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Mirabelle, the Return of James Beard Winning Chef Frank Ruta and Pastry Chef Aggie Chin at 16th and I Street Downtown

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6 hours ago, Bob Wells said:

That's a meal I could get behind. I'm all about the protein these days. I just have to remind myself that I'm in SR and not BBH (that's Boothbay Harbor for the flatlanders :lol:)

Or for folks from away.

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19 hours ago, jca76 said:

Pool Boy is right that we have to decide for ourselves: for me, I liked (but did not love) Mirabelle, and it isn't worth it.  Everything was beautiful and other than the cod, I enjoyed it all.  But I walked away thinking that while dinner was tasty, I won't remember anything specific for very long, and likely won't be back.  (My favorite restaurants are my favorites because I still think longingly of dishes I ate years ago.)  There's already been a lot of talk upthread about the cost and corresponding expectations.  "Value" is inherently subjective.  I know that quality ingredients and skilled staff to prepare them and lovely spaces in which to serve them are all expensive.  I know plenty of people who (perfectly reasonably) value refined service and impeccable classicism more than I do.  I am more than willing to spend on meals amounts that would horrify many people (including my dad!); in exchange, I hope to be surprised and maybe challenged and definitely tempted to lick my plate.  (But I'm a lady, and a lady doesn't lick her plate; she licks the fingers that she ran over the plate, obviously.)  That didn't happen last night.

I think that is what anyone who is a food nerd wants. And I get that feeling pretty much every time I have food made by Frank Ruta (and Aggie Chin!!). But we all have our food itches that we need to scratch and it is different for everyone and evolves over time.

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Reading these posts convinced me it isn't likely I'll ever eat here.  I lean toward fresh and different versus refined and rich.  Once you get into this price range it quickly gets to high end NYC dining which seems to have no limits.

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On 9/24/2017 at 8:14 AM, MarkS said:

Reading these posts convinced me it isn't likely I'll ever eat here.  I lean toward fresh and different versus refined and rich.  Once you get into this price range it quickly gets to high end NYC dining which seems to have no limits.

Not sure I would describe it as "refined and rich" The food is definitely classic Frank Ruta. To me, fresh and different, and very well done. The only issue I had was with the service.

We had several glitches, and I did bring it the manager's attention after we left. Half way through the meal the a/c was coming down on us in buckets, and was intolerable. We were ignored, except for a busboy who sort of acknowledged as he was pouring water, that it was a known issue with where we were seated. (I was wrapping a scarf around my neck trying to stay warm.) This was at a point in the meal when the waiter was walking around to other tables and completely ignoring us. Our waiter also had some glitches dealing with my allergies, and even told me at the serving of the complimentary dessert plate that I couldn't eat thing on the plate, due to my allergies. (The feeling I was getting from her was condescending.) I proceeded to ask her what was in each item, and determined I could eat all of them.

The fact that I could eat the dessert plate was confirmed by the manager when I spoke with him afterwards as he said Aggie made sure to make the plate up so I would be able to enjoy them. His response was to apologize and say that the opening of the Wharf is really hurting them in being able to find good servers, as well as a lot of other restaurants in the area. In regards to the a/c, he said that unfortunately there was a private party dining in the adjacent room that was complaining of it being too hot. He said he hadn't been in the manager position for very long and hadn't known about the issue. I suggested that he sit in every table in the house so he could experience if there is a problem, and then take action to deal with the HVAC in how to fix it. But also, the real problem was that everyone could see how cold I was, yet no one acknowledged that a problem existed, to the point of avoiding us during that period.

Another issue with my allergies was not being able to get through on the phone, leaving a voice mail, not getting a return call, and then having the follow up mishandled by a different manager than the one who was on during our dinner, telling me she would speak with the Chef and call me back. She never called me back. I called her to follow up again and spoke with the manager who was actually on duty the night we dined, who told me the first manager had never spoken with the Chef, but Chef did have my allergy list. I then chose a few items in advance so they could let me know whether those would be able to be accommodated, and so they could be prepared knowing what I would order. Then the waiter, who said she had my list of allergies with her, instructed me to choose any protein and Chef would make it for me without any of my allergens. I told her I had reviewed this in advance the day before, but she claimed to not know anything about it. And then I asked which items were "pre-marinated" and not able to be altered, and again she said to just choose anything. So I chose the pork, which then of course turned out to be pre-marinated and unable to be altered.

I spoke with the Manager outside, when we were leaving, as to not make a fuss. They knew it was our anniversary, they knew of the glitches in trying to relay allergy issues in advance, and I'm sure they knew of the issues with the waiter, yet no efforts were made during the meal to apologize or even offer a complimentary glass of bubbly, amuse, or even coffee. (At Palena, we did not have any of these types of glitches and they always offered us a complimentary glass of champagne on our anniversary dinners.)

