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bigboss

"James" Restaurant

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My point exactly....

This whole Brouhaha could have been settled if Philadining had simply attended the dinner then we could all see for ourselves...

Phil who ? :huh:

Phil A Dining....the John Holmes of food photography.... :laugh:

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i don't think that would have helped the situation. his pics have a tendency to make even crappy food look good.

philadining, next time you head over to wendy's, can you take a shot of your spicy chicken sandwich? and especially the fries? because wendy's french fries suck, and i wanna see if you can make them look good.

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I have never posted here before but I read this forum all the time and I'm Buckethead's frequent dining companion. We ate together at James.

I agree that $90 is overpriced for the tasting menu we had but ultimately, in my opinion, it's on us because we didn't ask. (It did make me think of those times that a restaurant whose entrees are generally $17 have specials that turn up on the bill as $30. It's annoying.)

As for the meal we had, I thought it was very good and I'm looking forward to visiting again. All but one of the dishes was really suited to my tastes and preferences (small portions, simple preparations, absence of conspicuously rich ingredients like butter and cream, seafood ...) and not so much to BH's. That doesn't mean they weren't really good dishes--sometimes it's a matter of taste.

And as for the "practical joke" meal ... perhaps the kitchen was having an off night? My potato puree was velvety smooth and all dishes were properly seasoned.

What I signed up to be able to say is: If you wanted to try out James but now don't want to because of these posts, please reconsider. Ask about prices or order from the regular menu and make up your own mind.

I agree that this is an influential public forum and I would love to see a wider variety of food lovers posting. But maybe the degree of vitriol intimidates people who might want to come forward with dissenting opinions. I know it has previously kept my status to "lurker."

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Alright y'all, I concede that my original post was harsh, but that is honestly how I felt when I left the restaurant. I went home and bitched to my wife for a half hour before I decided to put my thoughts to paper. I mean really, $115 (plus tip) could have bought my groceries for a week. No customer should ever leave a restaurant feeling like that. And it wasn't just me, to address those who think my unilateral decision to rant was unfair to my friends. We all spent the ride home discussing the price and quality issues. We all worked together at Lacroix, so we have a common expectation of what constitutes a good dining experience. We were criticized 200 times a day by the same French a***hole (term of endearment) about attention to detail and making sure the guest is happy. The fact that I have worked at Lacroix and Four Seasons means nothing more than that I have PTSD anxiety when I see fingerprints on plates or food is cold or plates are not warm, etc. I don't expect every restaurant to be the second coming of Christ with a liquor license. Honestly, if I had just ordered two courses off the menu I would have been nonplussed with respect to the food, but not aggravated. I certainly would not have posted anything about the place. And, I prefaced this whole thing by saying that it was a rant, not a professional review or critique. It's just my impression from a dining experience, which I thought was the purpose of eG. Finally, I feel justified in so doing, because other people have shared similar experiences. Maybe the chef should read this and see how people regard the dining experience at James. I used to do it weekly for Sunday Brunch at Lacroix. Philadining's Brunch pictures did make the food look really good, thanks.

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  Once again this is why I cook at home.

sounds like someone has a case of the i should have just gone to vietnam blues.

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  Once again this is why I cook at home.

sounds like someone has a case of the i should have just gone to vietnam blues.

Perfect example of a restaurant from which you always leave satisfied. Good food, pleasant atmosphere, friendly service, inexpensive to boot. Plus Benny has done a superlative job of growing the business over the years from a typical Chinatown joint to an attractive and well-appointed restaurant/bar. Much respect. Let's go sometime Skull-key.

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yeah, it's really funny, the morning / afternoon after our dinner at james, a few of us ended up getting brunch at a vietnamese place, and were strtuck by the difference in price/value. the 3 of us for brunch, with delicous vietnamese coffees, was like $22. as opposed to over $300, plus wine costs, at james the night before. I actually vowed not to go fancy restaurants ever again (but then, of course, xochitl opened and blah, blah, blah...) .

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Complete Rubbish.

You dont  get it.

If you went to a "friend's" restaurant and the said "friends" say          "can we cook for you"

There is a clear unsaid understanding that you serve the standard app, entree ,dessert and insert a few more courses and charge a slight premium over the 3 course.

ALL CHEFS DO IT.

They should have been charged $60 max.

It's not because they want a deal or discount, it is a standard overture of goodwill in the industry.

I'd work out the misunderstanding in private instead of trying to sink their business with a hysterical ALL_CAPS-titled post on one of the biggest food blogs on the internet.

edited to add: I have absolutely no connection with this restaurant. I currently don't even live in this country. However, I do like to see all restaurants succeed, especially in the city I love, and hysterical posts such as this one don't help the cause.


