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Posted by gustav at 11:02AM, Saturday, December 03rd, 2005

Petit Robert Bistro (restaurant review) - Some of the worst service in Boston

Kenmore Square, Boston. I've only ever had one restaurant refuse when I asked to send back a bad bottle of wine. Petit Robert Bistro is that one.

Petit Robert's service was horrific. The host, after being absent for some minutes when we arrived (on a not-so-busy night), didn't seem to know how to greet guests (We arrived, and watched waiters bustling around but ignoring the host's station; after a few minutes, the phone rang, and only then did the host come over -- to take the phone call. He finally hung up, turned to us, and said "What are you here for?" Uh, food?). We were seated and ordered wine, but the waiter brought a different bottle with a similar name to the one we'd ordered. It took a five minute argument between my spouse and the waiter to get the staff to realize that, indeed, they'd brought the wrong bottle. One would think that a customer pointing to the name of the wine on the wine list should be sufficient to alleviate any misunderstanding, but one would be wrong.

Eventually, the wine steward brought the correct bottle -- but it was corked. He tasted it and tried to brush us off, telling me it was just highly acidic and immature, and trying to snow us with snotty wine terminology. (Incidentally, if the wine's "immature," why is it on the menu? And points off for patronizing guests by insulting their intelligence: this wasn't acidity I was tasting, it was vinegar, and mold. Further points off for serving a red Rhone in Chardonnay glasses.) When I said I'd had the same vintage of this wine before, and this tasted nothing like it, the steward assured me I must have had a different vintage. He repeated that our bottle was fine, and it would open up. Of course, it didn't; it was corked, and only got worse. The steward reappeared at the end of the meal to ask whether the wine had improved with food -- as four mostly-full glasses sat on the table, next to a half-full bottle. I told him I still thought it was bad. The whole $68 for the bottle showed up on the bill.

The food (standard French fare) was mediocre: each of our four entrees had the same sides, which were limp and unexciting to begin with. My liver was over-salted and unnecessarily seared. All the meats looked exactly the same. The appetizers were fine.

We went to Petit Robert to try someplace new and exciting, and to take my parents out for their anniversary. We left embarrassed at our choice, pained at having blown close to 200 bucks on an unpleasant meal, and vowing never again to bring guests anyplace we hadn't scouted out before-hand.

If you want good, solid French food in Boston, for around this price ($15-25 an entree), you've got a lot of options: Sel de la Terre, over by the aquarium; Aquitaine, in the South End; or Brasserie Jo, downtown. All of those, in slightly different ways, implement a proven formula for good French restaurants: competently-prepared meats; good sides made with care; excellent charcuterie; good, reasonably-priced wine selections; and, above all, fast, crisp, impeccable service by white-shirted and well-mannered waitstaff. For the price, diners should demand no less. Skip out on Petit Robert unless you enjoy hostile and inept service to accompany your paint-by-numbers entrees.
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