Before I start the “meat” of this story let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Why is a vegetarian eating a steakhouse? Well I’m a sucker for the side dishes and the salads. From the polenta at Craft to the Hearts of Palm Salad at the Palm. Oh and of course the cheese fries (minus the bacon) at the Outback and the asparagus at Morton’s. Yes there are things for a vegetarian to eat at a steakhouse!
With that said last Saturday my brother was coming to town for one night only with his girlfriend. He had mentioned going to Buddakan, but I’ve taken him there a few times before so I decided to take him somewhere new. He loves steakhouses so I did some online searches and found some old stories on Dylan Prime in TriBeca (on Laight & Greenwich). Their restaurant website boosts “Great New Review from Michelin” (more on this later, but let’s just say I should have done some more digging). It also says “Opentable.com Diners’ Choice Winner 2010”. Well let’s just say our visit there was anything but award-winning. The night starts off with my brother asking the waitress for a wine recommendation. He explains what he is looking for and she of course points to the most expensive bottle in that category. He made a joke about it to the waitress, but he went with her recommendation.
For dinner I got a few sides: the Brussels Sprouts (under salted), Fricasee of Mushrooms (very bland) and the Truffle Corn Cakes (flavorless with not even a whiff of Truffle). BTW I was told all the sides were vegetarian, but now I question anything this restaurant tells you!
Anyway that wasn’t even close to the biggest complaint at the table. My brother’s girlfriend (on her first trip to NYC) ordered the Surf and Turf ($68). The menu said you get a 7 oz cut of Filet Mignon and 7 oz of fresh main lobster. Well when the meal came my brother’s girlfriend was shocked. The first thing she noticed? The vein was left in the lobster. For those that don’t know what the vein is, it’s feces, excrement, uh you get the point. Deveining a lobster is cooking 101 . Oh and this wasn’t a small vein. It was actually so large some of it was oozing out of the back of the tail. Absolutely disgusting. My brother’s girlfriend was so grossed out, she said there was no way she could eat it. She then went to take a bite of the Filet and said it tasted like beef jerky! It was supposed to be Filet Mignon, but when you think of Filet Mignon don’t you think of a thick steak? This was butterflied to be super thin. It looked like the Palomillo type steaks you get at Cuban restaurants. Since I’m a vegetarian Chef and not classically trained in red meat I had to do a little research on this. I found that Filet Mignon is supposed to be a thick, tender cut of beef with a melt in your mouth texture. This Filet Mignon (if that’s what it was) was served very thin, very tough and after taking a bite our dinner guest found it to be very chewy. Actually she described it as “like eating rawhide, even my dog would have spit it out”. I did find that some people will butterfly a steak if they like it well done. She requested it medium well and didn’t request it be butterflied. Sad thing is she was reluctant to send her entire meal back because she didn’t want to ruin the meal for everyone. Since she said it was inedible though she had no choice, but to send it back. The waitress did look surprised at the vein being left in. Our guest also asked if they always butterfly the steak and she said just when you request that it be cooked to that doneness. Um shouldn’t she have been informed of this then, since this isn’t standard procedure?
So we were told a replacement would be out quickly. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Fast forward to 20 minutes later, no manager had been by to apologize and our waitress never even came by with an update. We asked a bus boy to send our waitress over so we could cancel the meal, but still no sign of anyone. By this time our plates were being cleared and my brother’s gf had now filled up on side dishes. So when the food runner finally showed up (about 25 minutes later), we told him we no longer wanted it. He said “we can box it up for you”. Then he walked away. We saw him passing a manager and the manager walked back over with the full plate of food and asked what the issue was. We were shocked that no one had told him what happened. How could that be? Every restaurant I’ve ever worked for has required you tell a manager about any food getting sent back, especially for a reason this big!
In hopes of still enjoying our night, we had dessert and then left. My brother had paid the bill (thanks bro) and so when we walked out I said to him “they comped that meal right?” When he said “no” I wanted to stomp back inside and get it credited, but again I didn’t want to spoil the night on his girlfriend’s first trip to NYC (and only night in the city). So I instead decided to follow-up the next day. I also tweeted @dylanprime that night.