Our experience with the food was wonderful, as usual. But at any price, the service leaves a lot to be desired. I'm always aware to try to put the least stress on a restaurant when dining, as I know my allergy list is extensive. So aside from how that was handled, I have to say that the waiter was not up to the caliber of this restaurant at all. I'm sorry to say we will not be back unless we hear that the service has greatly improved.

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I never got around to writing up my lunch here at the end of August, but I felt similarly to @squidsdc in that I enjoyed the food but not so much the service. I didn't have the issue with allergies (I thankfully don't have any) or HVAC (we ate outside), but I just thought our waiter was odd. I felt like I was on a (don't get me wrong -- totally platonic) first date with someone I just wasn't connecting with, like when you're constantly stepping on the other person's words. So maybe our personalities just didn't mesh, and that's fine. But my friend and I ordered an heirloom tomato salad as an appetizer, and we split two sandwiches (the jambon buerre and the burger) for our entrees. When we were almost done with our tomato salad, which was drizzled with amazing olive oil, I realized we didn't have any of the amazing bread and butter, so I asked for some. Our waiter was happy to bring some but not before pointing out that he didn't think we'd want any bread because we were having sandwiches for our entrees. Which made me feel like a pig. So maybe that's a lot of bread in a meal, but there was no way I was going to miss out on that bread and butter! I thought the waiter should have offered us some when we sat down, and it would have been up to us to decline the bread or not eat it. Maybe they had a bread shortage or didn't want to waste bread on people who were already having sandwiches for our entrees? I don't know, but I wanted that bread, and I didn't think it was any of the waiter's business.

I think there were a couple of other minor incidents, but I'm not remembering details 2 months later. I expected more from the service at this place.

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On 10/25/2017 at 2:41 PM, squidsdc said:

I spoke with the Manager outside, when we were leaving, as to not make a fuss. They knew it was our anniversary, they knew of the glitches in trying to relay allergy issues in advance, and I'm sure they knew of the issues with the waiter, yet no efforts were made during the meal to apologize or even offer a complimentary glass of bubbly, amuse, or even coffee. (At Palena, we did not have any of these types of glitches and they always offered us a complimentary glass of champagne on our anniversary dinners.)

Our experience with the food was wonderful, as usual. But at any price, the service leaves a lot to be desired. I'm always aware to try to put the least stress on a restaurant when dining, as I know my allergy list is extensive. So aside from how that was handled, I have to say that the waiter was not up to the caliber of this restaurant at all. I'm sorry to say we will not be back unless we hear that the service has greatly improved.

My wife and I celebrated our anniversary there earlier this month and I definitely noticed that our server was more like a glorified buser than anything else...that said we ordered the tasting menu - but there was very little in the way of description from the server.

However, what saved that was we had an INCREDIBLE experience with the beverage director / SOMM (can't remember the name, but he had a grey beard and was just flat out terrific).  My wife is VERY pregnant (we're expecting twins) and he went out of his way to make custom non-alcoholic* pairings for her.  When he delivered those pairings he tended to discuss how they specifically paired with aspects of the dish we were being served - so while I was underwhelmed with our server, he more than made up for it.  

*if a restaurant serves "prisecco" (a non-alcoholic sparking wine) - my wife will likely go out and find it going forward, as she loved it

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I ate at Mirabelle on Monday night, and sadly have to echo the service issues documented upthread. But, first the food - let's focus on the positive. Everything we ordered was exemplary. We had the gnocchi and foie gras pate for appetizers. Anyone remotely familiar with the gnocchi from Palena knows what to expect, and these did not disappoint. Listed as a "fricasse of black trumpet mushroom gnocchi and petite gris snails, this tasted exactly as I remembered from Palena. The pate, which was called All Parts of the Rabbit or some such thing was an ENORMOUS slab of foie along with some rabbit confit, some mushrooms and bread. There was not remotely enough bread for the dish, but more was provided and the amount of food here was astounding - easily enough for two portions. Our mains were the roast guinea hen/ boudin and the navarin of sea scallops and urchin. The guinea hen breast was brined in a way similar to the much remembered chicken at Palena, and the boudin would have given Marcels a run for its money. Just superb. The sea scallops looked to be fantastic, but I didn't get a bite. All in all, we could not have been more pleased with the food. The space is also beautiful, btw.

