The last few years have seen me concentrating more on being a pretend chef at home than going out to eat. That’s due in large part to saving up for a house (Casa Wineaux. Yay!) because I always pay my own way. In addition, I have been trying to master pairing foods with wine and learning new and different cooking methods.
The other night I was talking to friends, and I brought up this 2007 restaurant review as an example of how I write when I’ve been personally wronged.
This restaurant is now closed, as is its immediate successor which was owned by the same group and apparently suffered from the same shortcomings. Although I haven’t visited that exact location recently, it seemed – at least for a while – to have a curse waiting for any restaurant that opened in that spot.
For those of you who are new to Vegas Wineaux, I hope you enjoy this Blast from the Past! Sorry for the blurry photo – I didn’t take a photo that evening and had snagged this one from the web.
Whenever I go into a restaurant, I’m always in “what’s on the wine list?” mode. If I know ahead of time that a wine list is not available, I enjoy the food without it or will ask if I can bring my own.
I have to admit that I was intrigued when Sweet Water was decided upon as the destination restaurant last Friday night. We had received several informal opinions of the establishment, ranging from “fantastic” to “save your money.” Because I trust the palates of all of those who had eaten there, I figured that our own first-hand experience was the only way to go.
Sweet Water is brand new and the décor is very attractive. The seafood market just inside of the entryway showcases beautiful fish and seafood. I can’t give you a comparison on the prices, but I can tell you that it looked incredibly fresh.
The four of us were seated immediately and were given a complimentary sample of pistachio-encrusted tuna pâté with black sesame seed crackers. Delish.
Unfortunately, that was the last really positive thing that happened.
My huge pet peeve is what I call restaurant wine extortion. While I realize that it’s customary for restaurants to mark up wines to luxury-store levels, I was really irritated when I perused Sweet Water’s wine list. I’m pretty pragmatic. They want to make a buck from everything that they sell. I understand that. However, with my background as a bartender, bar manager, wine customer, and subscriber to “trade” publications, I know when the usual markup has gone to stratospheric levels. That is certainly the case here.
The first irritation came before we ever went into the restaurant. Sweet Water is not a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) restaurant. Therefore, if you want wine with your meal, you’re at the mercy of the wine list. I bring my own wines to restaurants on a fairly regular basis and it’s always a wine that’s not on the establishment’s own wine list. That would be tacky. Not only that, but there are several restaurants that have sensible corkage fees or their prices are so reasonable that you don’t mind buying from their wine list. Sweet Water’s prices on their wines had me gasping with disbelief. I will give you a couple of for instances: Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, which normally ranges from about $7.99 to $10.00 was priced at $30.00. Benton Lane Pinot Noir Willamette Oregon was $46.00. I buy it from TJ’s for $18.00 and have seen it for less elsewhere. The worst one I saw on the list was the Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand for which Sweet Water charges $12.00 per glass or $46.00 for the bottle. You can purchase it at Costco for about $11.00, maybe a dollar or two more at the other usual suspects. I was nearly apoplectic that anyone would have the cajones to charge that much for a nice, but very low retail cost, NZ Sauvignon Blanc. I took lots of notes on several of the other wines, but you get the drift. Unless you have the extra depth to the pockets, don’t plan to have wine in any form at Sweet Water.
So when it came time to peruse the food menu, I will admit to already being very irritated.
The first thing we noticed is that while sitting and waiting (lots of “just waiting” was yet to come), we never got any bread or any other appetizer. When we inquired of our waitress, she indicated that because of the size of the meals, the owners decided not to serve bread so that people wouldn’t get too full. However, there was a garlic cheese bread available for $4.95 per ½ loaf.
We ordered one appetizer of crab cakes, inquiring as to whether we should order two. We were told that the cakes were pretty large, so one order would probably be fine for the four of us. Well, when the crab cakes came out, we eventually found them hiding under the dipping bowls on the plate. Each of us had a mouthful of crab cake. To be fair, the crab cakes were absolutely delicious, but there was no “large” involved whatsoever.
