BDK: A Flood of Disappointment in San Francisco

BDK: A Flood of Disappointment in San Francisco
When full, BDK is cacophonous.

I had high hopes for BDK.  Leading the kitchen is Heather Terhune, formerly of the Chicago restaurant scene and Top Chef alum. To be blunt about it, the food was good – really good. However, as often happens when one sets a high bar of expectations, disappointment tends to seep in; sometimes it’s more than a seep, and more like a flood.  So this review isn’t really about the food, it’s about the experience, and my experience at BDK left a lot to be desired.

I was a guest at the Monaco, the adjacent hotel, and thoroughly enjoyed my stay there. The décor, service, and overall experience there were quite nice, and may have further heightened my expectations about the restaurant, since I quite naturally expected a similar standard of service in the eatery as the hostelry.

Sadly, this was not so. 

At around 7 p.m. it was bustling with energy and quite crowded, usually a good sign. But it was loud. Very loud. So loud, in fact, that I had to lean close to the hostess to speak and hear the exchange when I inquired about a table for one. Despite the crowd, there were several dining tables empty, so when I was told it would be a 45-minute wait, I was slightly surprised and inquired politely about it. I was told they were reserved, and was offered instead a table in the bar, a small café table in the midst of, once I sat down, towering bar tables and stools.  And due to the crowd, I was probably bumped four or five times in the first 5 minutes as staff and patrons all attempted to make their way through the maze between the dining area and the bar. My ire was building.

I sat and waited for a server.  And waited.  It began to dawn on me that the wait staff isn’t quite attuned to dealing with dinner patrons in the bar. Finally, a pleasant young lady approached with a cocktail drink binder and dinner menu, and took my drink order. I ordered a martini, began reviewing the menu, and waited some more. 

When the drink finally showed up several minutes later, it was, shall we say, a disappointment. They serve their martinis in a small, stemmed glass along with a side-car – a small carafe containing the over-pour from the original mix.  It’s supposed to make you feel like you’re getting a little something extra.  Except my martini glass, small to begin with, wasn’t near full (about two-thirds) and when I poured in the side-car, the drink still didn’t get to the top of the glass. Now, if the drink ($14) is supposed to fill the meager glass and then some, why pour a drink that doesn’t do that at all?  As I told the manager later when he came by my table and inquired if I was enjoying my meal, I don’t care if the drink cost $20 or more, as long as it is full; don’t bring me a short pour and pretend it’s something more.  He didn’t really get the point, telling me the bartender always pours the same amount (he’s been a bartender for 20 years he said) so he’d check it out. That was the last I heard about it.  Of course the drink appeared on my check, fully priced, and nothing was done to make me feel better about it. After the crappy table and the slow service, I was losing my enthusiasm for the place.

After I ordered my meal, over the din, I waited some more. By now I had finished the one and a half ounces of precious martini, so all I had on my table was a knife, fork, and empty martini glass. No tablecloth. No water. No bread. No salt and pepper. All further reinforcement that dining in the bar at BDK is a bit of a pioneering effort.  When my salad arrived – a wonderful mix of frisée and roasted baby carrots – it made the fork, knife, and empty glass a little less lonely, but didn’t do anything to get the wait staff to bring the rest of the necessary accompaniments.  I waited a few more minutes before grabbing another busboy, hoping that someone would see my plight and bring the bread, water, salt and pepper before I called attention to it. I think I’d still be waiting for a glass of water now had I not tracked someone down.

Oh, and did I say that it was loud in there? Earsplitting.

The braised short rib I ordered eventually arrived, and was great, but the long and the short of the whole experience is that it fell disappointingly short because one relatively small issue led to another, which led to another, and then another. I was given a bad table (which admittedly I accepted), a disappointing drink, and tardy delivery of the basic complement of dining accessories. So, the cumulative effect of all of it left me feeling like maybe the food, as good as it was, didn’t make up for the rest of the experience. Worse still, I brought what I thought was the most egregious offense (the drink) to the attention of the manager, and he did nothing to make me feel better about it. He didn’t offer to take it off my bill; didn’t offer me another drink; he didn’t do anything at all.

Perhaps they really don’t care about someone like me, a hotel guest who may or may not return any time soon. Since I travel to San Francisco on business at least half a dozen times a year, and typically patronize the eating establishments of the hotels I stay in, this is an ill-advised assumption on their part. The experience may have been enough of a disappointment that, not only do I skip the BDK if I stay at the Monaco next time, I may very well skip the Monaco entirely.

Talk about missing the point.  

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