Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Next review: L'Ane Riche

Tonight, I attended the Grand Opening of a new Clemson-area restaurant, the Fiesta Grille. In what I hope will become a semi-regular feature, I now present a restaurant review.

I arrived at the restaurant shortly after 6:30 to find the parking lot very full, making me regret the decision to have my dining companion meet me there. However, despite the overflow parking situation, we had little trouble finding a table. As this was opening night, our expectations for service were not too high; I can forgive a lot in the first week or so after the opening. There were communication issues throughout the evening; after our waiter took our drink order, he abandoned us for ten minutes, until another waiter came to ask if our order had been taken. Minutes after he took our order, our original waiter returned to take our order, and we had to inform him that it had been taken already. A different server brought our meals, which led to more confusion (more on that in a bit). And when the original waiter came to bring us the check, of course he didn't have it, and so had to re-write our ticket. No doubt the waiter who took our order has tabbed us as dine-and-dashers. A mariachi band played throughout the evening; I thought they were excellent, though my companion pointed out that their main purpose was no doubt to distract from the slow service.
Despite the communication problems among the staff, I was pleased (at that point) that we had been visited by several servers; I'd rather they err on the side of being overly attentive than forgetting about us entirely. The menu also offered a few selections that were new to me. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants in this area, and their menus have about 85% overlap; it's the selections unique to a specific place that make it worth going to (or not). On my next visit, I'll be sure to try the pollo con chorizo, but this time I went with the carne asada burritos, mainly because they came with guacamole, and the other deciding factor in whether or not I continue to patronize a Mexican restaurant is the quality of their guacamole and salsa.
The good points: As I said before, I was pleased that the servers were looking out for each other to make sure everyone's order was taken, and despite a clearly stressful evening, everyone was still smiling. My companion's pork platter was fantastic: delicious chunks of slow-roasted pork, striped with three different sauces (red sauce, queso blanco, and some of the best salsa verde I've ever tried), on a bed of rice that was not sticky, not dry. This was definitely the star of the night.
The bad points: Unfortunately, my companion had not ordered the pork platter, nor had she ordered the pollo fundido that was originally delivered to her; we simply decided, after the waiter had brought us the second wrong plate and then disappeared, that this looked better than what she had originally ordered, and that it wasn't worth an additional 10-15 minutes to take a third try. My burritos were advertised as being made with beef tips, but were pretty clearly made with ground beef. The guacamole was too creamy; it tasted like my mother's guacamole, which is basically an avacado puree with mayonnaise (if my mother is reading this, I'm sorry that you had to find out this way that I don't care for your guacamole). And the salsa was too tomato-y and not enough, well, anything else-y that might identify it as salsa. One of our party likened it to marinara sauce. Okay, it was me.
The service became slower as the night went on; we left around 8:45 (two hours for a two-person table), and the table next to us (who arrived about half an hour after we did) gave up and left, without receiving their food, as we were paying our check. I've mentioned once that I can forgive slowness on opening night, but I did find myself quite irritated when our waiter asked every other table in our section if they'd like their half-finished drinks topped off, whilst our empty glasses, prominently placed at the edge of our table, sat ignored.
The price is right: even without the 30% opening-night discount, our meal (two entrees and soft drinks) would have been just over $15, and very few menu items are over $10. I'll certainly give it another shot in a few weeks, once the staff gets their feet under them, but the disappointing salsa may keep me from becoming a regular customer.

Two stars out of four.

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