New York City Diary

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Last night Jenn and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary by having dinner at a Greek restaurant called Molyvos, located at 871 Seventh Avenue, which is between 55th Street and 56th Street, just south of Carnegie Hall.

We chose Molyvos because Greek food would remind us of our wonderful honeymoon in Greece. (After a fun day in Athens we spent a week in the Cycladic Islands, specifically Mykonos and Santorini.)

It kind of pains me to write this, because I really wanted everything to be perfect, but Molyvos was a disappointment.

While the food was pretty good, and the atmosphere romantic and pleasant, the service was just so inept that it ultimately spoiled the experience for us.

Yes, we had a nice time with each other, but after the first ten minutes or so I couldn't help but wonder what was wrong with our serving staff. Had they never eaten at a restaurant themselves? Did they have a clue as to how they would like to be served if the tables were turned?

The answer is no.

The Maitre D was really the only person who had any idea about service, but unfortunately he was busy attending to other customers to take care of us full time.

Here's how it went down, so you can be the judge.

Jenn and I arrived five minutes early for our 6:30 p.m. reservation. When I personally dropped by the restaurant more than a week earlier for a reservation, I requested a 7:00 p.m. reservation, but was told that only 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. were available. I took a 6:30 p.m.

Since it was early and we weren't really famished yet we started out with cocktails. Jenn got an "Aphrodite" which was very good, and I ordered a Greek Alfa beer, which was also pretty good. We sat there and enjoyed our drinks as 6:45 p.m. turned to 7:00 p.m., which soon became 7:15 p.m. We had a nice corner table, but the entire row of tables along our wall was completely empty.

So, Molyvos, what happened to the hordes of people who booked the 7:00 p.m. slot? You know, the 7:00 p.m. reservation you wouldn't give me, even though I made the reservation over a week ago?

Strike one, but moving on . . .

We had a main waiter, I think, but it could have been one of two people, and we had a number of guys in charge of busing tables and filling water glasses. They soon became annoying.

We made it clear that we would take our time enjoying our drinks, and then we would order dinner and wine. But they kept hovering over us, interrupting our conversation to fill our water glasses after every sip, and asking us if we're ready to order. First one guy would ask us, I would tell him to give us time ("No problem, no problem.") and then another guy would come by with the same question.

Well, when the message finally sunk in that we wanted to enjoy our drinks in peace, we were ready to order. But where was the waiter? We had empty cocktail glasses on the table, but nobody seemed to notice. It was a situation where when you want to be left alone you are constantly harassed, and when you actually need something, there is nobody to be found.

Finally I was able to flag a waiter, who asked us if we wanted two more drinks. No, we are ready to order. He never mentioned anything about specials, so I assumed there weren't any, or perhaps they were on the menu and I missed them.

In any case, I ordered for us a baby octopus appetizer. For our entrees, Jenn selected the halibut, while I had the moussaka, which is like a Greek shepherd's pie, with cheese and ground lamb.

Then I asked about the wine list, but our waiter had no clue at all. I wanted a Hatzimihalis, which is a wine I remembered from our trip. I eventually found it myself on the wine list and ordered it.

After one minute (it might have been thirty seconds) a food runner bolted out of the kitchen and tossed a plate of octopus on our table, in front of Jenn, as if that were her entree.

Okay, now I know that many of these dishes are pre-made, to cater to the pre-theater (in this case pre-Carnegie Hall) dinner rush.

A good restaurant will ask you as you are seated if you are going to a show, because they will adjust the service accordingly, but nobody asked us.

But at least leave us with the illusion that there is some preparation involved in the dishes before you rush it out of the kitchen. And for it to arrive before the wine? Just unbelievable.

We were confused at first. Could this really be our appetizer that we just ordered moments ago? I told the guy "we haven't even gotten our wine yet." He was confused too. Did we want him to go back in the kitchen and wait and then come back out after we'd gotten our wine?

I just wanted him to get an idea about what service in a restaurant of this supposed caliber (and price range) is supposed to be like. He put the octopus on the table and left.

After a few minutes the wine arrived. The pourer dribbled a few drops on the tablecloth as he poured my sampler sip, but I don't really care about that. It's just that I can't help compare it to the way other restaurants pour wine, with a wine towel wrapped around the neck of the bottle to avoid exactly that.

