Fish stinks from the head down, and so does restaurant service. Bad service, that is, is almost always the result of bad management.
In a perfect world, of course, every server in a restaurant, from captain to busboy, would be alert, conscientious and well-informed. In reality, service usually needs to be orchestrated and directed. And that's the job of managers or maitres d'hotel to begin with, and then of captains and waiters, in that order. There is a hierarchy to restaurant service, for a good reason: It works.
What I got during a recent visit to a new, oversized Westside establishment (and, to answer the obvious question, I'm not naming it because my purpose here is not to review an individual restaurant but rather to bellyache about an all-too-common restaurant failing in general) was service in shambles. There was a host, who seated us. If he was supposed to be the maitre d'hotel as well, he must have decided to take the night off. He didn't bring us menus. He never once came anywhere near our table to ask how things were. He was long gone when we left, and had clearly not commissioned anyone else to bid us farewell.
Worst of all, though, nobody else was directing the waiters and busboys either. Our own waiter seemed hopelessly lost in the restaurant's cavernous (though sparsely populated) environment. He took forever bringing us menus and our wine, he scrambled an order and then didn't think to correct it until nearly too late, he was nowhere to be seen in the course of our meal, or to be glimpsed only occasionally, wandering about as if dazed.
Three busboys stood talking among themselves a few feet from our table while we sat for 10 minutes in front of empty plates--it having been the waiter's responsibility, I think, to spur them into action.
And yet the individual mistakes were minor enough; two or three passes by an attentive manager could have made everything right. The management at this place, however, like that of a discouraging number of other places, apparently believes that a restaurant can run itself. And so it can, of course--right into the ground.
In case you're wondering why I didn't complain to somebody about the service (or rather lack of same), that I was being given, incidentally, it's simply because I consider it my journalistic duty in these cases to suffer in silence and see just how bad things are going to get. Had I been a lay customer and not a restaurant writer, I can assure you, I would have done plenty. What? I'll tell you next week.
DATEBOOK: The third annual Taste of L.A. food festival takes place on two consecutive Saturdays and Sundays, Aug. 6 and 7 and 13 and 14, outdoors at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The event runs from noon to 11 p.m. each day and costs $6 to enter--with food samples from such noted local restaurants as L'Ermitage, Le Dome, Tumbleweed, Rex Il Ristorante, Valentino, Primi, Yanks and Lalo & Brothers available for $1 to $5 per serving. Cooking demonstrations and live music are included in the price of admission. A percentage of the proceeds goes to several local groups serving the hungry and homeless. . . .
And for the Northern-bound (in case it's not hot enough for you already), the Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley offers a series of special all-chile dinners from Aug. 8-21. . . .
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY: The Pioneer Boulangerie in Santa Monica has been renovated, with a number of items added to the menu, a new "Biere Bar" and an equally new Bistro, the latter featuring food (it says here) "in the French 'byeestra' tradition"--whatever that is. . . .
Paul Guilleman, former proprietor of the once-popular (and now defunct) Le St. Michel in Santa Monica, has resurfaced as proprietor and chef at the new Chez Paul--exactly where Le St. Michel used to be, on Santa Monica Boulevard. . . .
The ever-expanding California Pizza Kitchen chain has opened its newest location in the Brentwood Gardens building on San Vincente in Brentwood. . . .
Chef John Makin, late of the Remington in Houston and the Crescent Court in Dallas, has opened Duckworth, "an American provincial restaurant," in St. Helena, in partnership with Bill Shoaf, former food and beverage director of Dallas' Mansion at Turtle Creek. . . .
The Reel Inn in Malibu has opened for lunch. . . .
Chopstix on Melrose has announced that it will open new branches in Sherman Oaks in October and in Redondo Beach early next year.