I sent a nice, detailed email & waited and waited. I did get a tweet back three days later saying “I’ve passed on your concerns to management and you should hear back shortly”. By Thursday though (5 days later) I still hadn’t heard back, so I called the restaurant. I spoke with a manager named Todd, who said he was the same manager we spoke to that night at Dylan Prime. In a nutshell he was not friendly and he said that he had “comped” one meal for us already by making her a new dish and he felt that was enough. First of all that was not a comp for us. You seriously expected her to eat the dish she originally had and pay for it? Come on. Second of all she didn’t eat the new dish. She wanted to cancel it, but they offered to box it up. She was in from out of town, clearly she wasn’t eating that meal later. She agreed to box it up to be polite. If the manager would have said “if we box this up, you’ll have to pay for it” surely we would have said “no thanks”. I must say though even if she ate every last bite of that do-over she still shouldn’t have been charged for it. As I said the first plate they put in front of her grossed her out. That alone would have a manager at practically any other restaurant not only comping her meal entirely, but sending over drinks, free dessert and maybe even comping the whole bill out of respect for the diners and for goodwill.
I explained to Todd that comp was not the right word to use. While he seemed to agree that maybe it wasn’t a good choice of words, he didn’t back down. He even said “there seem to be two different stories here. One I saw that night and one now”. I’m still absolutely bewildered at what the other side of the story is. We were served a plate with sh*t on it (literally) and a horribly cooked steak. What is the other side? I was not happy (who would be), so I asked to talk to his general manager. Todd told me that he left the company. So I, of course, asked to talk to the owner. Surely the owner would care about what happened. Todd said he’d take my info and pass it along.
Five minutes later Todd called back and said that he talked to the owner and he wanted to offer us a $100 gift card to use in the future. I explained that my brother paid the bill and he lives in Miami and can’t use a gift card. I said instead just credit the $68 to his credit card. He said that they wouldn’t do that, that the owner felt this was good enough. Here’s the thing, this isn’t even about the money. My brother honestly couldn’t care less about a $68 credit on a $500 meal. It’s about admitting what they did was wrong and out of respect they should make it right. Anyway I insisted on talking to the owner myself. I was told that the owner is John Mauton. Todd didn’t seem interested in passing my info along, so I said I’d find the owner and contact him on my own.
I did find contact information for an owner named Michael Waterhouse. He called me back just minutes after receiving my email. He was very nice, but told me that he sold his part of Dylan Prime four months ago. I want to keep my conversation with him a little private, out of respect to him, but what I will say is that he was shocked by how we were treated! After I hung up with him I was left with the feeling that he may have been the glue that held the customer service together at the restaurant and with him gone, customer service is out the window too. I mean Todd admitted the GM had left the company. How does a restaurant not have a general manager?? Mr. Waterhouse had said he’d pass my email along to John Tautone.
Two days later @dylanprime tweeted me “From my understanding, you were offered a $100 gift card to remedy the issue, correct?”
I wrote back that I was still waiting to hear from the owner.
Then they tweeted “management feels that they situation was handled efficiently and promptly at the time of your visit”. Recall from my story above that it was neither efficient or prompt (or handled for that matter).
They then tweeted “the $100 gift certificate was a hospitable gesture given the difference of opinion”. Again what is the difference of opinion? I have yet to figure this one out.
Since then I emailed the marketing department once again requesting comments from the owner. I am just trying to be clear that the owner was truly notified of what happened. I just can’t imagine someone who owns a restaurant treating guests this way.
In the email I also asked the marketing department to see where this “new” Michelin review they tout on their website is? It links to a website called viamichelin.com. It isn’t in the 2011 Michelin Guide (which would be the newest one, though it was published last October so I still wouldn’t even call that new).
The marketing department did email me back saying “I, as well as the Dylan Prime owner and management stand behind the previous message sent to you. We feel that the situation was handled efficiently and promptly at the time of your visit and that the $100 gift certificate was a hospitable gesture, given the difference of opinion. We respect your right to express your opinion, but unfortunately I’m unable to assist you in the research and fact-checking of your blog piece.”
Bottom line, if you eat at Dylan Prime I hope you don’t expect good food or good service. So I’d definitely say skip it! Judging by the fact that I easily got reservations on a Saturday night & lots of the restaurant was empty, it looks like others are doing the same.