If you’ve been performing very well as a novice sous-chef at Daniel Boulud’s Restaurant Daniel, and then, suddenly, make a horrible botch of even one Saturday night, you’re probably not going to be around next Saturday. Restaurants of Daniels caliber aren’t allowed to have a “bad night”. The food at a “top” chefs establishment is expected to be exactly as good, day in, day out, every day and every night, whether the chef is there or not. At that level, at those prices, with that level of expectation, where customers have booked months in advance, often traveling hundreds if not thousands of miles, it takes only one bad dish, one messed up plate, for people to start buzzing about the place going downhill — particularly in this era when half your customers seem to be food bloggers.
This is a lesson Cafe Juanita should have known already, but unfortunately could not remember. The east side of Lake Washington is a culinary desert compared to Seattle. There are a few bright spots amongst the sad chains, and Cafe Juanita is thought to be one of them. We’d eaten there a couple of times previously and felt that their food was pretty good, but overpriced. We wouldn’t have considered it for a special occasion unless it was for a friend on the east side. Then it came to our anniversary this year which happened to be on a bad night for fine dining, Tuesday. I felt pretty good when I was able to get the reservation at Cafe Juanita.
We arrived and they gave us a table right next to the fireplace. This would have been lovely except for the fact that as a result of our table, I was facing a large picture window which was facing a bend in the road. I asked if we could move to another table, but I was assured that we were at the best table in the place. As darkness settled, I was getting blinded every few seconds. Finally, N, had to watch the light move across my face and move her head to put my eyes into shadow. Not very romantic.
Our food itself ranged from OK, to downright inedible. For a three course meal at $100+ per person, this is inexcusable. As I said, our prior experiences had been ok, if not stellar. At this level, it doesn’t make sense to give a restaurant another shot once they’ve messed up. It is too expensive.
One bright spot was the wait staff who were very friendly and helpful. After returning a plate uneaten, however, there was no questioning of our satisfaction, offers of a different selection or refund on the bill.
We’re done with you Cafe Juanita.