We ordered two chopped salads to share among the four of us, along with the garlic bread. We also ordered our entrees at the same time; there were two orders of fire-roasted yellow fin tuna, one of Hawaiian ono, and my own order of pan-seared Mahi.
This is where being with people you really like and can converse with really comes in handy. Because if you’re waiting and waiting, you have to have something to do. We waited and waited. Etc.
My companions had ordered iced tea, and I had initially requested just water because I had been planning to purchase something from the wine list to enjoy with dinner. The water is not filtered, just good ol’ Las Vegas tap water. Yuck. So I also ordered an iced tea. Which was interesting, because although our very diligent beverage guy made sure that our glasses were filled, there was no actual “ice” involved until he asked us if we needed ice for our iced tea. While I understand that they may be concerned that the tea may be watered down by the ice, warm iced tea is problematic by itself. But I digress.
Our entrees arrived and one of my companions stopped them before they placed the food on the table in front of us and asked, “Where is our salad?” He received a momentarily blank look from the “boss looking” guy who said that we’d be getting our salads with our entrees. That’s what we wanted, right? My friend said, “No! We expect to get our salads before dinner.” This is when boss guy asked him (crossly, with attitude, negatively – fill in the blank), “So what do you expect me to do?” Can we say zero to pissed in a heartbeat? I absolutely could not imagine such a response from any of the establishments that we frequent! Of course we refused the entrees because they didn’t even have the salads available anyway! They took the food back, and we eventually received our salads. We had given explicit instructions that the salads (quite large, by the way) were going to be shared. After asking and waiting, we finally got second plates so that we could share. And, once again, the food was delicious. And the garlic cheese bread was incredible.
When our salad plates were cleared away we had to wait (surprise!) for our entrees to be served. Our rewarmed dishes came out. The yellowfin and ono apparently survived the ordeal with little damage. I had the opportunity to eat the first tough Mahi I had ever tasted in my life. I took it because I didn’t dare say that it wasn’t acceptable. I may still be there waiting for a replacement if I had. We shared a rice dish that was quite tasty, and we eventually received our broccoli rabe just before the rest of our meal was finished. By the way, no serving utensils came with the side dishes.
Of course, by this time my friends were outraged by the service, the dismissive attitude of the boss guy, and the overall problems that we’d had. To her credit, the manager gave us some complimentary desserts – key lime éclairs, cheesecake, and something with a cookie. All delicious.
This may sound contradictory, but the servers and the manager on duty were wonderful. They were concerned about our long wait, the mixup in our orders (there were more, but then this review would turn into a book), the heated exchange between my companion and the boss guy, and our overall unhappiness with our experience.
The synopsis is as follows:
The food overall was quite tasty. I’m sure my fish was delicious the first time it came out, but after being taken back for the eternity we had to wait for salads and plates, it suffered in its return. I didn’t expect to get a fresh serving of fish.
Don’t plan on wine with a meal unless you are abysmally ignorant about wine prices at retail or don’t mind being gored.
Allow lots of time. Our dinner experience took nearly 2-1/2 hours, and that was without wine. Other plans for the evening were shot.
Apparently, you have to specify if you want salads before your entrée. Be sure to do so.
The servers are terrific. Too bad the kitchen process let them down.
I have no plans of ever returning to Sweet Water. The negatives (high wine prices, no BYOB, slow service, extra charges on things that are usually a part of a normal restaurant meal (bread), upper management attitude) definitely outweigh the positives (tasty food, wonderful servers, ambiance). When upper management realizes that the success of Las Vegas rises and sets on the philosophy of superior customer service, maybe they can make sure that such fiascos are few and far between.
Sweet Water is located at 9460 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson, in a new strip mall. Their website is still under construction. I hate that.
Next week, back to wines. Thanks for letting me rant.
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