Thursday, July 2, 2015

Dining ~ XO Cafe ~ Providence

XO Cafe
125 N. Main St.
Providence, Rhode Island

My parents, now 70 years old, still drive up from Long Island to visit once or twice a year. Whenever they do, I try to take them somewhere new, to show off the local culture and diversity.

Brunch is a favorite in our family, and I did some research to find a good place to go. The XO Cafe had appeared on a list of best places for brunch. It was local, it was affordable. It was a go. I made reservations for 10 (me, Bear, Mommy*, Papi**, four kids 8 and under, and my parents) and we met my parents at the restaurant.

I started writing a detailed account of the event, but it seemed to go on and on. So let's focus on right and wrong.

Right:
  • They made a good Bellini and Bloody Mary.
  • The food was quite good.
  • The French toast in particular was excellent, and pleased all four children (no easy task).
  • The decor is fun and funky, especially the murals around the bar.
  • The bartender, who we saw when we left, was so friendly and helpful, it was a pleasure to deal with her, even if only for a few moments.

Wrong:
  • My parents arrived before the rest of our party and when they asked for a high chair and booster, were informed that "this isn't a place where people usually bring children." The waitress did score the cafe's only high chair and offered to borrow another from the restaurant next door. We appreciatively declined.
  • Two of us were given dinner menus. It was quickly rectified.
  • The server neglected to take Mommy's drink order. She took it when she returned with the drinks for the rest of the table.
  • While the other drinks were served in a timely manner, it took 20 minutes to get my Bloody Mary.
  • We waited an additional 30 minutes after the drinks were delivered to have our brunch order taken.
  • The server announced that if we had any questions, she had tried everything on the menu and was an expert. When I asked if the cafe was known for any dish in particular, she proceeded to rattle off descriptions of all but two of the menu items. Not really what I was asking for, but okay.
  • Mom asked about The Meeting Street (butternut squash & Brussels sprout hash, two poached eggs, Mornay sauce, grilled house made bread"). The server said it was very good and asked politely if Mom knew what Mornay sauce was ("Béchamel sauce with shredded or grated cheese added. Usually, it consists of half Gruyère and half Parmesan cheese, though some variations use different combinations of Gruyère, Emmental cheese, or white Cheddar" - Wikipedia). Mom knows and loves Mornay sauce (see below).
  • We asked for a piece of bread for the baby to teethe on. We were told that we'd have to order a whole serving of toast, which we did.
  • My father ordered a diet Coke, and I ordered a regular one. The server carefully put the drinks down, saying to my dad, "here's your diet Coke," and to me, "here's your regular." The two drinks looked identical and were not differentiated by an extra straw or lemon wedge, as they usually are. My dad got the regular Coke. He's a diabetic.
  • It took at least another 30 minutes for our food to arrive. During our time, we saw other parties come in, get drinks and their meals, pay and leave.
  • When the server came back to check on us, my Dad asked if our meal would be arriving soon, as we'd been there awhile. Our waitress became defensive. "You're the next ticket. I'm sorry, sir. I can only put the order in, sir. I can't make them cook it any faster. I've already moved your ticket ahead of the others" At that point, my Mom and "Mommy" pointed out that we had waited 30 minutes to have our order taken, which is what necessitated the order being expedited. The server remained defensive. Our meals were served immediately afterward. Seriously, it was the time it took the server to walk from the table to the kitchen. 
  • Mom and Mommy had both ordered "The Meeting Street," (the one with Mornay sauce). When their meal arrived, neither of them (or the rest of us) could detect any sauce of any kind on the plate. When they asked about it, the server, again defensive, insisted it was there and asked (for the second time), "Do you know what Mornay sauce is?" My mother is a skilled cook as well as a frequenter of fine dining establishments, and does know what Mornay sauce is. "Mommy" went to culinary school and excelled at sauces. An appropriate response would have been "I'll take it back and ask Chef to add Mornay sauce." What we got was, "It's there. If you just taste it..." None of us could taste it. She did not take it back, or even offer. Mommy's egg was overcooked as well.
  • Our table faced a huge mirror that ran from the top of our booth to the ceiling, and the length of our table of ten. The server was still in the reflection when Bear saw her walk away with her back to my mother and daughter, muttering the word 'bitch.' Note: We were not happy about the slow service, and we pointed it out to our server. We were not rude, we were not loud, and we were not abusive. Yes, for a server this can be frustrating, and no one likes having their errors pointed out. But please take out your frustrations away from a reflective surface, and ideally, wait until you get into the kitchen to vent so the other tables also don't see you.
  • I'm still struggling to get past that the server called my mother, my daughter, or both, a bitch, and I fumed through the rest of the meal.
  • When the server returned to the table, she avoided speaking to or making eye contact with Mommy.
  • At the end of the meal she said "Are you all content, absolutely satisfied, happy with everything? Shall I bring the check?" She stumbled through it, and I'm not sure if she was trying not to be passive-aggressive. 
  • The experience had taken such a sour turn that many of us weren't able to finish our food. I personally saw the server mouthing another expletive in the mirror when we asked to have our leftovers wrapped.
  • When we asked to have our leftovers wrapped, we were presented with prettily packaged carryout boxes, nicely labeled. They were unceremoniously plunked in front of us. Though we had several of the leftover containers, she did not offer to bring us a bag to carry them in. The bartender, who saw us leaving with several carryout boxes, offered us a bag. If she'd been our server, the experience would have been much different.

