Sunday, September 6, 2009

food: Lake Chalet

the main bar

The sun was shining. The location was perfect. The weather doesn't get any better (mid 70s, slight breeze, air so clear the hills in the distance didn't look quite real.) We were greeted in a friendly fashion at the hostess station. It's on Lake Merritt, one of my favorite spots in Oakland. It's a historical structure that's been beautifully restored. And it's run by people who emphasize beer with food. I wanted to like it, so very, very much.

Sadly, it was not to be. I understand that they've only been open a few weeks, and there are some kinks to work out when opening a restaurant. But they've got a lot of work to do, and some apologies to make first.

It started innocently enough. We skipped visiting a church this morning, because K tweaked her shoulder working out at the Y yesterday. But I needed some more drywall mud for the dining room walls, and we wanted to go to the Jack London Square Farmers Market. With the beautiful weather, we decided to check out the Lake Chalet in between for lunch.

We found parking on Lakeshore with no problem, and admired the landscaping. I was pleased to see some bike parking, too, something I hadn't found on my first visit for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. We were greeted in a friendly fashion by the hostess, and informed that outdoor seating didn't start until noon (in about 25 minutes). So we strolled along the lake and enjoyed the weather.

ourdoor bar and seating

We returned, though about 4 minutes early, and were told we could go seat ourselves. We selected a table for 2 with beautiful views of the lake and the restaurant, right on the water.

There was a bit of a delay before our waitress came, but that wasn't surprising since we were a couple of minutes before the outdoor seating officially opened. We had to ask for menus with food on them, as there were only drink menus at our table. We ordered some drinks to get things rolling, and then perused the menus when she returned. Then we waited, and watched the boats, and watched other people arrive, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere. Then we waited some more. I noticed our waitress was still at the order computer at the bar, but I wasn't worried. After a bit, I looked over again, and she was still there, this time with a manager-type tapping on the screen. After a bit more waiting, our drinks arrived, and we ordered our food.

The menu for outdoor dining is fairly limited: burgers, hot dogs, shrimp poor boys, salads and soups. K ordered a caesar salad, and I ordered a bowl of gazpacho soup. The people at the next table ordered burgers and poor boys. All of it is pretty expensive: $9 drinks, $13 burgers, $5.50 beers, etc. But the food sounded good, and after all, we were willing to pay something for the amazing atmosphere.

*cue the ominous music* Our food arrived after a bit, and we were underwhelmed. K's caesar salad had some sort of meat on it, but we weren't really sure what. If a caesar has meat not separately labeled, it's usually anchovies (though there's debate about that), but the menu had only said 'Parmesan-Anchovy Dressing', and these weren't anchovies. "Maybe chicken? I'm not sure. And why is it pinkish?", said K. My gazpacho was watery, not the thick, hearty cold soup I was expecting. It was tasty enough, but not $7.25 tasty.

Meanwhile, others were fairing even worse. The people at the next table waited 45 minutes from ordering until the first 3 of 4 entrees arrived. The 4th arrived later via a very apologetic manager. A woman at another table was very unhappy with some aspect of her meal that was not as ordered, and he was dealing with her. And while he was at the kitchen talking to the chefs, someone from another table across the way carried his dish up to the manager, and refused replacement, more of a, "take it -- I'm done here."

beautiful gutters
and downspouts

It was the waitress' first day, or at least the first day working outside there. The rest of the restaurant has only been open a few weeks. But the owners are experienced, having run the Beach Chalet and the Park Chalet for more than 10 years. All together, they were not having a good day. The manager comp'ed the meal for the next table, and probably would have comp'ed ours if we'd raised a fuss. As it was, we felt a little sorry for the waitress, because the food wasn't her fault. But she did manage to put chicken caesar (aha!) on the bill (although it's not on the menu for outside), which we had her correct before we paid.

The beer was good, but that was about it. I'm unlikely to eat there again, and I doubt many of the others seated near us would, either. I was hoping ours had been just a bad day, but the reviews on Yelp suggest most others have had a similar experience. It's in a beautiful spot, but with high prices, bad food, and a lot of problems in their ordering system, they're unlikely to last long without big changes.


Anonymous said...

Oh boy! Thanks for the review. We were going to drop by but now it will be a good long while, maybe around Christmas. That should give them a few months to figure out the food and ordering - basically basic restaurant biz.

len said...

those copper downspouts and gutters are amazing. how much more did those cost us than painted bonded aluminum?

but you should give them a chance to get their lake legs. the new restaurant on college ave that garibaldi's mitosed into has so so $10 drinks, mediocre limited food, and only college ave traffic to view.

-len raphael

Unknown said...

They'd have still cost a bundle in aluminum, since they're all a custom profile. I'm glad they attempted to keep the architectural integrity of the building, though that had to cost more.

I realize different restaurants have different staff, and all are going to have some hiccups at startup. I'm just surprised owners with so much restaurant experience are having so many problems. Hopefully they've got enough money to put into it to give things enough time to gel, because they've got a lot of work ahead of them.