Edited by stephenc (log)

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I'd work out the misunderstanding in private instead of trying to sink their business with a hysterical ALL_CAPS-titled post on one of the biggest food blogs on the internet.

edited to add: I have absolutely no connection with this restaurant. I currently don't even live in this country. However, I do like to see all restaurants succeed, especially in the city I love, and hysterical posts such as this one don't help the cause.

Dude you need to give people more credit.

Folks are more sophisticated than making impulsive decisions based on one person's admitted rant on the internet. This hardly affects the restaurant, the way I read the initial post, there were three issues of contention,

The food sucked.

It took way too long.

They oversold us deceptively.

Issues 2 and 3 are irrelevant for 90% of people who would go there because 80% of the diners in any restaurant in South Philly are NOT ordering tasting menus.

Therfore it sublimates into one person (perhaps 2 or 3) having food they percieved to be lame.

Again, the dining public is more intelligent than concluding a brand new restaurant sucks period.

All restaurants have thier share of naysayers.

Where does the censorship stop.

Should Craig Laban and Frank Bruni no longer write negative reviews because in your words " I do like to see all restaurants succeed, especially in the city I love, and hysterical posts such as this one don't help the cause."......It's absurd.

Feel good politics has no place in consumerism.

That's life.

E-gullet as much as I love it forms a tiny part of the general publics restaurant choosing decision process. 10 times as many people open Zagat first though I think they are crappy reviews by lemmings.

The place looks great, It will do well and it's unique for the hood.

Pif is just down the street, it fits nicely into its location and rent is cheap down there.

So censorship arguments should be discouraged strongly as long as there are no ethical issues.

That's my point, personally I wait 6 weeks before trying new restaurants in Philly, In NY however, go ASAP, they become impossible to book and more expensive.

Gee I remember my first two Perse dinner costing $90 each for food.......


Edited by Vadouvan (log)

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It is not an issue of "censorship." Rather, it is a matter of fairness and timing. Best as I can tell James was open between two and three weeks when this thread was posted. That is too soon to publicly blast a small, new, independent restaurant. Restaurant reviewers mostly understand that and I would hope that the same goes for restaurant professionals. A phone call or an email to James or to any new restaurant would have been both far more helpful and far less damaging.

Both as a restaurateur back when quiches we considered nouvelle and as an observer of the craft since, I have always appreciated the support of restaurants within the community. When I opened my place I was amazed by the support and help from my nearest competitors and from the entire Philadelphia restaurant community. I did my best to pass it on once we were no longer the new kid on the block. I expect the same of today's restaurant community.

James deserved better. Especially from a restaurant professional.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Must say that I agree with V. I'd be quite displeased if we adopted an "if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all" policy.

If anybody has anything nice to say, then a thread like this will certainly bring them out of the woodwork. Let all opinions be aired and let the criticism be constructive.


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Whether to give new restaurants a pass is an interesting topic, and one that's been flogged in many different discussions on eG, and other boards. I'm still not sure where I stand on it, but I lean toward the position Holly mentioned earlier: if you're charging real money, you should be delivering the goods.

There have been many twists on this: a place in NY that while they were new, asked customers to pay what they thought the meal was worth; places that open with limited menus to ramp-up slowly; places that overstaff at the beginning and then slide back as it becomes clearer what they really need; there are many more tactics. But if you're open and offering the full menu and charging full-price, that implies to me that you're ready.

If the problem at James is that the place is new, still getting its sea-legs, still ironing-out kinks, what the hell are they doing pushing 8-course tasting menus?

If it's straining the kitchen, the back of the house really needs to have a talk with the front of the house! If it's not straining the kitchen, if they're perfectly comfortable putting this food out, then they seem to be fair game for critique.

It's an old joke that we'd never put up with the practices of the computer industry in other areas of our lives, as they release hardware and software that isn't quite functional yet. Would you tolerate it in a car? Oh, yeah the brakes don't quite work yet, it's a bug. Yet we seem to put up with it in restaurants all the time - food was cold, service was slow and uninformed, whatever, well, they're new...

That's what soft-openings are for, to see where the problems are without pissing-off paying customers. It's really common to have friends-and-family nights where they aren't charging, THAT'S where you work out that stuff.

I think everybody gives a new places a certain amount of slack, especially people in the biz, but I can sympathize with bigboss, if I were steered toward an elaborate meal, then charged a lot of money for it, I'd be pissed if it wasn't good. I've had plenty of blah meals in my life, and I don't get mad about it, unless it feels like I was ripped-off.

I, for one, am glad bigboss went on his rant. At first I thought he was being a bit over the top, but then more people posted about having similar experiences, or variations on them. Whether the reports are good or bad, I think it's great that we can hear about a range of experiences from a lot of different people. I'm glad pgoat515 posted a contrasting view, and please, join-in (and other lurkers too) this site isn't so tough... the vitriol isn't spraying so widely that you should feel intimidated.

