Monday, September 30, 2013

Harvest Wine Bar, Greenwich, where the chef is always right

(Update: I got a wonderful response from Harvest to this post. You can still get angry at the chef, but then see the end for the follow-up.)

After our fabulous weekend in Atlantic City, we hit the road to head back home. It was a pretty straight ride, with very little traffic even on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, so we hit Connecticut in the early afternoon and decided to find a place for lunch.

The Yelp iPhone app showed a number of places, and based on reviews we decided on Harvest Wine Bar on Greenwich Avenue. The menu looked good (plus extra props for listing the local farms they source from) and the place was bright and cozy, with reclaimed wood on the walls and an open kitchen.

When the waitress came to take our drink order, I explained that I couldn't eat solid food — feeling confident that I could communicate this effectively, after a weekend of successful liquid meals — and she said she'd check with the chef.

A little later she came back.

"Yep, that should be no problem, though obviously some things won't blend very well."

Great. Perfect. I ordered the salmon.

She went to check.

"No, sorry, Chef says he won't blend protein."

What. What? That's a bizarre refusal at the best of times, but as I'd just had two dinners and a lunch in Atlantic City that revolved around seafood, it seemed perverse.

Is it because he's too busy? I asked (a little facetiously, as there were only two other occupied tables in the place).

"No, but he thinks it will change the original flavor of the dish."

Well duh, of course it will. Sorry to stomp on his Vision, but I just want nutrients right now.

Okay, let's try something else. Mac and cheese?

This time, I watched as she walked over to the pass and relayed my request. And I saw the chef say no.

And it wasn't a "Gee, sorry, we're not going to be able to do that."

His expression was this:

It wasn't just "no";  it was "Hell no, I'm not wasting my time."

Please note that I'm not in any way comparing Executive Chef Gustave Christman III with The Situation. However, this gif is as close as I could find to approximating the evident distaste on his face.

This was a little upsetting. Basically the guy was saying that he had no interest in helping me out. He didn't care whether I had lunch or not.

So when the waitress came back, I burst into tears (which totally freaked her out - this wasn't her fault, after all!). I tried to explain what was going on, but between not being able to talk properly and crying everywhere and being more than a little hangry, my communication skills were not at their best.

Note that he didn't come out from the kitchen to discuss options personally or see if we could come to a compromise. He easily could have; again, he was hardly in the weeds.

She went back to the pass and somehow got him to change his mind.


Eventually, she delivered a cast-iron dish of mac and cheese that looked as though it had been smooshed into lumps with a fork. I stared at it.

"I'm so sorry, but I can't drink this through a straw," I said.

"I know," she replied. "Let me try again."

This time, I saw her at the bar, holding up a pilsner glass to the chef in a "Do you want to use this?" gesture. But apparently he didn't, because a few minutes later she came back with the original dish, now plated a little less neatly, the contents slightly less lumpy.

"He says this is as good as he can get it," she said.

I added some water from my glass and stirred it to make it more liquid.


But it was still impossible to do more than suck up the top layer. Which is a shame, because the cheese blend was pretty good.

By the time we finished lunch, I was so upset that I was shaking. And although I hate confrontation, when I saw the chef standing at the front of Harvest, gazing across the street, I had to let him know how I felt.

"Really sorry that the concept of 'drinking through a straw' is too complicated for you," I said.

He faced me, arms folded across his chest, unsmiling.

"You can't blend pasta," he said. "Pasta is a starch. It doesn't blend."

Not "Sorry we couldn't find something for you to eat" or "Maybe next time we can do you some veggies."

Pasta doesn't blend. I proved that. And now I have won.

Really? What kind of a chef says this? How egotistical do you have to be to decide your need to prove a point is more important than your guest's dining experience?

Not to mention the fact that, over the last few months, I've blended everything from spinach lasagne to shells. The secret is to add plenty of liquid, but I guess that was over Gustave's head.

So I lost it a little and — I'm not proud of this — called him a "line cook." It was my Doorman Doorman Doorman moment.

And I meant it not to insult line cooks, but more to say his reluctance to customize a dish was more in keeping with the work of a cook who had instructions for completing dishes in a particular way than with an executive chef who (one would hope) had some ability to be flexible and creative.

Oh, and here, one more time, is the lobster orecchiette I had at Mia in Atlantic City on Friday night.


(Orecchiette, Gustave, is a type of pasta. And it blends.)

Harvest co-owners Vincente and Kleber Siguenza left a thoughtful and sympathetic comment on this post. I emailed to let them know I couldn't really use a gift certificate, as we're not usually in the Greenwich area, and suggested they donate it to the Smilow Cancer Hospital.

Their reply:
Thank you for your email. We are sorry you will not be able to return to Harvest, but what a fantastic idea to donate the gift certificate to the Smilow Cancer Hospital!  We have been active contributors to the cause through the Multiple Myeloma and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, so we are happy to oblige.

We have worked with the Greenwich Hospital Foundation at its Great Chefs Event in the Spring of 2013. We contacted Andrea Guido from the Foundation and arranged to have the $100.00 Gift Certificate donated to their upcoming Gala on your behalf.

We are also pleased that you brought dysphagia to our attention.  This type of awareness is very helpful to our customer service approach, and we will use it to benefit all of our restaurants.
I'm very happy with this response; I can't imagine how it could have been handled better.

The story still stands, though, as a study for other chefs: sometimes a diner will need a little extra accommodation. Please don't be offended if we need to crush your delicious, carefully created vision. We're just hungry.

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Blogger Vicente Siguenza said...

Hi Carolyn,

We are the Owners of Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant in Greenwich, CT. We read your blog about your unfortunate experience and encounter with Chef Gustave.

We would like to apologize for his appalling behavior and attempt to reconcile this with you. We are very sorry for what occurred this weekend and wish to offer you a Gift Certificate from our Restaurant, where we would like to make up for this error.

We recognize how unappealing that might be for you, but we'd like ask you to please accept this Gift Certificate to thank you for bringing this to our attention. We will use this valuable information as a lesson to help us to improve the quality of our customer service.

The service you received has greatly fallen short of our mission, which is "To share our passion for fine wine & excellent food in a relaxed inviting atmosphere. To create a meeting place where everyone enters feeling welcome and leaves feeling provide a generous selection of wines, a full bar, superior cuisine, and friendly, attentive customer service. To always do our best to make your visit enjoyable. We strive to tailor our menu to our patrons, offering the freshest seasonal ingredients and superior quality of products. To receive feedback from our customers,and create an open dialogue with them."

In your case we have failed miserably. If you would consider our offer,we can be reached by email at, or by telephone (203)869-4080.

Again, please accept our sincere apologies.

Vicente & Kleber Siguenza

1:30 PM  
Blogger Suzie Sims-Fletcher said...

OH oh Ohhh! I was totally laughing and cheering! I didn't get so mad for the chef (sorry) - my emotion was more- oh no! that guy is gonna gettttt ittt! I couldn't wait to hear your "save" - line chef, indeed!


I sort of want to go there now (if Chef DICK is still in residence) and ask for a liquid meal (I typoed MEAT and maybe should have left that). You think they have a menu item named: Le Limey Le Ge (wiht all that slushy french sound on the zhhhghee)?

4:30 AM  

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