Oh man. Just don’t. I know, I know, it’s insane but I have given this place 3 solid chances. To be completely honest, I have waited to write about this because I didn’t want it to be true. I was so excited to have a place like this in our backyard that I couldn’t deal with it’s sad, unsalted reality.
We first tried the Upstairs Bistro at the NY Wine & Culinary Center for a double date with some friends. I don’t think I was being unreasonable for having expectations of a place which calls itself “culinary center” and purports to be an institution of learning in said field; however, while our overall experience that evening was positive, I must say that the food was underwhelming and poorly executed.
The location is wonderful. They are situated close to the lake with views from the window and a large patio. Outside there is a small garden containing a few NY specialties like grapes and apples. I do not care for the random art decor – I think they could do a better job rolling around in an identity as a wine country staple. On the up side, the interior of the bistro is all wood, the ceiling was not neglected (that is a pet peeve of mine), and the lighting was rather nice and soft.
We began with drinks – I had a “absinthe minded” which was so good that I had another, so points for that. We then ordered a couple of appetizers to share, one of which was a shockingly flavorless chowder. No salt, no bacon flavor, just creamy starch in a cup. The second was a meat board which was not creative – I mean – it was sausage on a cutting board, but the German guy liked it.
For the main course I ordered the duck which was oddly paired with spaghetti squash and a succotash. While it all tasted good on an individual basis, nothing did anything to compliment anything else. Also on the table where a pork chop with more of the same pickled cabbage from the sausage plate, a mushroomy steak and a brunch burger. I think the thing that struck me most about this meal was that each and every piece of meat on our table was cooked to the wrong temperature. Everything was overdone except for my duck, which could still be heard quacking above the chatter. Since there is nothing worse than sitting plateless at a table where everyone else is eating, I chose to eat around the raw center and keep up with my party. They did manage a crispy skin.
I would give our server a solid A-. She moved quickly, understood the specials without reading from her book, recommended drinks and was generally very friendly. She lost points for not calling the cook out on the meat temps.
This dinner was just good enough to make me want to go back and give it another try. Matt & I went back for our anniversary dinner a couple of months later and much to our disappointment, the menu had been severely cut. I wished for the same martini I’d had last time but it had been removed from the cocktail list so I tried another based on the server’s recommendation. This was so sweet I didn’t finish it and replaced it with a manhattan. Matt is always playing it safe with beer.
We decided to go tapas style and split a few things. Beginning with the asparagus salad which was delivered without its cheese. No biggie, sent back and corrected. On another note, this salad which is covered in kalamata olive vinegarette could benefit from the addition of kalamata olives.
But the menu…or rather the lack thereof. I’m sorry, but while you can’t really go wrong offering bacon mac & cheese, it is NOT a main course. Not. This menu was so small that it didn’t even have a chicken dish. Who doesn’t have a chicken dish? I never order chicken in restaurants but that’s besides the point. We continued with a flatbread pizza topped with mushrooms and a few arugula leaves which we both liked, but again I’d note – they did this well – yet there were only 2 flatbread choices on the menu. Why even bother with a flatbread “section?” We finished with the crab cakes which were delicious and actually mostly crab.
Finally, on a day spent enjoying the weather with my mom and kids, we gave it one last lunch shot. I mentioned before we went, that the menu wasn’t great – but I was hoping inside of my heart that it had expanded once again with the spring. Nope. With literally one other table seated in the restaurant, our total space cadet server took for-e-ver and had zero knowledge of the food she was meant to be serving.
After seating us and taking our drink order she stood chatting with the hostess rather than getting our drinks. After sitting there for 10 minutes my mom went and asked about her tea. She showed back up with an iced tea – like she had no memory of the hot tea order. She then disappeared for another 10 minutes before returning to take our food order – a split asparagus salad, a sandwich, a flatbread pizza & the bacon mac & cheese. We sat around wondering what took so long to make a salad when a different waitress arrived with all of our food, including the salad once again without cheese on it and this time made of spinach. Turns out that our waitress failed to mention that mom’s sandwich came with a salad, so now we have loads of salad. We examined the alleged bacon mac & cheese dish in front of my son which appeared to have no bacon and be rather small for $14. Waitress number 2 returned again to check on us and we asked where waitress number 1 had gone. She sent her back and we reviewed the mistakes on our table – a cheese-less salad that did not come out first and was made of spinach rather than arugula, a salad that we didn’t know we had coming, a flatbread with spinach rather than arugula on it, and a tiny $14 baconless mac & cheese. (Does someone in the kitchen not know what arugula is, believe that the patrons do not know what arugula is, or feel that it doesn’t warrant explaining that – we’re out of arugula would you mind if we used spinach instead?) This is a lot of mistakes, I said. She scampered off to the kitchen. Returning a few minutes later, she explained that “they” had made the kid menu mac & cheese, and she “didn’t get any answers” about the arugula. No, we will not be needing dessert and yes, please do remove that mac & cheese from the check. This experience took nearly 2 hours. Over the course of this 2 hour period, there were a grand total of 3 tables to be cared for.
I will never return to this place again. I cannot imagine who is responsible for a restaurant like this – that would obviously never survive standing alone without the culinary center – but they should be fired. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were preparing our food in the actual cooking classes. This Bistro must be the red-headed step child of the culinary center because one look at the tiny, boring menu will tell you that they don’t care about it. There was no seasonal innovation, no attention to detail, insufficient training and in general, given its surrounding resources, an absolute squandering of an opportunity to be amazing. Don’t be tempted by its name. Don’t blow your money here. For a meal you will not be disappointed in, make the drive to Livonia and go to Ember (I’ll write about that later).