The conclusion
This experience was the perfect illustration of how very good food can be spoiled by poor service. Most of the morning's foibles were minor and could have easily been corrected or overlooked, and would have been if things hadn't escalated. By the time we left, our server was two steps away from being openly hostile.

I did speak with the manager after our meal, and he promised to talk with the server.



*Mommy - my daughter and the mommy of my four grandchildren
*Papi - my son-in-law

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Artists ~ Robin Johanson ~ Saunderstown

Artist’s name: Robin Johanson
Shop name: Sea Star Glassworks
Website: seastarglasworks.com or robinjohanson.com
Facebook: Robin Johanson -Sea Star Glassworks
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/seastarglass/
Instagram: seastarglass

1. Tell us about your work
Using treasures from the sea and stained glass techniques, I handcraft unique accessories for hair, scarves, wraps & jewelry for every beach lover. All glass, shells and stones are found on Rhode Island’s shores. I often incorporate other colored glass, beads and brass charms into my work for texture and interest. Each piece is unique, made with high quality construction and materials.



2. How did you come to be a professional artist/crafter/designer?
I come from a long line of "crafty" women so have enjoyed working with several mediums. In particular, I like to find clever ways to make art functional. A few years ago while creating stained glass panels, I got inspired to create some unusual barrettes for my three daughters... we have a lot of hair! And from there I just kept exploring how to make different pieces.

3. Where do you draw your inspiration?
I draw inspiration from my daughters, my customers and RI's coastal lifestyle. We all love to collect beach treasures, which traditionally collect dust on our windowsills and in jars. Through my custom work, I make it possible to wear your favorite beach find!

4. What’s your favorite item to create?
Right now I am having fun making sailboats out of shells and beach glass. They come out feeling playful and full of motion. I made them at the holidays to be used as ornaments, but they continue to sell as sun catchers and hostess gifts. Tie one around a bottle of wine and bring to your next dinner party!



5. What’s your best seller?
Ah, that would be a toss up between my earrings with handmade wires or my large clips which are great on shawls, scarfs and hair... very versatile and one of a kind!



6. How long have you been in Rhode Island?
I have been in RI for 23 years now, longer than anywhere else I've ever lived! I grew up on the coast north of Boston, spent my 20's on the Chesapeake, and two years in Canberra, Australia.

7. What do you {heart} about Rhode Island?
I love the people, the old communities and towns, the scenery and open spaces... Actually, one of my favorite aspects of my work is its ability to take a small piece of Rhode Island's beauty and spread it to other areas!!

8. Please include anything else you’d like to add:
In addition to Etsy, I sell my items at the following locations. Check my Facebook page for additional holiday markets.
The Village Faire, Wickford, RI
Simply Natural, Narragansett, RI
Aunt Carrie's, Point Judith, RI

And on select Saturday mornings:
The Coastal Growers Market located at
Casey Farm, Saunderstown, RI (May-Oct)
The Dye House, Wickford, RI (Nov-Apr)