Wednesday, January 21, 2009

SweetWood Grill - a poor experience

I used to have a bunch of restaurant reviews on my old UVa web page, now long since defunct; with the move to Albany, I thought that it would be useful to start that up again.

The proximal spur for this, though, was a really poor meal and bizarre experience up in Vermont last week. We'd gone to visit friends, I'd just finished a big grant, so we wanted a nice meal. Our hosts chose the SweetWood Grill, and it seemed pleasant enough; the wine list is pretty well chosen, too.

Appetisers - e.g. a cod 'brandade' which was just a deep-fried very bland ball of meal and a little fish - were OK but not inspiring. Service was fine, again innocuous - a couple of odd notes such as bread (excellent ciabatta) not arriving until half way through the main courses, but no problem.

Main dishes.. ah, there was the problem. My filet, ordered medium-rare: gray. I was surprised, honestly: that's a neophyte mistake. That brought the usual problem: send it back? Well, things had gone pretty slowly and we had the two boys with us, so no - just mention the problem to the waitress. Then I tasted the potato gratin under the chicken dish of one of our hosts, who asked me "is this supposed to be so bitter?" The potato was *raw*. That's a bigger problem, especially as Jenny had ordered the same thing: the alkaloids in raw potato are toxic and NOT what you want in breastmilk! So of four entrees, three were really badly miscooked. Again, mention to waitress - slightly more annoyed now!

We had desserts, which were really very good (especially the creme brulee, classically and well done). The bill came. What didn't come was any word from the chef, note of apology, removal of any item from the bill, or such. So I left a cash tip for the waitress - she'd been basically fine - and noted on the check that the kitchen did NOT deserve a gratuity. The next day, our hosts received a phone call asking what the problem had been (!) so I sent a brief email to the chef, Jeff Lynn, to explain. What I got back was a vituperative screed of insult and defensiveness that left me off-balance for several hours - really quite amazing.

Net: I'm assured that this was an exception, but don't ever plan to return to check. The food that was good was in a couple of cases very good, but this is one of the very few restaurants (I think the first!) that's actually served toxic food to us, and the chef's rant was truly deranged - I would have to advise to steer well clear. 1/5 stars :-).

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