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Feeling ripped off in OC


DaleW
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(note: I occasionally post on eGullet wine or NY board, but often read others if traveling- thanks for all your expertize!)

Had a bad experience at a Laguna Beach restaurant, and I'm curious as to whether others find this as over-the-top as I do. We spent 10 days visiting various of Betsy's relatives in California (wedding at Tahoe, various cousins in Bay and Sacramento areas, and ending up in Laguna at her grandmother's for a few days). Decent meals in Tahoe/Squaw at Plumpjacks and La Lanterna in San Mateo, and better than decent at Bistro Jeanty in Napa. In Laguna we mostly ate in, but we took the opportunity Friday night to have our one dinner for two. We'd visited some Laguna places like 5 Feet on previous visits, wanted someplace different. Someone on a website (here, I think) had praised French 75 , a "bistro" in Laguna. Part of a group of restaurants by someone named David Wilhelm.

Betsy called Th. for a reservation, left a message asking for 7 PM. When we got back in, there was message saying we could have 6:30 inside or 7 on patio. She called back, left message saying 7 on patio was fine. We got another message, asking us to confirm time. She called back, spoke to a live person, confirmed 7. We arrived at 7:04, gave name. Lady at desk asked if we were sure we had made reservation under that name. Yes, 3 times. Receptionist gives us a look, but seats us.

They bring winelist, but no menus. Menus appear (quite)a while later. Waiter recites specials. I order the shrimp appetizer and short ribs, Betsy a salad and a "surf and turf" (my words, not theirs)special. I order a half of 2001 Lafond Sancerre, and a half of 2000 Ch. Coutet (a St.Émilion, not the Barsac!). Nice bread with some kind of truffle mayo.

The wines arrive. Um, that's a 1999 St. Émilion. Well, ok, even if it's a lesser (cheaper) vintage, the 1999 might be more ready than most 2000s, right? I approve opening. First courses arrive, the shrimp aren't the tastiest I've had, but at least not overcooked, and in a quite good cognac/roasted tomato sauce. Betsy enjoys her salad (which includes nice manchego). I notice other tables have nicer Spiegelau/Riedel glasses, but I am not going to complain- I understand that they might reserve for people spending a bit more.

As smoking people at next table leave, we're still hoping for a good night.

Main course arrive. My braised short ribs are tender, and sauce is good, though meat itself is a tad bland (maybe they could have braised it in that sauce?). Betsy's lobster tail is very good. But as she cuts into filet, she realizes waiter never asked how she wanted. Medium-well meat. She's unhappy, but says since she didn't specify medium-rare she doesn't feel she should send back.

Waiter brings dessert menu. I'm not a dessert person, Betsy says she could have dessert, or we could walk home via beach. I confess to having eyed a real deal on wine by the glass menu. 2000 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chateau de Beaucastel for $15.25. But Beaucastel for $15.25 seems unlikely, as mediocre vintage of Silver Oak is on list for $25. I ask waiter, "this is really Beaucastel, right, not Coudelet de Beaucastel?" "Yes, Beaucastel." "Really? Seems inexpensive" Some hemming and hawing, then "Well, it's Chateau de Beaucastel, not Beaucastel, it's the second-tier". That makes no sense, but rather than determine whether it's Coudelet, the Perrin negociant CdP,or what, I just ask for the check. When it comes, I gulp. The price for Betsy's small filet and lobster tail is $65!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now, I guess we should have asked. But my assumption when waiter recites specials is that they are in the range of other main courses (which in this case went from $20 to $36). Now, with beef and lobster, I expected it to be a bit more- $40 maybe, and I wouldn't have been totally shocked at $48. But $65 for overcooked meat and a lobster tail? This is a "bistro" on Coast Highway- for the special and her $10 salad Betsy could order a tasting menu at some top NYC places! I started to ask for manager, but again, I hadn't asked price. We decided to try to salvage our night by walking on the beach. I tipped 15% of the pre-tax (inflated) total, instead of my usual 20+. I did circle the $65 and leave a note how ridiculous this was. Ended the night with a nice walk rather than a confrontation with manager.