I'm sure restaurants and chefs get undeserved slams here, and they probably get undeserved raves as well, but with more opinions expressed, maybe we'll get closer to a "fair" read on things.

And I'm sure the folks running James aren't happy to see the types of complaints expressed here, but I hope it can be instructive - as bigboss mentioned, you don't want people leaving your place feeling like they've been ripped-off. I'm never angry if I just didn't care for the food, or if the service was weird, but I do get angry if I feel like they cheated me.

Whether the price was actually fair, whether the opinions about the food posted here represent most diners' impressions, who knows? But more than one person has expressed that they felt pushed toward the tasting menu, felt surprised by the cost, and felt that it wasn't a good value. Maybe it's just something the front of house needs to work on, training the staff to communicate better with the customers so everybody better knows what to expect. Maybe the back of house isn't quite ready to put out these elaborate multicourse meals yet. There's no shame in that, except in doing it, and charging real money for it, if they're not ready.

The upside for James is that despite all the complaining, the food sounds interesting to me! That menu sounds like something I'd enjoy, so I look forward to checking them out sometime. But in the meantime, I'm happy to have gotten input from you fine eG folks, and feel like I can make more informed decisions thanks to you.

I hope we see more posts about James, and I sincerely hope that they're more positive. But I also think this forum is a valid place for a rant as well, if that's how you feel!


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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The upside for James is that despite all the complaining, the food sounds interesting to me! That menu sounds like something I'd enjoy, so I look forward to checking them out sometime. But in the meantime

Agreed, Phil, lets go try it.

That's what soft-openings are for, to see where the problems are without pissing-off paying customers. It's really common to have friends-and-family nights where they aren't charging, THAT'S where you work out that stuff.

AND here lies the problem with new restaurants Phil, soft openings have completly evolved into free for all unstructured dinner parties that basically anyone just show's up for and the kitchen staff wander's into the room now and then that it defeats the purpose.

The correct way to do it is to book *EXACT* simulated resevations for everyone attending on the first day so the kitchen can cook the food properly in a structured sequence replicative of the restaurant's serving style.

Subsequent soft openings then increase the numbers to stress the kitchen and if you can afford a 3rd one (Budget it into your business plan) walk out on the street and find some walk-ins the kitchen wasnt expecting to see how they handle it.

That is how you work out the kinks, everyone is told their dinner is free up front and asked to order an app/entree/dessert.

Simply having a "party" as restaurants too often do in philly ........and inviting friends of the restaurant or in the industry amounts to a waste of time, food and opportunity to do it right.

On the day you decide to be open to the public and start charging full price, you only have yourself to blame because you really havent practiced.

The only proper soft opening I have attended and quite enjoyed was Cantina Caballitos...remember that one phil ?

I completely agree with Phil's computer analogy, nobody would put up with a car that needs an oil change just because the dealership is new.


Edited by Vadouvan (log)

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Might it be that Holly and Vadouvan are both right?

Yes, a new establishment should be cut some slack as they work the kinks out.

But no, if a diner feels that his experience was something worse than "working the kinks out," he should feel free to vent on this board and not have to clean up his or her opinions.

However: I often find that when responding in anger with words that will linger on well after time has healed the wounds, it is best to count to 100--very slowly--and take several deep breaths before committing one's feelings to paper. (For purposes of this argument, these boards are a form of "paper" in that they share the former's ability to preserve something for a good long time.)

One should exercise care when speaking publicly, but if one does not, the antidote for the speech is more speech.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Would this 48hr moratorium apply equally to heaping praise on mediocre restaurants, discussions of pizza or cheesesteaks and lauding the Chairman’s Selections???

Seriously, though, my comments are tantamount to how I used to get my ass chewed out by Lacroix in his office for 15 minutes. When it’s over, you wipe the spit off your face and begin to sift through the b.s. to get to the real problems that you need to address. It wasn’t fun, but it gave me the resiliency to sublimate my ego, take criticism and fix problems before they get worse. If I ever read something like my original post about my (hypothetical) business, I’d be mortified. But, I’d make sure that every single criticism were addressed by and with the entire staff. I apologize if my rhetoric offended anyone’s delicate sensibilities and I do not wish to dissuade anyone from going to this restaurant. If James addresses any of my complaints, then you all will have benefitted.

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Having spent a portion my formative years in a few kitchens, my sensibilities aren't all that delicate.

Good for Chef Lacroix for chewing you out in private in his office rather than yelling at you across the kitchen or in the dining room.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Holly, you can continue to take the tangential, slightly elevated road in this discussion, but the fact remains that I as well as other guests of this restaurant had negative experiences there.

