Monday, November 3, 2008

Curiouser and curiouser at Lunetta

On a quiet Sunday evening, I met my friend SB for a catch-up dinner at Lunetta in the Flatiron district. I arrived first and was greeted by an almost painfully empty restaurant... there were two or three people at the bar and one other table in the huge dining room. The cavernous ceiling made sounds echo embarassingly. We were led through a forest of empty tables to a table near the window looking out over Broadway and handed menus.

The server came over to recite the specials. It was one of the most painful such episodes I've been a part of--she just couldn't remember them, and as such defaulted to descriptors such as "a lot of": this dish has "a lot of bayleaf" while that has "a lot of mirepoix" (yes, she actually used mirepoix to describe a part of the dish. Twice.). Regardless, we weren't really interested in the specials; we pretty much knew what we want. Nonetheless, the waitress finished her recitation and disappeared. For a long time. She spent a good ten or fifteen minutes telling an animated story to the bartender as I glared at her across the room; finally, just before the point at which I was going to flag down anybody walking by, she returned to take our order.

In the meantime, fortunately, we had bread. It was the pretty standard peasant loaf you get around town-- definitely good but nothing special. Along with a bottle of generic olive oil for dipping, the bread course was... standard.

Bread alone.

A few seconds after we had placed our order-- truly, it couldn't have been more than a minute-- a runner emerged from the kitchen with SB's salad. Granted, it was only lettuce and dressing, but it was almost alarming how fast it came out. The salad was, as promised, mixed lettuces- huge pieces of lettuce coated with herbed lemon vinaigrette, which SB noted was very good. Still, $9 for that plate of lettuce is a ripoff. I'm sorry, but it is.

A wild thicket of huge lettuce pieces

The lettuces finished, we waited for the emergence of our entrees, and they appeared in a reasonable amount of time. SB had ordered the meatballs, which came with "toasted garlic tomato sauce" and parmesan cheese. SB said the meatballs were good and very filling, but come on, $19 for seven small meatballs? Seriously? I know this is New York, but at some point things just get out of hand.

It's $2.71 per meatball!

I had selected the roasted beet salad, which was purported to come with "arugula, ricotta, and toasted hazelnuts." The salad had big chunks of beets as well as beets cut into ribbons, which was innovative, I suppose. There were about 2 or 3 hazelnuts cut up into small pieces on top of the salad, which itself was overrun with curly lettuces and radicchio (um, sorry, but that's not arugula). There was a pretty substantial pool of ricotta cheese under everything, which was a nice surprise. This salad was good, but for some reason it left me feeling a little sick, and I'm miffed that they traded yummy arugula for bitter and tough (and cheaper) lettuces.

Notable by its absence is the arugula

We were both pretty full, so we skipped dessert and asked for the check. Perhaps needless to say at this point, it took about 15 minutes for us to get change, bringing the overall ratio of waiting time to eating time for the evening to about 45 minutes to 15 minutes.

Now-- here is where it gets interesting. We left the restaurant and I hopped on the subway home. Almost immediately after boarding the train, I realized I had left my gloves on the banquette (damn, I KNEW I was going to do that). So once I emerged at 49th Street, I immediately called the restaurant. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hi, I just left the restaurant, and I think I left my gloves there."
Woman on phone: "Hold on, let me check." [Leaves, returns a few moments later.] "Yep, I have them here."
Me: "Great. Would it be possible for you to mail them to me? I can send you the postage."
Woman: "Um, I have to go get the manager." [Leaves.]
Manager: "Hi, I have your gloves here, but I can't mail them back to you."
Me: "Why not? I'm just saying put them in an envelope and stick on a couple of stamps." (Backstory: these gloves are actually glove liners, so they compress into pretty much nothing and weigh about .01 ounces.)
Manager: "The budget for this restaurant is very small, and the owner counts the stamps. And we can't send them COD." [COD? Do they even do that any more?]
Me: "Really? Like, three stamps? That's, like, a dollar."
Manager: "Believe me, I'd pay for it myself if I could, but..." [Trails off. But what? But the owner also counts the number of stamps you purchase personally to ensure you're not using them to mail things to customers?]
Manager [perhaps realizing the ridiculousness of this conversation]: "Let me get your address and I'll see what I can do, maybe I can get one of the servers to bring them there or something."

Ooookay. Now, a few things: 1) I realize that this request is a little bit above and beyond. The restaurant is not obligated to mail things people left there back to forgetful patrons. 2) Yes, I know I should just go and pick them up, but as I explained to the manager on the phone, I wouldn't be able to do so until next weekend at the earliest, and doubtless the gloves would have "disappeared" in the meantime. 3) And yet-- we're talking a dollar here. A DOLLAR of postage. Maybe-- just to be safe-- two dollars. I wasn't asking for FedEx overnight service. I was asking for a plain envelope and three stamps.

So- that leaves me in a precarious position. Based on our restaurant meal alone (or rather, the sloppy service and the flagrant overpriced-ness of it), Lunetta would get two Offset Spatulas. But I presented them with a customer service challenge: Will they go above and beyond and somehow get my gloves back to me? Or will the gloves disappear forever? I declare that one spatula hangs in the balance... if I ever see my gloves again, I will upgrade Lunetta to three OSes for better-than-average customer service. But if the gloves are lost for want of three stamps, I will demote Lunetta to one OS. Which will it be? Stay tuned to find out...

920 Broadway at 21st Street

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