Service was supremely odd. Things started off well enough, with drink orders being taken quickly and our drinks (the Colonel) were well made. That was the high point, though. Our server was pretty frantic - she spoke very quickly and in a very rushed tone - we must have been asked three times if we were ready to order yet. Very quirky, and not in a good way - reminiscent of the server back in the old days at Palena who always volunteered to cut your chicken. Perhaps the most noticeable error in service was the treatment of the wine we ordered. We went for a '96 Beaucastel, which was in fine shape, if a bit heavy for the scallops, but oh well. The sommelier working the floor decanted the wine, but didn't use a screen or decant carefully so consequently each sip was filled with sediment, from first to last, hindering our enjoyment. This issue was so noticeable that our server came over to change out our glasses, tut tutting at the somm all the while. I have to admit that I didn't voice my displeasure with the treatment of the wine, but perhaps I should have. Not sure who is doing the training here, but there is a long way to go until the service matches the food.

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So it appears that the service issues that Tom Sietsema was experiencing are continuing... and to echo Keithstg, I have to punctuate that the food was spectacular.

My husband had that gnocchi dish-actually his first time ever having snails! He of course had to get the gnocchi, because, well it's Chef's gnocchi and it is always a treat. I had the SHIGOKU OYSTERS: Seaweed ~ toasted brown rice tea, pumpernickel canapé, yuzu mignonette. I'm showing the descriptions on the menu,  but I can't say if, or how, any of my dishes may have been altered for me. They were divine.  Next I had the BUCKWHEAT FRIED SPOTTED SKATE WING: Curry vinaigrette toasted grains and seeds, pickled capers. I don't actually know if I've ever had skate wing before, but this was a revelation. Crispy outside, but oh so moist on the inside, and full of flavor. Hubby had a salad for the second course, which never fails to please. My main was NAVARIN OF MAINE SEA SCALLOPS AND URCHIN: Baby leeks, tender turnips and fingerling potatoes, roasted sesame seeds, and hubby had the YOUNG BERKSHIRE PORK-BRAISED BELLY AND ROASTED CHOP: Roasted honeycrisp apples, Calvados, bread sauce, brussels sprouts.  We were both too full from our meals and pigging out on the delicious bread to have a full dessert, so we each ordered the roasted marshmallow ice cream, and I ordered a decaf to warm up. Unfortunately, the coffee arrived on the lukewarm side, so I had to ask the busperson to get me another, since our waiter was nowhere in sight. And then she comes later with the dessert plate, mentioned above, and leaves us with that comment about me not being able to eat any of it that just frankly left us with a bad taste in the mouth after such wonderful food.

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On 10/11/2017 at 2:25 PM, Finatic said:

Sorry to hear about your bad experience, but I think you are mad at the wrong person.  Ownership and management are responsible for training their employees!

Interesting - when I complained about another restaurant's service, I was told the above. But here, the blame is going to employees shifting to the Wharf, that a waiter isn't at the caliber of the restaurant, that the floor manager was new, that waiters had an odd personality quirk. Wonder when it's a low level sushi place, it's the proprietor's fault, but here it's everyone but the proprietor's fault? Maybe Finatic is right, instead of placing blame downstream, maybe there is a significant and potentially very deleterious issue with ownership and senior management. Isn't this all under Mr. Ruta's jurisdiction? Sounds like a guy with his legacy would want to fix this and fast.

I find the service to be overall very good in this city. Friendly, interested, knowledgeable, and not overly stuffy. If a place is struggling that bad, might be an issue at the top.

My only meal at Mirabelle was at the bar, and I had no service issues. Maybe eat there!

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Not particularly germane to Mirabelle, but in general, from my perspective from the bartending school, and the fact that we are so involved in the placement side of things, interact with all kinds of employers across the board in the local F & B industry (including restaurants lauded in this forum and places you wouldn't send your worst enemy to...and everything in between and have been doing that for years) here are some observations.  These observations include conversations with a host of employers including people who are staffing restaurants at all levels from chefs, to COO's to mid level managers)

In general it appears that the industry  is short of staff and short of talented experienced staff.  That is across the board at all levels including the FOH (front of house) people you meet when dining, and the managers that should be training them.  It seems to be acute and possibly at a worse level than in previous periods.  It could be  simply a function of the enormous number of dining establishments in the market in city and suburbs.    There could be less experienced managers that are experienced in training FOH staff.  (We are aware of some managers being hired with little experience).  I've heard that fewer "places" (restaurants) are spending ample time training staff.  (could be.  I wouldn't know and who would know across the board?  That would require surveying a couple of hundred places to get an ample sample size and learning what is going on inside the corporate environment, let alone actually seeing it.  For instance I'm aware of some managers with little experience.  Are they any good at training???   Who knows)

So...if you run into these service problems....who to "blame" or point the finger at, and how to approach it with regard to that restaurant.  Hmmm.  I don't have an answer for myself let alone advice to others.  I sort of treat it case by case.  Every once in a blue moon I write a devastating review because there was a miserable break down in either FOH or BOH.  To hell with telling the management. 