Am I off-base feeling this is a total ripoff? Despite the reservation glitches, we went into dinner with high hopes. I wasn't upset by the vintage switch on the Bordeaux, that happens a lot (I do feel the listing for the CdP borders on fraud). But am I only one that feels that if a price is not given for a special, it should be "in tune" with the other specials, not almost twice as expensive as the most expensive thing on the menu.

Curious as to others' reactions. I'm sure some will say I should have argued re price then and there, but I was trying to salvage our only night out alone. I'm betting that they feel they can get away with this because it's a resort town, and they're less dependent on repeat customers.

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I think you were right in trying to salvage the night. I also think you are right in thinking the restaurant has a lot of work to do. I live about 45 minutes south of Laguna Beach, and I have heard about French 75 (most bad), but never eaten there. Laguna Beach is an extremely beautiful place, but not really known for cuisine. You are lucky you mostly ate in. The new hotel toward the south of town (I'm forgetting the name right now) is getting good reviews, but I don't know if it is good for Laguna Beach or actually good. I hope you at least had good weather.

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Sounds like a horrible meal, through no fault of your own. $65 for shitty surf and turf is kind of high, but I never go to Laguna for anything food related, so maybe that's the going rate there. I don't trust the "fine" dining in OC so I avoid these places like the plague.

Next time, just before your trip, maybe you could post a request for recommendations. I've been doing this recently, with great results.

Edited by jschyun (log)

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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They did rip you off. That price is outrageous. Chalk this one up to experience and always ask the prices of the specials from now on. This is a real pet peeve of mine that they do not give you the prices while telling you about the specials. I alway ask," and how much is that?" There is a radio talk show host here in NY named Arthur Schwartz and he gets really upset at this behavior. He advised every to ask the prices and he compares it to buying anything else. He says something like you wouldn't buy a fur coat or a jacket without asking the price- would you? DaleW you are a very knowledgable and experienced diner as I can tell from you well written post so do not let these arrogant, snobby restaurants intimidate you into ordering something without knowing the price. You are the customer and deserve to be treated better.

GoodEater

Vivo per mangiare!

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First of all, I made a mistake in original post. It was Sat night not Fri,

and we had called Fri AM (and then Fri night and Sat noonish).

To be fair, I should say the waiter was otherwise reasonably attentive. Obviously management sets pricing, and the other waiter on the patio also did not give pricing on specials (tables are very close together, I heard his spiel to 2 other tables).

While it was the $65 that steamed me, actually the Beaucastel error is the most egregious. I checked my bottles of 2000 Coudoulet this morning, they're

clearly marked Côtes du Rhône - it would be impossible to make an honest

mistake here. And I believe the Perrins's negociant CdP is clearly marked as

Perrin Les Sinards, not as Chateau de Beaucastel! I figured that if they were

charging $9-10 for a glass of Pine Ridge Viognier/Chenin, $15 Beaucastel was

unlikely!

Indeed I should have asked re price of special. But Betsy ordered I guess I didn't want to look cheap in front of my wife. Ah well, live and learn.

Edited by DaleW (log)
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DaleW - You are already married! Don't worry - If this was a first date then that's a different story. Your wife will respect you more from now on because she will realize that she didn't marry a fool or a sucker! :smile:

Edited by GoodEater (log)

GoodEater

Vivo per mangiare!

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You know what, Dale? You were completely ripped off. I Googled, and found this page: French 75. It plainly states: "Entrees: $20.00 - $32.00." Yet they doubled their entrée price, which is a blatant scam, foisted on the innocent. I'd be writing the management a letter so fast, and so furiously, their heads would spin off their necks.

I looked at the dinner menu, and only three of the ten entrées are $30 and above (and one, despite the $20 tag above, is only $18). It's unconscionable that they would jack up the prices and not make the diner aware.

Your post is knowledgeable and articulate, and I feel terrible for you. Any decent restaurant would, of course, tell the prices when reciting the specials. Those that don't are loathsome scammers trying to shame people into feeling cheap for asking.

Caveat emptor.

I am going to give those people a heads up to your post. They've got some 'splainin' to do.

Edited by tanabutler (log)
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