When I was in college I helped open a restaurant where the owners grossly misjudged the volume of business the restaurant was going to do versus the kitchen staff they employed. We were packed, doing 250 covers a night and tables were waiting like 45 minutes for courses. We had a fair amount of walk-out tables, but the food was pretty good and things eventually stabilized. My point is that my specific complaints were more than just “kinks” to be worked out over a few services. We were one of maybe four tables in the place and the meal took four hours, was not especially tasty and cost me a good amount of money. These aren’t “kinks.” And furthermore, why should I have to be nice? They’re the ones charging top-tier prices for the tasting menu, which should be the culinary tour de force of the place. You know I just realized that I’m more interested in arguing with you than talking about this restaurant. Oh well. I love your line: “James deserved better.” It has such a dramatic and empathic ring to it, almost eulogistic. What I say is not that important.

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We aren't going to agree on this one.

Had James been open longer I would have no issues at all with the post. But we're talking about a small husband/wife restaurant, just opening their first proprietorship, perhaps a life's savings invested. James or any similar restaurant deserves to be cut a break at the start. They have enough hurdles the first few weeks without some major bad publicity.

When someone has serious kitchen experience I guess I'm expecting more empathy for and support of a new restaurant, even one that disappoints. That community thing I was talking about before.

Question - did your friends or you mention those problems to the hostess or the chef that evening? It sounds like the dining experience was sufficiently spoiled that some honest confrontation would have benefited both sides. Of course you have no obligation to do so, especially since you were paying guests and not comps. But some on-the-spot candor would have been doing them a favor.

I may have been overly dramatic in "they deserve better." I admit I'm hypersensitive about giving new restaurants the benefit of the doubt. It is one of those few buttons that, when pushed, gets me going. Probably because I have been through opening my own restaurant and because I have seen a lot of others go through it and many not making it.

Sidebar: It's my experience that the odds of getting a poor meal and poor service are greater in a slow, uncrowded restaurant than one that is buzzing along. Not logical, but all too often the case.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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When a first place opens, I don't expect the food and/or service to be 100% right out of the gates. Likewise, any reviews of recently opened restaurants, I take with a grain of salt. I don't doubt that the OP had a bad experience, and he called it like he saw it. Subsequent reviews came in that seemed much better, and the place may, in fact, be getting better... sort of to be expected.

The only part of the original review that *really* sticks in my craw (and it may be irrelevant to the average Joe walking in off the street) is that they said "we want to cook for you", which typically means they want to take special care of you, but then proceeded to give them run-of-the-mill food/service and a full-charge bill. I don't care if you're open for 1 day, or 10 years... that was a crappy move by the proprietors, IMHO. Like I said, most people will never have this offer, so it may not matter so much in the grand scheme of things. However, when I'm out eating and am someone offers to take care of us, or sends over extra stuff we didn't ask for as a friendly gesture or whatever, if I then get billed for said gesture... I'd be pissed. And I think the OP had every right to be.

The way I see it, if the place crumbles and falls simply because of one terrible review on eGullet, then the place probably wasn't long for this world anyway.

Just my $0.02.

__Jason

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James deserved better.  Especially from a restaurant professional.

Question: Why did James deserve better, to borrow your melodramatic phrasing? I'm not seeing how they deserve anything simply by virtue of being a new restaurant. It sounds like they served an overpriced mediocre-at-best meal to industry professionals, and friends at that. Now this apparently unfortunate experience is being discussed on an internet forum. Big deal. I doubt too many people will seriously be dissuaded from going to this restaurant simply because of this thread (as was stated by another poster). In short, James will not fail as a restaurant because someone went on a rant on the internet. Rather, the demise of the restaurant will occur if they continue to serve sub-par food at inflated prices.

So, assuming those who run James are intent on it being a fine dining restaurant, this thread should in the long run have a positive effect. That is, they should be checking out these sorts of forums, taking in negative feedback, and improving their restaurant by ensuring that something like what was described at the start of this thread never happens again.

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The owner’s wife greets us and says they’d like to cook for us... And the final insult:  we were charged for five tasting menus at $90 each. 

I don't find anything wrong with bigboss's post.

Nor do I think that a paying customer at a restaurant has to censor or whitewash his comments on eGullet.

As far as his contention that the "we'd like to cook for you" implied that they'd be guests of the restaurant, I think he's entirely in the right. It was entirely misleading. If they meant to charge, they should've said something like, "we'd like to propose a tasting menu which we'll create especially for you, and the cost will be $90 per person". I think the restaurant was in the wrong here.

I also know how bigboss feels, because some years ago I arrived at a fairly upscale and elegant restaurant in Italy on time for a reservation, and they told me "Your table will be a while. Would you care for some Parmiggiano-Reggiano and Champagne on the terrace while you wait?", and when the bill arrived at the end of the meal, there was a $25 charge per person for the champagne and cheese.

I disuputed that with the credit card company and simply refused to pay it.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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