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jondagle

Mia's Italian Kitchen, Alexandria Restaurant Partners Defying the "Location of Death" at 100 King Street in Old Town

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I look at this as  "new opening" experience, but not a good one. Mia's had been open about 10 days when I dined there last Sunday evening. It retains the layout established by Carluccio's: The bar is in the back left of the 1st floor, with dining tables at the front. The former bakery area is now a pizza oven and "bar style" seating for dining. The main kitchen and a dining area on the second floor. Overall, I liked the decor and interior look and feel. The menu looks great, though our food was a mixed bag, as was the service. They have a number of issues to work out in these early days. 

We arrived for a 7:30 reservation at 7:21 and were told (unapologetically) it would be a few minutes before we could be seated. The place was busy, but I didn't feel welcomed at all by the host. (Perhaps he was trying to accentuate an air of exclusivity and buzz. Hmmm.) I initially thought the bar was in the front by the host stand -- and it was full. But this is bar seating at the pizza oven. There's no bartender there. So we left and had a drink at Pizzeria Paradiso, to return in a little while. When we returned we were seated with our party.

Where to begin? The service was ok, with exceptions. The food was a mixed bag, as were the drinks. Definitely a lot to process here -- for me and for Mia's. They have a nice cocktail and wine list. I enjoyed their camomile tea-infused Negroni and  we ordered a nice bottle of wine (delivered by a manager with radio in her ear and on her hip). But the Bellini was a problem for one of our companions. They had eaten at the bar a few days before and enjoyed Bellini's there. But this one was different. The menu lists "prosecco, peach purée, orange juice, lavender bitters." They believed the original was either missing the bitters or had much less. And the same for the orange juice. They found this one disappointing. 

The four of us ordered a spinach salad and capresse to share, with 2 pastas, eggplant parm, and a pizza (which looked like a "flat bread" to me). First the salad arrived. We saw a Capresse coming at the same time, but it wasn't delivered to our table. It was ~10 min before we asked about the capresse almost as one was arriving. The spinach salad was fine; solid. The Capresse has some of the best mozzarella I've tasted. Very fresh and delicious. But it was served with grape tomatoes, and not enough of them for the generous cheese slices. I could swear I saw slices of tomato on the first Capresse I saw, but not sure. 

About the same time as the Capresse arrived, the pizza arrived. The pizza's are rectangular and cut diagonally thought the center, and perhaps two more times--I didn't really study it.. Again, it seemed like a flatbread, though I didn't taste. (I'm not familiar with rectangular Italian pizza, maybe that's a thing.) Unfortunately, that meant that one us had his dinner too early. I ordered a "spicy" shrimp Diavolo with fettuccine (the online menu shows this as "LOBSTER FRA DIAVOLO"--that was not on offer). Other meals included RIGATONI ALLA CALABRESE, and EGGPLANT & PORCINI “POLPETTA”. The house made pastas are delicious. My pasta was light and delicate, despite the wide noodle. The Calabrese was a very tasty sauce and the pasta was a bit more al dente but delicious. I liked the eggplant, though I'm not much of a connoisseur in that department; our companion found the portion too large and the breading a little too much. Now back to the shrimp. It was devoid of spice. The only hint of spice was the red pepper I shook onto it. The tomato sauce was flavorful and fresh tasting, but the chef forgot to add several spices I suspect. That was another disappointment. The pasta dishes were still tasty enough that we took home what we didn't eat. 

When our waiter came back we chatted with her about all of these observations and we got nothing more than "oh, sorry" this and that, as well as an exaplainaton that the pizza kitchen is separate from the main, so food might come out differently. Uh, ok, it's still a poor experience. What annoys me is that after trying to give genuine, helpful feedback we go no acknowledgement. We should have been comped the Bellini at a minimum. Maybe offered a discount on the check or on a future visit. The manager should have been called to talk with us (they were NOT remotely busy by this point). We were told how the staff had trained for a month before opening. I think they missed a few things in training. I also wonder what the management trained on. 

I also have to mention that the seating is too tight in the tables by 1st floor windows. There is barely enough room for waitstaff to get between the tables perpendicular to the windows and the chairs of patrons seated in the tables parallel to the windows. I was bumped at least twice, my sweater was brushed off the back of the chair, as was my wife's coat. I looked a the layout and wondered what the managers were thinking. I saw staff struggling to get through the gauntlet of patrons' chairs and window tables with less than 3 feet of clearance. The divider between dining and bar should be moved 2-3 feet toward the bar. 

I want Mia's to succeed and I'm generally a fan of Alexandria Restaurant Group's efforts and what they bring to the community. This location has a history of being difficult -- it's sad to think about how long it's been vacant over the past 15 years. I note that there are several Italian restaurants on this block (Il Porto, Landini Bothers) and a pizza restaurant (Pizzaria Paradiso). So I have to wonder whether an Italian kitchen is what the 100 block of King St needed. Is this a slap in the face? The gauntlet thrown down? I'll leave that for others to decide. 

