New Experiences

The following is my observation paper for Dining Room 1. I thought I owed my blog a post, and this seemed perfect. It was certainly an experience worth recording. I only regret that it was too dark to take any decent pictures – and believe me, I tried several times with my phone.

Brown Dog Café is situated in a strip mall on Pfeiffer, right next to Subway, and at first glance, you really wouldn’t think it’s much at all. It’s a small place, somewhere between ten and fifteen four-tops, with enough seats at the bar for maybe six people. If you passed the place looking for fine dining, it certainly wouldn’t call your name. This suggests to me that they rely on word-of-mouth for their business.

I had dinner at Brown Dog Café with Marybeth and Stephen on a Wednesday night that seemed slow. Marybeth and I arrived at the same time and walked in together a few minutes early. My first impression was that the place was very clean; the noise level was very low, but the hostess was very friendly and did not give the impression that there was a need to be reserved with our conversation. The staff members, all of which were older women, were dressed semi-casual in black pants and black/white/off-white blouses, with hair up and dangling earrings, not at all intimidating and extremely friendly and attentive. The lighting was low and it was very dim, but there were full windows across the entire front end of the restaurant, so I would think that the feeling would be very different during the day (they are open for lunch). The décor was very simple and elegant. The light fixtures were each of them unique; glass cups with different speckles of color in semi-intricate black wire holders along the walls, sometimes in groups of two or three; very large tiered lamps hanging down the middle of the café, but that weren’t nearly as noticeable as the lights along the wall and took a second look around to spot; and a candle in a smooth glass orb of various streaks of color at each table. The napkins were black and the BNB plates were simple white squares; the tables and seats were dark and compounded with the dim lighting. Our silverware, which included a butter knife and two forks, was not set individually, but rolled up in the napkin and placed on top of our BNB plates.

I had made the reservation online, and upon glancing at the terminal, noticed that mine was the only reservation. After greeting us very kindly, our hostess’ first inquiry was how many for our table, which suggests to me that they are more accustomed to walk-ins than to having a full night of reservations. Or, for all I know, it could simply have been a night that wasn’t that busy. We were handed our menus, and the wine menu – which was about three times as long as our actual menus – was propped up at the end of the table for our consideration.

Upon being seated, water was brought immediately by our server for four people, even though at the time there were only two of us. We did observe that our server never told us her name. She took our drink orders and removed the wine menu upon receiving them. We were brought our drinks within two minutes, and then we were left to look at the menu. Before walking away, our server did tell us the special – seared red snapper with mushroom risotto – but she did not tell us the price, and she did not tell us the soup du jour. The menu – which consisted of three displays, four salads, ‘supplements’ and soups, entrees, and a note on checks – was not identical to the menu presented online.

At 7PM exactly, which was when our reservation was actually for, Stephen joined us, and his BNB plate, napkin, and utensils were brought within fifteen seconds of his joining us; they had been cleared when Marybeth and I had explained that we would be the only ones that night, which we had thought was true, as Stephen had not confirmed with us that he was coming. We were very glad to have him, though. Straws were given for the soda, but not for the waters, and Stephen just asked for water.

Our server attempted to take our order at around 7:05; we ordered the Charcuterie Spoons display and asked for a few more minutes. The display was brought out between ten and fifteen minutes later – sometime before which, we were brought a small basket of bread and a plate of garlic olive oil and butter – and our server took the rest of our order. Stephen did inquire as to the soup du jour as well as to the portion size of the salad and then his prospective entrée, and then we all ordered a salad and an entrée. Stephen was at seat one, I was at seat two, and Marybeth was at seat three. Our server did follow this order when taking our orders and serving us; ladies first, which meant me and Marybeth, and then coming back to Stephen.

The display was simple. Three small square bowls held olives, capers and small squares of liver pate, and a very strong mustard-y horseradish-y and perhaps honey spread with quite a kick to it. Four decorative silver spoons held prosciutto and Serrano ham, and the display came with a small assortment of round and rectangular crackers.
About ten to fifteen minutes later, when we had more or less finished exploring and demolishing the display, we were served our salads. Marybeth and I had ordered the Pan-Seared Caesar, and Stephen had ordered the Baby Bleu. The portion sizes were quite generous for appetizer salads. Stephen’s came in a round bowl, while mine and Marybeth’s came in egg-shaped bowls. Marybeth and I observed that our salads were creatively and very nicely presented, but that perhaps it would not be considered the most customer-friendly: the Caesar was nearly an entire heart of romaine, with the leaves separated of course, but then tied in a bundle with what we suspected was prosciutto and topped with an adorable and perfectly poached egg that seemed more the size of a quail egg than a chicken egg. It was a warm salad, and cheese and dressing were as generous as the portion size, but not overpowering; but yes, we were left to cut our own salad leaves and the single crouton made of a large slice of French bread into appropriate bite-size pieces. Delicious, though, and no complaints; merely observing.

