Vita,
The following stage of the narrative requires disclaimers. First, I do not blame La Dolce Vita for any events up to this point. Second, I do not have a horse in the race, and there are plenty of customers to go around. I simply consider the entire experience adequately amusing and sitcomy to warrant a post. Part of this humor relates to the La Dolce Vita owner taking arguably undue umbrage regarding negative online reviews to which even the finest restaurants and hotels are subject,
Now back to our story.
On arriving at La Dolce Vita, we were puzzled on sitting down and finding the menu in the below photo on the table. We wondered if we chose one of the two items in each category or got both and if the $59 price was per couple or per person. We also wondered if there was a standard menu that offered mutually desired ala carte options.
Neither the website nor the woman who called to confirm the reservation mentioned anything about a special Valentine's menu.
One issue was that I dislike any food that has lived in the water, and the menu was heavily slanted toward seafood. Additionally, my prior friendship with the three sheep on the farm of human friends had prompted me to stop eating lamb; one of the entrees was lamb chops.
We considered leaving but decided to stay and hope for the best.
A language barrier was a factor regarding our waiter not understanding our questions regarding the dining options. The prosciutto and mozzarella arriving merely by virtue of our sitting at the table contributed to the confusion.
I asked the waitress who cleared our plates after that course if we could order off a menu. Her response of "no menu; you eat it all" has been a source of humor for myself and my HSO ever since.
I did not eat most of the dishes, and the wait staff seemed oblivious to all those courses going back uneaten.
The real "com" kicked in on the restaurant owner coming to our table in the middle of the meal. My outward appearance reflected my being distraught,
My HSO and I repeatedly told the owner that I was alright, but she deserves credit for stating that she wanted to know what was wrong. She earns less credit for insisting that she wanted me to 'fess up to her face rather than write something nasty online. That turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,
Her response to our calmly and politely stating that we had no basis for believing that we would not have choices regarding whats was served was that it was not her fault. We also explained that I did not like most of the served items. "Had we known," we simply would have eaten someplace else that night.
The owner asking me what I liked created an expectation that she would send over the requested spinach and ricotta pasta and/or the also-asked-for plate of fettuccine without the shrimp and anchovies that came with it. That reasonable response would have made me happy.
Instead, it was as if we had never spoken to the owner. The disliked items kept coming. The only other time that we saw the owner was when she cleared items off the table without even making eye contact.
I subsequently wrote a negative Trip Advisor review, which apparently is a trigger for the owner. The first copied-and-pasted reply by her is in response to my post, which mirrors this article. Although she asserts that we did not pay our bill, we have the $169 receipt that proves that we did not dine and dash. Additionally, we never stated that we were not going to pay.
The additional two copied-and-pasted responses are her replies to the other negative Trip Advisor reviews that each granted her a respectable three chits. The responses are COMPLETELY unedited and are of equal comic value for their sentiment, rather than for reflecting a limited comprehension of English."
"I will NOT spend one words for your disgusting REVIEW! Remember...YOU DIDN’T PAY your bill! PERIOD as you told me last night! Enjoy your life ...it is to short to go around and complain for everything!"
"I really don't know what to said!!!
Why, why you didn't tell me when I stop at your table???
I always ask if everything is ok, and it seams it was.....but it seams it WASNT!
I need to know right away what it is wrong, so we can adjusted .
But for some reason, people like to said more in a review then in front of owners face.
And by the way, our tomatoes are from the farm, when they said wine ripe tomatoes we trust them!
And our mozzarella it is always the best quality and fresh , that's way you paid $ 10.95.
Anyway if you would like to give us another chance I will more than happy!"
"Thank you for your rewiew.
I'm surprise about your comment, because when I stop at your table, not only one time but more then two, you seems happy.
And when I ask if everything was ok you confirm that everything was OK.
I would like to know if somethings it is not good or not cook in the way my clients/friends are expecting.
That's the reason I stop at the table and I ask for it.
You know when the restaurant it is busy the way it was Saturday, can happen some mistake, but YOU didn't complained at all that same night.
And about the chicken parm price
It was only just a chicken, it was also a fresh FIOR DI LATTE MOZZARELLA,with a ORIGINAL PROSCIUTTO DI PARMA.
Those ingredients are expensive even for us.
I appreciate people that can said what they are thinking in front of me, not in one rewiew.
And I'm so sorry that you mentioned you will not come back, but as somebody said:
YOU CAN PLEASED EVERYBODY.
Thank you again "
The better news is that we had a decent dinner at another restaurant the following night and a last-meal worthy experience at H20 on Saturday night.
The morals of this story are to resolve contradictions in relationships and that restaurant owners who make a bad situation worse face the possibility of an accurate and sincere negative review showing up online.