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Two nits to pick.  One, you said "What annoys me is that after trying to give genuine, helpful feedback we go no acknowledgement. We should have been comped the Bellini at a minimum. Maybe offered a discount on the check or on a future visit."  Overall, I'm not sure why you think the Bellini should have been comped, because nit number 2: "The manager should have been called to talk with us (they were NOT remotely busy by this point)."  What prevented you from asking for the manager when you first tasted the "bad" Bellini and what prevented you from asking your server, when she returned, to speak to the manager?  If you found something lacking, the time to speak to the manager was then and not days later.  Even a quick word with the manager and your problems might have been solved.

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Thanks. Perhaps you have a point about my expectation (Had my drink tasted off, I wouldn't call for a manager, I'd discuss it with our waiter.) I didn't know about the Bellini until our group started comparing notes late into the dinner. Someone noticed the Belini was hardly touched. Perhaps you've dined with others who don't want to make waves. I'm unlikely to complain on behalf of someone else's taste, and the incident is related here as part of my overall experience at Mia's.

What prevented us from calling for the manager?  Well, perhaps a group consensus that it wasn't merited. A desire to retire? In any case, that's what we did. However, the group didn't write my post. I had a day to reflect on the dinner, and email the general manager about the experience. As I said, I genuinely wanted to provide feedback. Perhaps it's inappropriate to think a Bellini should be comp'ed. I don't think that changes the overall character of a below-average experience. If a poor plate is served, does it only taste badly if one lodges a complaint?  

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22 hours ago, Escoffier said:

Two nits to pick.  One, you said "What annoys me is that after trying to give genuine, helpful feedback we go no acknowledgement. We should have been comped the Bellini at a minimum. Maybe offered a discount on the check or on a future visit."  Overall, I'm not sure why you think the Bellini should have been comped, because nit number 2: "The manager should have been called to talk with us (they were NOT remotely busy by this point)."  What prevented you from asking for the manager when you first tasted the "bad" Bellini and what prevented you from asking your server, when she returned, to speak to the manager?  If you found something lacking, the time to speak to the manager was then and not days later.  Even a quick word with the manager and your problems might have been solved.

[Was this trip really necessary? jondagle (who gets major points for using his real name) is an intelligent diner and a thoughtful writer.]

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1 hour ago, DonRocks said:

[Was this trip really necessary? jondagle (who gets major points for using his real name) is an intelligent diner and a thoughtful writer.]

Jeez, I was curious, if there were THAT many things that weren't up to snuff, why not call over the manager right then.  The money you spend is yours and you should receive value for value spent.  C'est la vie (or something). 😋

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13 minutes ago, Escoffier said:

Jeez, I was curious, if there were THAT many things that weren't up to snuff, why not call over the manager right then.  The money you spend is yours and you should receive value for value spent.  C'est la vie (or something). 😋

I don't know, maybe this should be a separate thread, but personally, I think calling for the manager casts a pall over the entire evening - if you're having a bad experience, it gets even worse when you force conflict with a manager (and sometimes, earnest gripes get frowned upon by managers, and you can bet the server's going to be giving you the stinkeye from that point forward). I never do it; when I write about my meals, I just write about the natural flow of things, warts and all. I guess if a server was being an absolute, total, hostile jerk, I'd do it, but only if the evening was already ruined. [I can delete my posts if you'd like - this is not a big deal.]

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Agree with DR.

Not sure why TS always says to call the manager. Seems quite aggressive and couldn’t have put it better - puts a pall on the evening. I did it one time when they identified me as “gay stripe shirt” on the receipt accidentally. In retrospect, it wasn’t a great shirt. 

Although, being in customer service, I wish my patients would “call the manager” (i.e. me) when they had an issue. People tend to gripe to the front desk and nurses, and then smile at me like everything is alright. 

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1 hour ago, Simul Parikh said:

Agree with DR.

Not sure why TS always says to call the manager. Seems quite aggressive and couldn’t have put it better - puts a pall on the evening. I did it one time when they identified me as “gay stripe shirt” on the receipt accidentally. In retrospect, it wasn’t a great shirt. 

Although, being in customer service, I wish my patients would “call the manager” (i.e. me) when they had an issue. People tend to gripe to the front desk and nurses, and then smile at me like everything is alright. 

I think the bar is- if you care enough to gripe on the wash post forum, it clearly bothered you. if it bothered you that much- talk to the manager.

I agree, it puts a damper on the evening; but if you don't give a restaurant or other business a chance to make it right, complaining in a loud place seems a bit much.

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1 hour ago, ALB said:

I think the bar is- if you care enough to gripe on the wash post forum, it clearly bothered you. if it bothered you that much- talk to the manager.

I agree, it puts a damper on the evening; but if you don't give a restaurant or other business a chance to make it right, complaining in a loud place seems a bit much.

