Monday, May 14, 2007

Wood Tavern - Oakland, Ca

It's become clear I think to those who read this blog that I do work as a server in this here restaurant business and I do it at a very popular, very busy, somewhat trendy fine dining establishment in the East Bay.

I've found that servers either have very high standards for service when they go out, or very low standards. I like to think of myself in the second category. While I might be critical of service while I dine that' s just who I am. I'm a critical asshole and I like to compare how I work against how others work for professional purposes. I truthfully have adopted certain strategies and approaches that I've seen other servers use that I've found particularly effective on me as a diner. But, at the end of the meal, all I really look for in determining good service (who gets the 22% tip versus the 18% tip) is:

1. Knowledge of the menu/wines when I ask a question.
2. Attentiveness.
3. Availability.
4. Cordiality.

I'm not a diner who needs much follow-up. I do appreciate it when a server drops by to check in on each course, but I understand that that's not possible on some busy nights. At the very least, a walk-by with eye contact is good because it allows me to check in with the server if there is a problem with my food. And as far as cordiality goes, I'm not looking for banter or someone who says "honey," I'm just looking for a smile and a "how is everything?"

After dining at Wood Tavern I discovered how weird service can ruin an otherwise pleasant meal.

I cruised into Wood Tavern in Rockridge with girlfriend Charlie, winemaker Brendan, and mutual friend Mei on a Thursday night at around 8PM. I was immediately impressed with the decor. Warm dark wood befitting the name. Nice long bar. Log cabin inspired furniture. Our table was nicely set with unmatched vintage flatware which did honestly remind me of our family cabin in Tahoe where 60 years of visitors have left behind a melange of forks and spoons and knives so that there isn't really a matching set of anything.

Despite the busy-ness and crowded-ness at the restaurant, conversation wasn't overly difficult.

The menu is nice and simple, 8 or so appetizers and 8 or so entrees as well as cheese and charcuterie.

Nice compact if unremarkable wine list. Lacking signicantly in more unusual reds. Bauer gave the list props for its "esoteric" selection, but it's only esoteric if your idea of an exotic wine is gewurztraminer.

Shortly after sitting down the weirdness began.

Our service approached our table and just stood there. We stopped talking and looked at her. I said hello. She said hello. Still nothing. Another awkward pause. Then, "how about I get you guys some water?"

Um, sure.

She then disappeared. Water arrived. She returned.

"Did you decide on wine?"

Yes. We had decided on wine when you first came to our table.

We ordered our wine. And we ordered our food. She honestly said maybe a dozen words to us the entire time.

So... odd, but not super odd. Yet.

I ordered the black bean soup with chive creme fraiche. That's what it said on the menu. Remember that for later. I also ordered the duck. Also ordered was the pork belly appetizer and the romaine, apple, and blue cheese salad.

My soup arrived and it was essentially a pork chili with a few black beans. Not a big deal because I like pork enough, except that this was a lot of pork. It wasn't a bit of ham hock or bacon flavoring the soup, it was a good 1/4 pound of pork meat and very little in the way of beans.

This would've been useful information for someone to know, especially if he or she was, oh I don't know, a vegetarian ordering what looks like the only warm vegetarian appetizer on the menu. But it still would've been useful for me because I wouldn't've gotten the duck entree knowing that I was eating that much pork for my appetizer. I just don't want that much meat in one evening. Criticism one is that there should be a mention of the pork on the menu, subcriticism 1a is, failing that, this is something a good server lets a customer know. 90% of the time it probably won't matter, but that 10% can be seriously pissed off. I speak from experience here.

Entrees were good. Thick chunk of seared duck breast over wild rice and hazelnuts. Charlie had the halbut with polenta and Mei had the roasted chicken with artichokes and spinach.

Desserts were decent but limited. Conventional warm chocolate cake, seasonal fruit cobbler, and a couple of ice creams/sorbets paired with liqueurs. More concept then execution there as they seem to forget that most liquers are disgusting holdovers from an era when we had to suspend herbs in alcohol to preserve them for medicinal purposes and then added a shit ton of sugar to it to make it remotely palatable. No real reason they should exist anymore.

The espresso that I got took a really long time, came void of crema, and was barely lukewarm. When I sent it back I was asked if I wanted another one. No apology. I was made to feel like it was my fault. This proved to be a theme.


While all the food was expertly prepared and quite tasty, the cuisine itself was utterly uninteresting. It's all food that Range, Maverick, Town Hall, and to a lesser extent even Magnolia have been doing for a while now. And Range had more refined service, Maverick takes bigger risks with flavors, and Magnolia is more compelling and at half the price. While I suppose there's a void in Oakland for this type of food, in the Bay Area as a whole it's just another restaurant serving uninteresting New American. You get your pork, your chicken, your fish, your steak, and your vegetarian entrees coupled with seasonal produce. Tum tiddly tum tum ter.

Speaking of the service issue, when we got our check and paid (split on two cards) the server overcharged us by $10.70. Simple problem, these things happen. But when we told are server she made it seem like it was somehow our fault. Then, when the checks came back the amount on the receipt still didn't mach the amount on the charge slips (by seventy cents). Fucking weird. Even when the owner came over we still felt like we were talking past him. It wasn't a big deal, it just became one because nobody seemed to understand what our complaint was.

Finally, when my charge finally posted online, the amount charged was for the CORRECT amount, still seventy cents off from what I had signed. I think there was also an additional ten dollars on the gratuity (I failed to write the exact amount on my copy of the receipt).

So now I was really annoyed.

To the owners' credit, when I called to complain, Rebekah Wood was very conciliatory, informed me that our server had already been removed from the schedule, and offered to send me a check. So that was something.

So I left with a newfound understanding of the importance of competent service and a reinforced feeling that we're creatively bankrupt in the Bay Area food scene right now.

I'll be waiting for the next innovation.

Wood Tavern
6317 College Ave. (at Alcatraz)
Oakland, Ca

1 comment:

Zack said...

Bauer gave the list props for its "esoteric" selection, but it's only esoteric if your idea of an exotic wine is gewurztraminer.

Bauer gave the list props for its "esoteric" selection, but it's only esoteric if your idea of an exotic wine is gewurztraminer.

Bauer gave the list props for its "esoteric" selection, but it's only esoteric if your idea of an exotic wine is gewurztraminer.