Anyway, that's strike two (and possibly strike three), but moving on . . .

The wine was good, and the octopus was also pretty tasty. We ate lots of octopus in Greece and have been fans of Greek-style octopus ever since.

We finished the octopus, and the entrees arrived. They were quite good. I think Jenn's halibut was tastier than my moussaka, but I don't blame Molyvos for that. I enjoyed it but probably wouldn't order it again. It was just too "rich," as they say.

But, bottom line, the food was pretty good. No strikes there.

Since we were celebrating our anniversary, we decided to order dessert, which we normally wouldn't do. We were interested in the baklava and the "ravani," which is a toasted almond vanilla cake. It was the Maitre D who came over to take our dessert order.

When we asked for the baklava and the ravani, he asked if we wanted the special, which was a three-dessert sampler of baklava, ravani, and bougatsa, which is phyllo filled with semolina custard.

My response: there are specials? I didn't know there were specials. I'm just finding out now, at dessert, that there are specials?

Strike . . . oh, forget about the strikes. Plenty of strikes.

We ordered the sampler, and I ordered a Metaxa Greek brandy. The desserts and brandy arrived and were pretty good. It seemed like they put an especially small amount of brandy in my snifter (and yes, I do understand how brandy works) but Jenn told me a secret from her days working in a nice restaurant. If you turn the brandy snifter completely on its side the brandy should come up almost level with the lip of the glass. I tried it, and it didn't. A very light pour. Strike . . . whatever.

We finished up and wanted to leave. I asked for the check, and the waiter (or whoever) came by and literally dropped it from a distance of a few inches above the table, face up, right between us. It came in a leather sleeve, but not a book, so that anybody who even glanced at it could see the amount.

Now, this was a special occasion, and I was going to pay, but I wanted to be discreet about it, and not let Jenn see the amount of the check. (Take a look at the menu online and you can take a guess at the amount.)

I put my card in it, he took the check and card and quickly brought it back for me to tip and sign.

I tipped a lot more than they deserved, and left the check, face down, on the table.

Before we even left the table (and we were not lingering) the waiter (or whoever) came and took the signed check. The first thing he did was glance at the tip amount. Wouldn't it be nice to leave it until I had left the table? Clueless and rude.

We used the restrooms and left the restaurant. I liked the quality of the paper towels in the men's room.

So that was it. We walked to the subway and took it home to Brooklyn, where Jenn and I exchanged cards and gifts and reflected on our year of marriage. It's been wonderful, great, excellent. And one bum meal won't change that.

But considering how excited I was to celebrate our anniversary there, I have to say that Molyvos was a disappointment.

Let me offer an comparison: As a wedding gift, my best man John Shaw gave us a $200 gift certificate to Mario Batali's restaurant Babbo.

Babbo is only slightly more expensive than Molyvos, but in terms of service, it's the difference between night and day. They don't hover over you, they don't harass you, but when you need something, they are there. We would go back to Babbo in a heartbeat. Even though it is expensive, it is worth the money.

Molyvos just didn't seem to care for repeat business. Maybe they don't need to. Perhaps they have the attitude of so many "Midtown" restaurants (and I do mean Midtown in a derogatory way) that just cater to tourists and business people passing through. I was hoping Molyvos wouldn't be like that. My own magazine (Esquire) had given Molyvos a good review a few years ago. Either John Mariani got special treatment, or Molyvos has gone downhill since then.

Final word: we will not be dining at Molyvos again.

If you are in New York City and you want Greek food, I give you the following options:

1. Visit Astoria, Queens, and enjoy any one of dozens of excellent, and authentic, Greek restaurants. Esperides, Karyatis, Elia's Corner. They're all good.

2. Check out Pylos on East Seventh Street in Manhattan. It's fantastic.

Molyvos, I had such high hopes for you, and you let me down.


Blogger Jenn said...

It has been a wonderful, great, excellent year (and a day). And one bum meal certainly won't change that--especially when I spent it with you (and the quality of the food and wine somewhat compensated for the lack of service).
I'd also recommend Snack Taverna in the West Village for Greek fare. The food and atmosphere is not as fancy as that at Molyvos, but the service is much much better (particularly since there are only a handful of tables so it's very persinalized).

4:32 PM  

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