Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Buca Means Get Your Butt off My Coat

Buca Means Get Your Butt off My Coat
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
February 20, 2013

Were it not Vicky’s birthday, we would not have braved the oh, so frigid, windy, blustery snowy evening in Indy to enjoy a dinner out. Staying home would have been the better option, by far.

Instead, we combated the elements for comfort food at Buca di Beppo at their Castleton Square location in Indy. Having our pick of spots in the vacant lot, we parked as close to the front entrance as possible and waited for more than a minute before being greeted by a hostess/manager.

Apologizing for keeping us waiting she proceeded to give us a tour of the restaurant where nary a patron could be seen nor heard. We literally had our pick of tables, rooms, and even the kitchen which is equipped to seat a couple of diners.

Choosing a table in the “Cardinal” room, I joked that I don’t even like the Cardinals because I am a Mets fan. Having perused the menu on-line I knew which appetizer we both wanted and placed an order for the fried calamari. In asking about a sauce other than the traditional marinara we were told that was the only option, but when we asked about a garlic-butter sauce we were told they would make some for us. Bonus point for the server, who was pleasant and helpful – not to mention we were the only patrons, so it cost them nothing to satisfy a small request.

Because Buca is a family-style restaurant, the portions are planned as either for two or four people. We were told the two-person portions were generous enough to easily serve three people. Three midgets on diets perhaps, but not three people with dinner appetites.

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar poured somewhat sloppily onto a plate, but bread, a distant future supply which finally arrived with the calamari. While the calamari was good, not too chewy, not over fried, it was a little heavy on the spices and featured an abundance of tentacles by ratio to the rings.

Adding to the unevenness of the kitchen work, the entrée of veal Marsala came out before we were halfway finished with the appetizer. When given the choice of taking the entrée or having it sit under a heat lamp to dry out in the kitchen, opt for the former.

Three veal medallions each roughly the size of two silver dollars sat upon a plate with sliced canned mushrooms and a thin, but tasty, Marsala sauce. This plate should have been service for one, not two to three as advertised.

I was but one bite into my piece of veal when Vicky emitted a gasp from across the table. A hair was embedded in her piece of veal. And by embedded, it was not simply atop the food, but positioned in such a manner that it could only have been cooked into the veal when the medallions were being fried. Beyond gross. We’ve patronized enough restaurants – good, bad, and ugly to know nobody’s perfect, but, eww, hair?

As our server was nowhere to be found for more than several minutes, I wandered into the kitchen to track her down. Returning to the table with me she was extremely apologetic and immediately left to find the manager, who was not nearly as remorseful.

Adding insult to injury, the manager – the same woman who gave us the tour and seated us – instantly took to the defensive, gave Vicky a visual once over then said that no one in her kitchen has long hair. Only then did she manage an apology.

We ordered a chicken dish and our server assured us our meal would be “taken care of.” The chicken dish proved to be barely larger than its predecessor which included artichokes and capers – both favorites of ours. However, the artichoke pieces had a tough exterior indicating that one additional layer should have been removed. The artichokes, like the mushrooms, were canned.

While eating the chicken, the manager returned, at which point I politely informed her that she had insulted Vicky with the insinuation that because no one in the kitchen had long hair, Vicky must have been at fault. The manager attempted to mollify Vicky by assuring her she meant no disrespect. Yet, all she did was make Vicky more upset. The manager imposed herself upon our dinner not just by sitting down, but by sitting on Vicky’s coat, scarf, and phone.

Note to restaurant employees, managers, and even owners: unless invited, do not assume to be so familiar as to join us at our table. We are neither pretentious nor snobs, but we prefer to have a two-way conversation after a long day instead of a three-way conversation. We spent more time talking to restaurant staff than to each other which also detracted from the now less than celebratory mood of the evening.

Exit manager; reenter server, who asked if we were having dessert. Normally the answer would be no, but as this was Vicky’s birthday, we opted for the bragged-about tiramisu. Eh, not so much about which to brag – cold, stiff, and sticking to the bottom of the dish.

The coup de grace came minutes later when the check came and the server apologized before even presenting it to me as she informed us the manager was charging us for the dessert. This after we were told by the server the meal would be “taken care of.”

Clearly, a fine time was not had by all, or even by any.

This column should serve as a warning to diners who care about how they spend their hard-earned dollars. Buca di Beppo should be ristorante non-grata. And a happy birthday to Vicky.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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