Casa del Mar, a 1920s Santa Monica hotel with beautiful unobstructed views of the beach, recently introduced a $29 Sunday brunch, with your choice of an appetizer, entree and all-you-can-eat dessert buffet. Sounds great, right? I thought so, too, so I invited a bunch of my friends to try it out yesterday. Boy, were we disappointed.
It wasn’t so much the food, which was fine for the most part, though some of it had its problems, too. It was the extremely slow service that really got us. Since I made the reservation for the meal, my experience with the hotel started before anyone else’s, and it didn’t start off well.
When I called a week ago to make a reservation, I was told that there were two other large groups (we had eight people) that had already made reservations for my preferred day and time and that the restaurant couldn’t fit us in. Really? I found this hard to believe that in this economy any restaurant (with very few exceptions) wouldn’t accommodate a group of people who want to give their business. So after I asked about availability for the following week, the woman on the other end, after checking with the manager, came back on the line to tell me that they would “squeeze” us in after all. OK, great.
Then the restaurant called me back the night before our reservation to confirm. I confirmed. Then I realized that a restaurant with a different name had called to confirm my reservation. I thought we were eating at The Veranda, but Catch called me. So I called back to reconfirm. By this time, Catch was closed so I was transferred to the hotel’s concierge. I explained why I was calling, saying I just wanted to make sure my reservation was made for the dining area that I wanted. The concierge said, “Well, if you’re having brunch, you’re in Catch.” OK, I wanted to confirm since your Web site is kind of confusing, I said, which was greeted with silence on the other end of the line (take a look at the links above: two different venues with different brunch menus). That was pretty much the end of that conversation.
So I was a little apprehensive when we showed up the next day for brunch, but there were no problems getting us seated in the right place. But there were problems with getting our food. It took 20 minutes before our drink orders were taken and another 15 to 20 minutes before our food orders were taken. I ordered a roasted beet salad to start and a lobster club sandwich for my entree. I was then served eggs Benedict for my appetizer. That was sent back, and I got my beet salad, which was good, with red and golden beets topped with goat cheese and frisee. Other people ordered the seafood salad, which they described as tasting like a seafood Caesar with avocado.
Then we got our entrees. My lobster club was OK. The bread was on the thin side and grilled like a panini, which was nice, since sometimes too-thick bread makes a sandwich hard to eat. But the rest of it — the lobster, avocado, tomato and lettuce — didn’t have a lot of flavor. The tomato on one half of my sandwich was looking more than a little worse for wear: not only was I given the “butt” of the tomato, the other piece was a mealy mess. And my potato chips were not warm, as the menu said they would be.
Oh, and remember that eggs Benedict? Two other people at the table had ordered that dish, and it obviously came back because one was cold. That one was replaced with a new one that the manager swore was made 3 minutes ago right before his eyes. And someone else was displeased with her steak frites; she said the steak was unremarkable and was cooked more than she had asked for.
The saving grace of the meal was the dessert buffet, which offered all sorts of sweets, including puddings, cakes, cupcakes, ice cream, tiramisu, crepes and creme brulee. I had butterscotch pudding, which was good (I actually had this first thing since it took so long to get our real food, and just about everyone else at the table ate dessert first, too). I also had some strawberry ice cream with gummy bears (so sophisticated, I know). The ice cream was OK, but the gummy bears were nice and soft. Tara of When Tara Met Blog said that she thought the mini cupcakes came from nearby Vanilla Bake Shop, and I believe her because she’s the cupcake goddess. I didn’t taste any though, because I was somehow stuffed despite not finishing my entree. Perhaps I was stuffed with displeasure?
And then we got the check, 2 hours and 15 minutes after we had initially sat down for our meal. I had put 2 hours and 17 minutes on the meter where I parked my car, so I was sure I would get a parking ticket. Thankfully, I didn’t. But there was a kicker — we were charged $27 for three bottles of Evian. When we were asked “sparkling or flat,” we said flat, thinking it was tap. I guess we should have realized when our water came in Evian bottles, but none of us did. The server should have asked if we wanted Evian or tap water after we said we wanted flat, but tap wasn’t even offered. The irony is we all got free booze because of a text-message promotion. Casa del Mar: Where booze is free, but water costs $9 a bottle.
The manager seemed to be the only person who was on the ball. We saw him actively directing the wait staff, and he came by more than once to make sure we were OK. And while our server was pleasant, he never apologized for the wait. Well, I’m not apologizing for this post, either.