Monday, January 2, 2012

Gambled and lost...South Mountain Grill at Snowshoe

Twice a year I travel to Snowshoe with my family and spend a week there skiing, eating and drinking.  We have had the pleasure of dining at a restaurant named Ember for the past several years.  It was owned by an eccentric individual, Brian Ball.  He might be wearing a kilt in December, or maybe pants, you could never guess which until you showed up, but that man knew how to run a restaurant from the kitchen.  He's currently the quality assurance manager for Orient Express Hotels.  My review of the restaurant Ember is here.

While I was working in November I happened to catch a clip of Brian serving Zimmern squirrel brains on Bizarre Foods. 

This reminded me to make my reservations for Christmas night.  When I called I found that Ember had closed and there was a new restaurant taking the spot named South Mountain Grill.  I was told that Brian was gone, but they were keeping the decor and were taking the food to the next level.  I suggested that that was a pretty lofty goal, but Chad the GM assured me I wouldn't be disappointed.

Let me tell you how the night unfolded.

For starters, were weren't given the table that I requested on the phone.   I wanted the table near the kitchen, and Chad explained that though they had removed that table and put in cocktail rounds that there was another table near it that he thought would suit me.  We were seated directly by the front door, nowhere near the kitchen, which is no fun at a ski resort.  We were accomodated when we asked for another table.  Strike one.
No bread was served to the table…we had to ask.  There were three different people pouring water for our table, but none for the bread.  Strike two.

This is a pretty artsy-looking restaurant, and a lot of money was spent on the design originally.  Approximately 1 out of every 7 light bulbs were burnt out this time, and none of the candles on the tables were lit.  Ball one.

There was no cocktail list offered, then we got a martini list from the sushi joint that shares their space. It listed several drinks, including one with champagne in it, but when the ladies at our table wanted glasses of champagne, none was available by the glass. Our server explained that they had Prosecco, but only by the bottle.  So what were they making the cocktail that was supposed to have champagne in it with? What self-titled high-end restaurant isn't carrying champagne these days?  Strike three.  You're out.

After our initial round of cocktails we decided on a bottle of wine. The server came to our table and told us they were out of that, and I chose another. She then camb back and explained that they were out of that too, but she did bring two bottles that they did have….which they offered at a slight discount.  Ok..good recovery there, though with a limited wine list you should have everything on it.  I'm not keeping score anymore.

We asked about the steaks as they seemed to figure prominently on the menu. Considering the prices I asked if they were prime, or if they were dry-aged in-house. The server didn’t know, and said she’d check with the chef. She came back and said they were prime cuts.  Primal cuts describe the basic divisions of the cow, not specific steaks.  Prime steaks are of a particular grade as determined by the FDA.  Obviously, someone skipped that day of training.

A few minutes after that we heard another server talk about the Prime Rib special. Our server hadn’t mentioned that, though she did mention the potato and leek soup. You’d think she might have remembered to mention it after our discussion about the steaks.  One of the people at my table changed their order.  Smart move.

While we waited for the entrees, we had a couple of appetizers.  A few were good, but the ceviche with avocado lacked...avocado.

After all that,, my 14 oz ribeye came out looking pretty think and weak. I had ordered it medium rare, which in my book is a cool, pink center. This came out raw, and the entire steak was room temperature. It had obviously sat in the window waiting on my wife’s perfectly done 2” thick pork chop.
 I sent it back (which I rarely do) and it came out done more appropriately, though I've seen better 14 oz. ribeyes at Giant.
Desserts were the high-point. There was a very nice cheese cake.  Some of the other folks in my party liked the flan.  However, I asked for a double espresso, which was served in two separate cups.  Seriously.  I then had a Sambuca up, which was served in a rocks glass sans the rocks. 
Moral of the story?  Train your servers.  Do a walk-through of the restaurant before you open on what is one of your 3 busiest nights of the year and make sure all your candles are lit and your bulbs are working.
Have someone check the bathroom once in a while.  Speaking of which, when I went to the restroom when we got there there was soap all over the floor and the place was a mess.  I mentioned this to the manager.  I hit the restroom again before we left, and was pleasantly surprised to note that it had been tidied up.  Unfortunately, whoever tidied up didn't wipe up the soap under the sink.  I was the one in for a 2nd surprise when I stepped up to the sink to wash my hands and narrowly avoided busting my keister on the slate floor.
Back to training your servers:  Make sure they know why you're in business.  Make sure they know what makes you different.  Make sure you're offering something that will enhance the experience of dining at your restaurant.  If you're the most expensive place on the mountain don't be happy with the $8.00 mixed drinks.  Offer up some $12.00-$16.00 crafted cocktails that show care and talent.  No champagne by the glass?  Any restaurant would have been happy to crack a bottle of the less expensive stuff and satisfy their customers. 
If you pride yourself on your steaks you'd better teach your servers about them.  If you're going to run a prime rib special you need to make sure they're talking about it, or you're serving lots of French Dips the next day, which is going to cost you more in the long run.
We ate out three times over the six days we were there.  This was the least gratifying and most expensive meal by far.  We were prepared for it to be pricey and we looked forward to it, as we do every year, but if the value isn't behind what you're charging, you only get my money once.  Next year I'll be spending my money at Foxfire and Sunset Cantina.  The meals we had there were less expensive by half, and much better created and presented.  They had signature cocktails, knowledgable staff, better food, and better atmosphere.
I look forward to trying the restaurant that will undoubtedly be taking the place of this one in two years as once anyone has tried this once, it's unlikely they'll return next season.

BTW, this was Christmas dinner.  We've been going to this same restaurant for years (the staff recognized us as we are there twice every season, once over Christmas and once over Presiden'ts Day) and we always tip with the thought in mind that the server is working on Christmas. It was a 7-top (4 adults and 3 kids) with a $350.00 tab, and she could have walked with an even hundred, but chose to auto-grat us at 15%. She gambled...and lost.
http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/323/1653438/restaurant/West-Virginia/South-Mountain-Grille-Snowshoe"> alt="South Mountain Grille on Urbanspoon" src="http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/link/1653438/minilink.gif" style="border:none;padding:0px;width:130px;height:36px" />
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