The Washington Post used to have a forum called "Sietsema's Table," but they nixed it like Eater nixed all of theirs (welcome to the brutally difficult world of running discussion forums, my friends - the only way to do it correctly is to work 10 hours a day, 7 days a week (that, or have 20+ employees and a multi-million dollar budget)).

Would some angel investor out there please contact me? I've been working at the extremes of human endurance for over ten years now, and it still isn't sufficient. All we need is a prettier platform and about 10 full-time employees, and we can become a substantive Yelp. 

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$4 U !!!

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15 hours ago, DonRocks said:

I don't know, maybe this should be a separate thread, but personally, I think calling for the manager casts a pall over the entire evening - if you're having a bad experience, it gets even worse when you force conflict with a manager (and sometimes, earnest gripes get frowned upon by managers, and you can bet the server's going to be giving you the stinkeye from that point forward). I never do it; when I write about my meals, I just write about the natural flow of things, warts and all. I guess if a server was being an absolute, total, hostile jerk, I'd do it, but only if the evening was already ruined. [I can delete my posts if you'd like - this is not a big deal.]

I've called for managers a number of times. A lot of times to compliment a server for going out of their way to give good service, to have the chef thanked, etc.  I've also spoken to a manager to say that something wasn't correct (not hot enough, bland, etc) so that axe swings both ways.  I see no reason why asking for a manager should  "cast a pall" on any dining experience.  If you don't want to remark on service/food, good or bad, stick with some place safe like Cheesecake Factory.

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11 hours ago, DonRocks said:

I don't know, maybe this should be a separate thread, but personally, I think calling for the manager casts a pall over the entire evening - if you're having a bad experience, it gets even worse when you force conflict with a manager (and sometimes, earnest gripes get frowned upon by managers, and you can bet the server's going to be giving you the stinkeye from that point forward). I never do it; when I write about my meals, I just write about the natural flow of things, warts and all. I guess if a server was being an absolute, total, hostile jerk, I'd do it, but only if the evening was already ruined. [I can delete my posts if you'd like - this is not a big deal.]

Whether it's the food, or the service, I would end the event and let the manager know I am unsatisfied. Then pay the tab -- if there is one -- and leave. Rather than suffer through the pall, and the likelihood that someone will spit in my food, just get out of there. Leave the pall behind. There are plenty of other places close by to recover the dining experience.

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A little while ago I spoke with a restaurant owner I know whose establishment I visit a number of times every year, now for close to 10 years.  They have some signature dishes, one of which I favor, and tend to order, say once or twice a year.  In the course of our discussion I mentioned that once or twice  the dish wasn’t satisfactory with a particular problem having occurred (reoccurred). 

Within a second he responded, “Tell us immediately (paraphrased) I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken up there. (not on the positive (as Escoffier reminds us) or negative side). 

I suppose I tend to not want to call attention to ourselves (in any restaurant)   In any case his very quick response gives me reason to call on a manager more frequently when things go awry.

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We took our in laws to brunch at Mia's.  It is "small plates" but I think the dishes are of medium size, I would say 1.5 for an average person.  We got an order of doughnuts for the table, which Hubby and his Dad really enjoyed.  They were good, but it wasn't write home about good.  We also got a few salads- mine was arugula with fennel and orange, which I thought made a good breakfast salad.  FIL had the spinach and he really enjoyed it, forget which one MIL had.  I got the pepperoni strata with vegetable marinara- I loved this dish.  It was egg and vegetables (I am a big fan of a at least a few veggies with breakfast), but with bread and pepperoni in a strata in a cast iron bowl with marinara.  I liked this so much I want to make it at home- and that is the second ultimate compliment for me (the best compliment is I really like it, but it is too complex for me to replicate).  Hubby and his Dad had the meatball benedict, which was one big meatball on a big english muffin (homemade)- I can't give it justice on description, but it was really good.  I would also replicate this at home for a brunch.  Hubby also got the breakfast pizza for the table, which was good, but not as good as our other dishes.  And MIL got baked eggs which she really liked, but I don't think were quite as good as the strata or benedict. Service was very nice, refills on coffee came easily.  The price for the four of us (no alcohol) was about $75.  We all agreed that this would be a good place to bring other people for brunch.  It was just a little different from a normal brunch menu and not too pricey, but nice.

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We ate here Tuesday night at the back bar (dining was full) I started with the white sangria which I enjoyed hubby had a cocktail that he rated as okay.

We tried the sausage stuffed calamari which was fair - the calamari was much to chewy and overpowered by the spicy sausage.  Hubby had a pizza (flatbread) which e enjoyed and I had the Veal Parm which was quite yummy.  Cannoli dessert was good but Hubby still searching for a good Cannoli without  "the abomination of chocolate chips"

Overall good but there are better places in old town that are less crowded (both for wait for table and space between tables)

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