The Good, The Bad…The Restaurant Roundup! Part 3

I haven’t been eating out much. Blame it on my newfound desire to experiment with cooking at home if you’d like. But recently I’ve sacrificed myself and my friends for YOU, dear reader, so that I can bring you this – another Restaurant Roundup! Without further ado:

Oh, El Coqui…

I really want to like El Coqui in downtown Santa Rosa, and have tried on several occasions to do so (to say I don’t always learn my lesson easily might be appropriate here), but this time was the last straw.

I found myself walking toward this Puerto Rican restaurant once again when my little brother visited us from Wisconsin (side note: why he lives in Wisconsin, I have no idea. We’re not even from Wisconsin. It makes no sense). This, despite the fact that after two out of my previous three visits I’d left feeling as though a bowling ball was quickly growing in my stomach, causing me to first unbutton my pants, then take small breaths on the way to the car (due to my lungs being constricted by my stomach), then to barely make it home before collapsing into a miserable sleepy sluggish state of self-hatred for the rest of the night, sighing heavily, repeatedly mumbling “oh, my” under my breath, and praying to the sweet heavens above for burps.

All of this crossed my mind as my small group made its way toward the restaurant, but I tried to remember that one time that the above didn’t happen, so I crossed my fingers and went inside. Now, I’ll just go ahead and let you know that oh yes, yes indeed, it happened again. But this review is not about whatever the hell it is about their food that makes my body go all Violet Beauregard on me. No. This review is about the service.

coquiI was pleased to see a sandwich-board sign outside the door cheerily advertising in handwritten chalk that Happy Hour went until 6pm. I noted that we had 8 minutes to get in a drink order – no problem there, you all know how much I love me some Happy Hour! We walked in, were seated, and were diligently ignored for the next 7 and a half minutes. One waitress attended to her table near us, while three other servers stood behind the bar, just chillin’ and catching up on each other’s lives.

I looked around several times, wondering what in the hell was going on. My dinner companions did the same. Back in my restaurant days, when all of the patrons at one table were looking around searchingly, it was a clear indication that they wanted attention in some way. Sure, if we weren’t in the mood to deal with them we would act really busy and pretend not to notice, but this only worked when the restaurant had more than two occupied tables at the time. This was not the case at El Coqui.

When our waitress finally did come over, I asked if we’d made it in time for Happy Hour. “Oh,” she smiled, “sorry, no, that just ended.”

Uh huh.

She took our drink orders and said she’d be back to take our food order soon. Meanwhile, another server approached a table nearby and promptly told them the specials for that night. My gang and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised, there were specials? We craned our necks to try to hear, to no avail. When our waitress returned, she handed out our (very, very sweet) drinks and asked if we were ready to order, pen poised above her notepad.

“Are there specials tonight?” I asked.

“Oh. Um, yeah. We’ve got the Wednesday night special again” (proceeds to tell me what that was, and still is, being no longer Wednesday and all). I don’t know about you, but I am aware that chefs need to get rid of food, and will do so in the form of a ‘special’ from time to time. And hey, I’ll even eat it, because, you know, specials! But I’d rather not have it advertised as, basically, “the same special we had last night that we’re still trying to get rid of.” I’d prefer to imagine the chef, his coat still crisp and white before he starts his shift, thinking ‘what delightful dish can I think up to serve to my charming and beautiful guests tonight? It needs to be fresh and unique and, under no circumstances, the same thing as last night!’ As such, I didn’t get that vibe.

We passed the rest of our meal with the yummy food, way-too-sweet drinks, and good conversation, then rolled ourselves out of there and to our bedchambers as quickly as possible so that we could be alone in our collective gas-tank-in-the-sun-bellied horror.

For the sake of the Roundup aspect of this, I’m going to balance it out for you here. Last week I met some friends at Campo Fina, in Healdsburg. We didn’t have much time as we were heading to see Ailey II (swoon!!) at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts (if I could review a place based on it’s name alone, this place would get a big fat FAIL. Luther Burbank Center for the Arts had a much better ring to it. But I digress…).

campo

A Walk in the Park, with Rye

I got there first, which was good for me, since I can be one of those annoying bar guests who never knows exactly what she wants. The bartender, JT, was patient, enthusiastic, and incredibly creative. Soon I was sipping on a Walk in the Park with Rye, chatting with my friends, and watching him make increasingly complicated cocktails.

campo2

Making Magic

Luckily my companions turned out to have as many questions and conditions regarding their drinks as I’d had, and JT handled them all with ease and an obvious excitement and love of his craft.  I saw him separating egg yolks, lighting sliced grapefruit peels on fire, rimming cocktail glasses with a combination of salt and chili flakes.

In short: I was in awe.

The service was impeccable, the drinks were phenomenal, the food was mouth-wateringly delicious, (Ailey II was swoon-worthy too, for the record. Of course).

Campo Fina for the win!

On another restaurant-related note – Sonoma County Restaurant Week starts TODAY and goes until the 16th! This is a spectacular opportunity to try dining somewhere you’ve never been before, or to support your favorite guilty pleasure haunt. Choose your price range ($19, $29 or $39) and enjoy a three course meal at any number of Sonoma County restaurants. I love restaurant week!!

What are your favorite dining spots, and why? Maybe I’ll give them a try. Oh, but if you see me out during Restaurant Week, do me a favor and don’t tell the staff I’m taking notes…

Missed the other Roundups? Here you go:

The Good, The Bad…The Restaurant Roundup!

The Good, The Bad…The Restaurant Roundup! Part 2

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