Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cienfuegos Sin Fuego

Cienfuegos was not on fire on the particular Thursday that was Ale’s birthday. Of all the places in New York City, this upscale, Cuban speakeasy was selected as the first stop on the celebration train for dinner and drinks. The menu looked tasty and the ambience, from the website’s pictures, seemed accommodating and fun. Only one of those statements wound up being true. Unfortunately, it was the former.

It was unfortunate because under any other circumstances, I wouldn’t mind for food quality to trump environment quality. However, a birthday celebration hinges upon a great locale for the festivities. Location, location, location. You want a place that accommodates your party and has the positive energy that complements that of your company. A birthday is about the experience after all.

While the food was no doubt excellent, it was overshadowed in a tremendous way by the disappointing service. The front of the house was dreadful. What a poor representation of a place that actually has well-composed dishes. Overpriced tapas they may be, but I will pay a pretty penny for munchies that please my palate. Yet with the same conviction, I will not give business to an establishment as inhospitable as Cienfuegos.

Our "server" was unfriendly from the get-go, even after taking the idea of "fashionably late" to hyperbolic heights. Excusable when a place is poppin’, but this was not the case this early in the night. We were providing the most business this place had gotten thus far. So many of us, not receiving any service or acknowledgment for that matter, helped ourselves to the drink specials at the bar downstairs, and brought them up to our reserved space upstairs. Not too much later, the manager on duty, (Shaun, soon to prove himself Douche of the Night) conveniently and miraculously emerges only to scold us. Apparently we didn’t get the memo that this drink transportation across multi-level thresholds (within the same establishment mind you) was deathly forbidden. Save me the drama, por favor senor. It‘s not a telenovela, and that’s no way to treat (potentially repeat) customers. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

After finally making more drink and food orders upstairs, we were all ravenous and ready for the food in our stomachs to redeem the shaky start. As plates rippled towards us, we all accepted them gratefully. Well, almost all of us. After much time had passed and plates were cleared, two of our friends still had not received their orders. When brought to the attention of the servers, and subsequently the manager, they all vehemently defended that the dishes had indeed been brought out - that someone in our party must have eaten them. Okay, let’s not be ridiculous. Not one set of our 15+ eyes saw those two orders throughout the entire night. He weakly asserted that he had seen them touch the table, which in fact, he did not. (He was M.I.A. the whole night.) Furthermore, no one in our party would (a) lie about not receiving food and, (b) eat food they did not order and then lie about it. Well the Douche of the Night, condescendingly had the cojones to say to me, “Well, maybe you can’t trust your friends.” Really, Shaun. Really?! To add insult to insult, they left those missing items on the bill. Oh hell no. We are not going to pay for food that was not delivered. After I brought this discrepancy to his attention, he still fought me on it in the most patronizing, mega-jerk, I’m-going-to-show-you-who’s-in-charge way. After much back and forth, where I managed to keep cool (insert pat on the back, thank you) when he really deserved a swift knock in the nuts, he finally decided to relent, albeit ungracefully. He couldn’t let go with out letting me know it was not full submission, adding bitterly, “Well, I’ll pay for your food this time, but it’s not gonna fly next time,” as if I was trying to pull one over him while he was being the bigger person in “taking care” of the situation - with his own money. Yeah, real smooth. It was at the tip of my tongue but I instead let the words pierce through my eyes: “Oh buddy, there will be no next time.”

I don’t like headaches, much less, unnecessary headaches. This mountain-out-of-a-mole hill interaction really felt like a waste of my time, avoidable by a competent manager. What happened to “the customer is always right,” especially when he or she actually is? It’s a shame that he is the face to represent the Cienfuegos experience - or lack thereof. The Cien-powers may want to do some rearranging of their minions; I’m just sayin’.

Obviously, we were eager to drop our dough and move on to a place that welcomed our celebration, to revel in our happy place. (You’ll be happy to know we did - two others to be exact.) Cienfuegos did it’s job to fill our bellies, and not much more. And with plenty of city spots that deliver exceptional eats and experience, I can’t imagine being compelled to willfully return. Never has good food left such a bad taste in my mouth.