I don't often publicly report unpleasant experiences at restaurants. But the experience that my wife and I had this past Monday night at the new Jezebel restaurant in the Soho neighborhood of New York was, I think, bizarre enough to justify a special exception.
It was our 15th wedding anniversary, and we had been longing to make our first visit to Jezebel - and now had the perfect opportunity. We made reservations the week before, which were confirmed to me by email. I noted in the reservation that it was a very special night for us, which Jezebel acknowledged in-kind. I also heard that they had an elaborate wine list which included non-mevushal wines, which particularly was intriguing to me (see the attached cover note to their wine list).
Our Initial Impressions
We made an early 6pm reservation. Upon arrival, we immediately noticed that the place was about 15% full, which was cool with us (after all it was very early for dinner by NY standards). The decor is ultra hip and trendy, perhaps more so that any other kosher restaurant in NYC, with the possible exception of Prime Ko, though the place is much smaller and cramped than Prime Ko.
There were many interesting observations that one could make about the décor, although I will refrain from digressing too much. We were taken to a table that had a bench style chair with a cozy cushion. The setting was very nice, although it was facing a wall that had a projector shining a very bright white light on it with blacked-out images of herds of people walking in the same direction. It probably would have become a serious annoyance if we had actually stayed for dinner. One other aspect of the décor that I can’t resist mentioning is that, inside one the bathrooms, there is a large photograph right above the toilet of a Jewish woman wearing her freshly donned Shabbat clothes standing in front of Shabbat candles and waving her hands in the air around her head as if she is reciting the blessing over the candle lighting. The picture stared me right in the face as I looked up while in the process of taking care of my “business.” Now, my level of religious observance is by no means strict, and this even bugged me out. The idea of placing a picture of one of the holiest moments in Judaism on the wall of a tiny bathroom right above a toilet is totally beyond me.
Our Valiant Attempt to Have a Spectacular Dining Experience
My wife and I were poised to thoroughly experience what Jezebel had to offer. The menu is quite short, which is perfectly fine, and we decided to spare no expense and ordered 4 appetizers and a main meal for each of us. We order some kale chips, some "Jewish Italian Wedding Soup" (which had chicken-balls in it), roasted bone marrow and a dish featuring red snapper. We then each ordered a lamb burger. While we were waiting, some ordinary rolls were served with some pureed carrots that tasted like they had just been spooned out of a freshly popped jar of Gerber baby food. We also ordered two glasses of the Hagafen Cabernet Franc, which was sold by the glass, reasonably priced and very good (went well with the earthiness of the pureed carrots; which, as will be told, was the extent of my food and wine pairing for the evening!).
The Big Chill
About 10 minutes into our experience, my wife started shivering by reason of the fact that our table was positioned such that we were facing a wall that had 3 large a/c vents directed right at us. She tried her best to be a good sport, but finally succumbed to the discomfort; so I asked that we be seated in a place with a more comfortable climate. We were taken to a table on the other side of the second floor that was large enough for just about two dinner plates. It was the tiniest dinner table that I have ever seen in my life. Oompa loopas would have trouble dining comfortably at this table! The four appetizers that we had just ordered would have had to have been stacked on top of each other. Observing that only about 15% of the place was occupied, and wanting very much to have a comfortable seating arrangement for our special day, I took my wife's hand and walked over to a larger, unoccupied table and sat us down. Then, one of the hosts, named Bruce, came dashing over to us and nearly physically removed us from the table. It was such an urgent thing for him that we not sit there. At this point, with hardly anyone in the place, I started to get really annoyed. He then shepherded us to a table back where we were initially seated, only larger and out of the direct line of fire of the a/c vents. I was ok with the table, but then he insisted that I sit in a chair that was squeezed into a corner on top of one of the drapes. I told him that I much preferred to sit on other side of the table so I wouldn't be so cramped. He, however, was very concerned that I would be interfering with a party that would "soon" be gathered at a much larger adjacent table. I somehow managed to talk him into moving our table a little so I would not be interfering with the "soon to arrive" guests and sitting where I wanted. We sat down, and at this point, everyone (which was all of about 4 or 5 couples) were staring at us, which, for about 5 seconds, made us feel uncomfortable. But we quickly got over it. We were in the process of calming down and then - like a bird, like a plane - a person named Mark Roth came running over to us, and, with a very uptight shaking tone of voice said that (notwithstanding what we had just been through with Bruce), we must immediately leave the table b/c it had been reserved for "soon to arrive guests." He insisted that we go back to our very initial table that was squarely in front of the vent. He kept saying, "I'm sure that you can understand that we cannot give you a table that has been reserved for another guest."
Mark insisted that we would have a fantastic evening and that he would "see what he could do" about normalizing the climate. So we indulged him and returned to our original seats. We waited and waited and, not only did the food not come out, but the a/c vents did not stop blowing. We had no choice but to stand up out of that cozy cushioned bench and walk out of the restaurant.
I made sure that Mark knew that we were leaving and that we were really disappointed that our pre-planned special occasion had been foiled by the failure to provide a normal climate with comfortable seating. To which Mark robotically responded, "Well, I'm sure you can understand that I cannot possibly give you a table that someone else has reserved."
It seems as though Mark and Bruce were more concerned (I would argue obsessed) with accommodating "future" guests than guests that were already there. (Btw, none of the “future” guests had arrived by time that we walked out.)
We unfortunately didn’t get a chance to taste the food on the menu, and there were plenty of items that looked delicious, and odds are that they are indeed delicious. Anyone dining for two would be well-advised to specifically request a table (i) other than the really tiny ones on the east side of the second floor and (ii) out of the direct line of fire of the a/c vents.
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