Most of the time I don't say anything and I don't enjoy writing about less than satisfactory or value laden meals.  These restaurants have a tough nut to work through in a very competitive and expensive environment.

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5 hours ago, Simul Parikh said:

waiters had an odd personality quirk

To be clear, my issue was less with the waiter's personality quirks (who knows? maybe I'm the one with the quirky personality) and more with the fact that he decided we didn't need bread (highly lauded bread at that) because we ordered sandwiches as our entrees. Then when I asked for bread he implied that I was eating too much bread at my meal. Mirabelle seems like it should be the kind of place where if I order bread for my appetizer, bread for my entree, and bread for dessert, they would be happy to bring it. I did think it was a training issue stemming from the top.

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The only person I know who has worked here became frustrated at the rigidity of the training protocol.This is someone who has worked at restaurants at different levels but put a lot of effort into service.  The comment about the Wharf taking away the good servers is a bad sign.

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8 hours ago, Simul Parikh said:

Isn't this all under Mr. Ruta's jurisdiction? Sounds like a guy with his legacy would want to fix this and fast.

Couldn't agree more.

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9 hours ago, Pat said:

The only person I know who has worked here became frustrated at the rigidity of the training protocol.This is someone who has worked at restaurants at different levels but put a lot of effort into service.  The comment about the Wharf taking away the good servers is a bad sign.

"rigid" certainly captures my sense of the service in my one meal there:  we didn't experience any of the problems other have identified, but almost the opposite--very formal, precise service, bordering on chilly, whereas we'd greatly prefer the more personable type of service we found at Palena and many other current faves.  (This was several months ago, however--presumably before the Manager's move to the Wharf.)

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It is distressing to hear of the service issues that people are sharing here. We've had nothing but really good service (have been to two dinners, a wine dinner in the private room (including checking out the bar for an aperitif), and a lunch - most recently on August 4th) so far. Of course, losing the manager is a pretty great loss, particularly since the restaurant is still under a year old. Given that the restauranteur sent the Chefs Ruta and Chin to France to specifically visit Michelin starred restaurants (among other things), one could assume that is what they are trying to aim for.

I would also imagine that, given the ease of sharing information in this day and age of social media, that the restauranteur and the rest of the team there are aware of what people are sharing and planning on doing things to address the situation. I would guess getting a solid GM would be first on the list followed immediately by better staff training (and hiring?).

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Went for Christmas Eve. Met the new GM, Chelsea - she's wonderful. Actually saw Frank out and about as he was catching up with another DC gastro-chum for a bit.

 

Cocktails to start were great -

I Regret Nothing - Calvados, sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca, Green Chartreuse and Nutmeg (the secret incredient) - superb. Oh and 'The Cure' - a playful take on a variation of the classic Penicillin - Cognac, ginger syrup, honey, lemon and Angostura bitters.

Wine was a bit of a disappointment - but I was a bit out of my wheelhouse and ordered a Volnay with some age on it (Domaine Michel Lafarge 'Vendages Selectionnees 2006). It started off well, and paired well with some of the later courses, but got angular and acidic as we finished the bottle off.


No pictures

Scallop crudo with delicious greens

Mackerel with some amazing but simple sauce (slightly creamy but not, with tiny little greens and various other veg accoutrements, but it was all about the simplicity of the mackerel and that sauce. It also came with tiny, tiny toasts topped with caviar as a foil. COURSE OF THE NIGHT.

Boulette of kabocha squash and yukon potato dumplings with wild Scottish hare ragout and rosemary creme fraiche - a terrific, sneaky way to get something 'Italian' on a French menu - superb

Wild Scottish Wood Pigeon and parfait of their liver - OMG, tremendous

Consomme - come on, you HAVE TO have it.

Braised Beef Tri-tip Bourgouinonne, panisse, petite gris snails and parsley - Great - the snails were a bit lost, but nice touch

"Mont Blanc" - Frozen chestnut parfait, chestnut hazelnut cake, milk chocolate ice cream, candied hazelnuts, vanilla ice cream - so damn good

Eggnog panna cotta with delicious citrus bits - candied and otherwise, and other textural elements - stollen!

There was also a rolled concoction that I cannot remember the name of. Beautiful and delicious. I love that about Aggie's desserts. Some sweetness but never too sweet.

Had really great service overall. Only missteps were the pacing a little bit - slow through the middle and then got better again.

I do not care what anyone thinks - this place is tasty, delicious and in my happy zone. Some may argue the service might be a little tilted towards formality. While I am not opposed to that, I think with Chelsea's arrival it might loosen up just a smidge, which makes me happy. Looking forward to the next time we pop in. FWIW, it does appear that they are serving at least some of the menu at the bar. Not sure the full extent, but it sounds like you can eat at least something up there.

 

 

 

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