Stephen’s salad was cleared soon after he was finished. We are not entirely sure if this was because it appeared as though he had pushed it a little off to the side. Mine and Marybeth’s salads were cleared at the same time that the entrees were served. We observed that Stephen’s water was constantly refilled at the table from a pitcher. Marybeth’s was offered a refill twice for her diet Pepsi; the first time, the server brought a new glass and then removed the old one, but the second time, the same glass was refilled. We’re not sure if it was because Marybeth took had handed her the glass. Marybeth had also requested a lemon, and the second time the glass was refilled, the old lemon was left in the glass and a second slice of new lemon was also on the edge.
I had ordered the Wild Boar, Marybeth had ordered the Duck, and Stephen had ordered the Rabbit Ragu. All the names of the dishes were simply the main protein, and then each dish was followed by a description of the accompaniments. Our server had cleared our salads and had someone follow her with our entrees; I was initially accidentally served the duck, but the mistake was quickly recognized and switched to Marybeth before the boar came down in the correct place, and then Stephen’s rabbit. It must be noted that we were seated in a booth, which did not allow us to observe if our server would have indeed served and cleared from the correct sides. Also, our server did not write down our orders for anything, but simply remembered. We observed that they like using microgreens as a garnish, and that when garnishing, they do not have a rule about respecting the rim of the plate. Otherwise, the portion sizes were very generous and the presentation pleasing. They did tool Marybeth and myself with steak knives immediately after we ordered.

My order consisted of smashed (yes, the menu said ‘smashed’ as opposed to just ‘mashed’) fingerlings that were well seasoned and included the skins, wilted spinach, five large slices of honeycrisp apple that had been baked such that they were warmed through but still mostly crispy when bitten, six boar medallions that were layered over the potatoes and spinach, a garnish of microgreens, and a sweet, light, and not at all overpowering honey bourbon sauce, if I remember correctly. Both our server and our hostess were very attentive, coming by to ask how we were doing, and asking very nicely phrased questions such as, “May I remove this or are you just resting?” to Marybeth.

When I stood up to use the restroom, our server indicated the way without being asked. When I returned, everything had been cleared except for the drinks and my entrée, and dessert menus had been put down. Within thirty seconds of my sitting down again, I was approached and asked if I’d like my entrée boxed up. It was then taken away and brought back boxed within a minute. The dessert menu also included their martini, beer, and liqueur selections, all three of which were extensive and somewhat mind-boggling. I ordered the key lime pie, Marybeth the pistachio crème brulee, and Stephen a scoop of house-made salted caramel pecan crunch ice cream. Stephen also asked for a cup of coffee. We were tooled for dessert as the desserts were set down some five minutes later. This time, they did make a mistake that wasn’t caught and that we rectified ourselves; they gave the crème brulee to me and the pie to Marybeth. We also had to switch utensils, of course, as they’d given a fork with the pie and a spoon with the crème brulee. At any rate, all three were delicious. We again observed the dusting of confectioners’ sugar on the rim, and my pie was garnished with a sprig of mint stuck in the whipped cream, which looked nice, but we commented to each other that our chef instructors – especially Chef LaSorella and Chef Myatt – would say that that was a no-no, as I was not about to eat an entire sprig of mint. Stephen finished his ice cream, but Marybeth and I asked for boxes, and our desserts were taken away and brought back in small, appropriately-sized containers. Our server also brought me a plastic bag and proceeded to bag up my entrée and dessert for me.

Our server did simply assume that we were all on one check, and brought it to us along with our boxed desserts. She was very kind when we asked for the check to be split, and came back with the new checks in half a minute. Both our server and the hostess said goodbye and thanked us for coming.

The whole experience took about two hours and fifteen minutes. It was very enjoyable, and none of us thought the tiny mistakes worth complaining about. We had wonderful food and equally wonderful company and conversation, and the three of us agreed that it’s the sort of thing we’d like to do again. I believe all of us would highly recommend the Brown Dog Café, and I personally am hunting through the calendar for an excuse to go again as soon as possible and try their Venison Ravioli.


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