My former Times Colonist newspaper colleague, food-writer Pam Grant, gives restaurants a second chance when things go wrong on her first visit there. But, sometimes the ones who get it right on the first go need a second visit as well, just in case that first visit was a fluke. That’s what we learned the second time we stopped in at Vienna’s Fuhrich restaurant.
Two days after our first divine dinner there, we returned to find the restaurant jam-packed, as was expected. The food is exceedingly good, after all.
A waiter pointed us toward a table along the wall on the main floor. If I was having doubts that I could squeeze between the other patrons in that row, I wasn’t alone as I could see from the aghast expressions on the faces of those very patrons. I said no thanks and pointed to another empty table by the front of the restaurant, overlooking the street.
And that is when I fell in the path of the maitre d’ pit-of-doom. As the waiter hesitated, a woman of about 45-55 swept in, her black pixie* all hard-edged with her dark eyes flashing angrily. She indicated another table in the centre of the room that looked to be sized to suit pre-schoolers.
So I said no again. I had this crazy notion that as a customer, I should enjoy a reasonable degree of comfort, and not be forced to relive the cramped wooden-desk epoch that was my Grade 4 school year.
Of course, this was a mistake. She put us at a third table that did not bank along with other tables, so we were away from the crowd, but it was straight in the line of wind gusts from the front door (which was kept open as they were dealing with a delivery).
At this point, I still assumed the professional decorum of wait staff was in effect, but seconds later, I realized my error. The woman, let’s call her Grizelda, came to our table and dropped two menus down before us.
It was the kiss of dining death.
Allow me to explain: The custom at this restaurant is for the waiter to open the menu and present it to the patrons. The closed menus on our table telegraphed that their good graces were closed to us as well.
In the meantime, later diners came in and took the coveted window table. They spoke German. Not that this had anything to do with it, but I have noticed that sometimes people take out their xenophobia on non-German-speaking foreigners, such as at a bakeshop two blocks from our Swiss hotel where the server grabbed a croissant with her bare muggy fist and dropped it down the bag as though it were dog excrement, instead of using tongs or wearing gloves.
Where was I?
Oh yes, Grizelda. Another waiter appeared to take our order.
That is the second sign of dining disaster – the relay. The relay is what happens when things have got off on such a bad foot, they transform your table into a baton that gets passed from one server to another. It is, pardon the pun, a recipe for disaster. In theory, however, it does present an opportunity for the incoming waiter to help the customers forget the ineptitude (or hostility) of the outgoing waiter. There’s no reason why this should not work, but Grizelda’s ugly mood cast a pall over the other waiters who all looked jittery and frightened.
When this server brought our bread, I asked where the spread was. Two days earlier, our bread came with a tasty spread of butter, creamed cheese, parsley, garlic and some un-named but heavenly spice (I am taking a guess at the ingredients). He said he would look for some.
Having worked in a restaurant, I know that spreads and such are prepared earlier in the day when the restaurant is quiet, and then usually sit in a fridge waiting to be dealt out to diners with as much speed as can be seen at a Las Vegas blackjack table. I’m not saying this is how this restaurant works, but fetching a condiment is not exactly a massive undertaking. If it were, how could they ever manage the volume of complexities in running the deep-fryer?
After a decent interval, I headed toward the kitchen, just outside of which I found our waiter standing next to Grizelda. When I asked about the spread, they flustered and then he said, ‘night time only.’ He gave a long convoluted explanation on why serving this condiment would be on par with demanding everyone eat from upside-down tables. I asked him to find some anyway.
I knew I would never see it. Grizelda’s mouth was pursed, her nose upturned, her lids lowered. She was furious.
I returned to our table. A third waiter brought us our food, signifying we were now in the third leg of the race and barreling quickly toward the finish line.
I am happy to report that the food was again absolutely fabulous. Obviously, no one had taken the time to inform the cook that we were miscreant patrons.
We finished our food and when the bill arrived, it had a 4-Euro charge for the absent spread. This is a neat trick. When we actually received the spread two days earlier, we didn’t have to pay any extra for it, but when the spread does not come, it costs more. Possibly because it was invisible spread.
Happily, we did not have to argue over this as Waiter #2 came over and explained the error, then produced a correct bill. Even though he was Waiter #2, this latest handover signalled that we had entered the fourth leg of the relay, and it was time to go, which we did.
Later, Dave and I mused over what we might have done to avoid such an uncomfortable situation, when we suddenly remembered we were the customers. It’s not our job to worry about Grizelda. It was her job to worry about us. In short, the only cure for such a train wreck of a meal would have been to leave as soon as Grizelda’s disapproval showed itself. But we couldn’t do that. Remember, the food is fantastic.
Rating (ranked twice, with the first number for the first visit, the second for the second, you get the drift. 1 is low, 10 is high)
Location: 8 and 8 – Just a hop off Vienna’s lovely pedestrian shopping thoroughfare.
Setting: 8 and 8 – The restaurant is clean, and decorated in rich woods, reminiscent of a well-to-do English pub.
Food: 10 and 10 – There is nothing disappointing in the food here. The portions are sizeable and everything is delicious.
Service: 10 and 0 – If you avoid Grizelda, you should have a fine time.
*It’s possible that she had her hair done in an updo, but I think it was a pixie cut. I cannot say with certainty because I had to keep my eyes averted most of the time to protect them from getting lasered out by Grizelda’s glare.