Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Officina: Possibly worse than going to your actual office

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Have you ever been asked to pay $24 for two Diet Cokes? I mean . . . I am sure rent at the Wharf doesn't come cheap, but really? Sadly, the overpriced fountain soda wasn't even the worst part of my recent experience at Officina, a new "all-day" Italian restaurant. 

I loved Masseria, so when head chef Nick Stefanelli opened Officina, I broke my usual rule of not going to brand new restaurants and went the first Friday night they opened to the general public. My experience at Officina was so strange and beyond the typical service issues you might expect at a newly-opened restaurant. It's almost hard to talk about the food, which was fine, because the service bordered on rude and the ambience was downright uncomfortable.

The service problems started right from the outset. We arrived at Officina a few minutes early for an 8:30 PM reservation, and were immediately informed that our table was still occupied but that we could wait by the bar.  No indication as to how long it would be. The bar itself was interesting - the design was nice, but it was filled with extremely bright white lights that I found off-putting. 

Over the next HOUR we checked in with the hostess several times, and we were repeatedly told that our table was still occupied and there was nothing they could do it about it. Finally, I asked to speak with a manager. I was really surprised how unapologetic she was about the delay on our table. I do not expect a restaurant to be perfectly accurate on table timing - especially in the first few weeks - but the entire front-of-house staff acted like we were unreasonable for inquiring about the status of our reservation. I finally asked whether we could expect a table anytime soon, and if not, could we eat something at the bar because it was almost 9:30 PM and we were hungry. Unable to predict the table time yet, the manager offered us a glass of wine.  We accepted the free wine (who wouldn't?); but the whole experience was incredibly uncomfortable. 

Finally, we were escorted up this beautiful light filled staircase to the main dining room. As an aside, one step was oddly higher than the others and nearly tripped several guests - proceed with caution! At the top of the stairs was this very sweet little second bar nook with comfortable couches. My first thought was - why didn't the hostess tell us about this other bar area when we were awkwardly waiting by the hostess stand for way too long? 

I was shocked when we were led into the main dining room, which shared none of the same virtues of the dimly lit bar nook. The room is HUGE and has harsh, bright, white lighting - like the downstairs area. The size of the room paired with the bright lighting instantly gave off a cafeteria or diner vibe that was totally unappealing. We sat at one of the larger booths that could have fit six people, but we were only four. Two of my guests were at far ends of a long table and felt like they were yelling across to talk to each other.

Our server came over, and the first thing I noticed was that she seemed young and inexperienced. When I started asking her questions about the wine, she stared at me blankly and then offered something along the lines of, well most people like the Chianti. She was nice, but clearly knew nothing about the wine or the food.

We took matters into our own hands and ordered a couple of appetizers to start out. First we got the Polpette, which were a mix of veal and pork meatballs in a hearty red sauce. These were as expected and were pretty tasty. I always like extra cheese, so I was pleased with the generous heaping of Parmesan on top. 

We also ordered the Foccacia Barese, which is a thick flat bread topped with tomatoes, olives, and fresh oregano leaves. I love dense, chewy breads, so this was a good one for me. We used the bread to soak up the extra sauce from the meatballs. We also got (unpictured) the burrata mozzarella appetizer.  Burrata is pretty hard to mess up, so it was good. They didn't do anything special to it, but burrata is always good. 

The pastas at Officina are small portions designed to be a first course before the meat and/or fish entrees. For four of us, we shared two pastas and two entrees and that was plenty of food. The pastas were generic - nothing particularly inventive like at Masseria -and neither were particularly memorable.    

First we got the linguine with clam sauce, which is a typical dish at many Italian restaurants around the US. The linguine was al dente, which was a plus. Aside from the shelled clams, to make the dish "clammier" they could have added in chopped clams. Since there were four of us, we each only got 1-2 clams and a few bites of pasta. Since it wasn't amazing, that was enough.

Even less memorable was the tagliatelle bolognese, which was somewhat unappetizing just based on the appearance. Don't get me wrong, there was nothing horrible about it, it just tasted alright.

Considering these are small plates of pasta (equal to a 1/2 portion at most typical Italian restaurants), $24 per plate seemed hefty.  By comparison, I would gladly pay the $60 for 4 lobster raviolis at Fiola Mare many times over because they are just that good; these did not even come close.

Some might disagree with me on this, but there is something so unappetizing to me about a giant slab of protein just thrown on a plate, with nothing served with it. Part of a restaurant experience is the presentation, and I found this plain white plate with a large steak on it to be very lazy. That being said, the steak was probably the best food item we had. It was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and had a great char on the outside. I just can't get past that we paid $68 for this 20oz piece of meat that came with literally nothing else on the plate. There was also a 40oz option for $145.  Think about that pricing for a second . . . doesn't actually make sense to get the bigger option.  Also, its a  bit ridiculous to serve that with nothing else, IMHO.

As the steak came with nothing, we made the mistake of pairing it with this unfortunate butter bomb of mashed potatoes.  Generally a waste of $11.

Finally, we ended the meal with the whole roasted branzino. One thing I liked about this dish was that, even though it appears to be a whole fish, they kitchen had actually deboned the whole thing for us. That was a nice touch.  Like the steak, this dish was totally lackluster in presentation. It was cooked well, I have to admit, but the plating really took away from the experience.Since it was almost midnight by the time we finally finished our entrees, we didn't stick around for dessert. A few other hiccups when we got the bill.  First, as I mentioned above, we were charged $24 for two Diet Cokes. I don't know on what planet that is acceptable, and it is actually downright offensive. When we tried to question our waitress about the bill, she was literally nowhere to be found. We tried for over 10 minutes to flag down a server, literally any server, and could not get anyone to come over. Finally, one of my guests got up and had to walk over the computer where 5 waiters were crowded around hanging out. No one was able to answer his question, and they had to get a manager. We also were charged for one of our "free" glasses of wine for having to wait over an hour for a table -- either they literally meant one free glass, rather than one-per-person, or the front-of-the-house is not communicating with the back-of-the-house.  Overall, Officina was probably the most disappointing and bizarre dining-out experience of 2018.  Proceed with caution; we will not be back.