Thursday, March 17, 2011

Drunken Fish Sushi: A Detailed Account

A group of seven of us got together last night for a friend’s birthday dinner. The spot selected was Drunken Fish, the new outpost of the St. Louis-based trendy sushi restaurant. It’s located in the Power & Light District.

First, the opinion portion of the review:

The sushi was underwhelming. There was nothing wrong with it, but there was also nothing memorable about it. It’s probably a 4 on a 10-point scale.

It didn’t help that the wasabi was nearly flavorless and without heat. That is, except for one person’s plate; we sampled his green stuff and it had an almost-acceptable horseradish kick. I ate a huge glob of mine straight, and it was less pungent than fresh-ground black pepper. When we pointed out this discrepancy, our waitress explained that it depends on how much you mix into your soy sauce, as if we couldn’t comprehend the concept of dilution.

It was somewhat expensive, but probably not out of line with what you’d expect to pay at an establishment in your favorite KCMO-taxpayer-subsidized district.

The atmosphere was pretty noisy, and I think that’s by design. Places with drinks called the “Asian Fetish” and “Dirty Kimono” typically aren’t known for being relaxing. And that’s fine—it is what it is.

Now, the timetable portion of the review:

7:35pm We were seated.

7:40pm Drinks were ordered.

7:58pm Drinks were finally received.

8:05pm Our food order was finally taken.

8:30pm My blood sugar tumbles into negative integers and I become very crabby.

8:30:01pm My wife asks about our food.

8:35pm Our waitress says our food is on its way.

8:43pm A manager apologizes for our wait (finally) and says our food is on its way.

8:50pm Our waitress says our food is being plated and will be right out.

8:57pm Food finally arrives. We devour it quickly, thanks to hunger and our desire to get the hell out. Yeah…read on.

9:15pm We request our checks.

9:22pm We receive a round of Key Lime Pie shots from the manager as an apology. Um…okay, thanks, but we’re trying to leave.

9:31pm A birthday dessert is brought out for us to share. Thanks, but really? Now?

9:36pm Now it gets really bizarre. The waitress brings out COMMENT CARDS and jokes that you can use them to say “how awesome she was”. NOW she apologizes for everything taking so long, and this is their “soft opening”, and look over there—the general manager is making sushi, and we should come back for happy hour and their grand opening and all this other stuff. Also at this time, she delivers our checks, which we shove our cards in and immediately hand back.

9:51pm We are finally cashed out.

The first two timestamps are approximate within a few minutes (I had no reason to check my watch at that time). Everything else is actual time.

Really. Just check the intervals between some of those items and consider how long they really are.

A couple more things:

-“Soft opening” is bullshit. According to the Pitch's Fat City blog, they opened their doors 3 weeks ago. Also, this is the 4th Drunken Fish location—not some first-time restaurateur’s maiden voyage. They should be way better than this.

-Our waitress, while certainly not unpleasant, was somewhat…I think “tone-deaf” is the word. She never apologized during our painful wait for nourishment. Instead, after we sat foodless for quite some time (it was sometime after my blood sugar crash) she came over and asked how everyone was doing as if we were in the middle of our meal. Then the comment cards came out, and joking that we should say she was awesome when we clearly wanted to leave??? What would have been awesome would be to get our checks. There was just no empathy whatsoever; it was rather obvious that we hadn’t had a good experience and wanted to leave but she just never saw that.

-The staff was nice enough and meant well. The manager giving us shots wasn’t really what I wanted (especially at the time he gave them to us), but he was at least trying. And the water guy kept my glass full all night.

Bottom line? I was already a bit wary of a place whose spokesperson says, “It’s not just about eating sushi. It’s about the experience.” When the pedestrian Japanese fare is the best part of the “experience”, you’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do.


Shimmykimmi said...

They need to teach "Whitney the Waitress" how to pour a beer. Holding the the glass straight up and pouring as fast as you can results in your beer spilling over onto the floor... as we witnessed three consecutive times. Fail!

Jeremy said...

I am sorry you had such a tough experience, but a soft opening is any period of time between when a restaurant might start serving and when they announce being ready for a Grand Opening, we took a few months to try and get things right and instead of judge on one experience right after we opened I challenge you to come back and try us now that we are open. Mind you sushi taking 30 minutes from the time ordered isn't unusual anywhere if it's worth it's while, but the rest of your timing was ridiculous, no arguing that. I also recommend making reservations on if you choose to come back to be doubly sure we have a table for you and I would further challenge you to request me, Jeremy as your server so I can show you the true Drunken Fish experience! I look forward to seeing you again soon so I can show you how we truly do it!

JJSKCK said...

Jeremy -
Thanks for weighing in. I don't question that my experience was not the norm; otherwise, there's no way you'd still be in business. Maybe I'm being unfair with regard to the "soft opening" aspect, though the restaurant had been open and serving customers for 3 weeks. I don't have the industry experience you do, but "a few months" seems an awfully long time to get basics like customer service and kitchen efficiency down.

And 30 minutes from time of order in a busy sushi restaurant wouldn't have been a big deal at all...but it was 52 minutes for us. (Never mind the half hour we sat before our order was taken.)

That said, I appreciate your commitment to your restaurant and willingness to "make things right". Unfortunately, when a first experience is this bad, it's hard to go back for another when there are so many other dining options. I think if I suggested trying Drunken Fish again my wife would laugh me out of the room.