Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
The Difference Between 'Good' and 'Great'
Here on Feast! we often gloss over the service at a restaurant. Dismal service seldom goes unnoticed and the offending businesses are justly upbraided, but table service usually merits little more than a footnote in most reviews.
This is because we don't receive service in most restaurants. Of course, there's someone to taking orders and bringing food out the table. Glasses of water stay full and such things, but what's going on isn't the same as being waited upon in the truest sense.
That's easy to forget when food, even very good food, is served... adequately.
On the rare occasion that service transcends the norm, when it attains excellency, the results can be breathtaking.
I recently dined at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe. During the course of my meal, I received the kind of service that does justice to the term; the kind of service that makes the difference between a good meal and a great one.
"Follow me," implored the maitre d' in his thick French accent. "We'll get you a table with an ocean view, although the tide is very low right now." He smiled as he said it, walking in that way that the captain has where he is both leading you across the dining room and making you feel like you are in charge, and I felt like he had stayed up all night creating that joke for my benefit.
Thus began three-and-a-half hours of excellent food and impeccable service. Never once did I lose the impression that I was at the center of Mille Fleurs' mission as a business. In the back of my mind, I knew that other tables got the same treatment, but I still felt like the most special guest in the building. Many small details contributed to that. Clean napkins replaced my soiled linens when I left the table for a moment and the meal was perfectly timed so that I was neither rushed nor left waiting. Every detail that's expected of technically perfect service was in place, but it was the attitude that really made the difference.
Never once during that three-plus-hour meal did I get the impression that the staff had forgotten about my small party. Every time my waiter or the maitre d' came to check on the table, his delight in my satisfaction seemed absolute. The entire staff managed to be invisible ninety-five percent of the time and perfectly at attention when I needed them there.
It wasn't like the really cared. They did, to a rare degree.
Of course, the food itself was exemplary. It's no secret that Martin Woesle is one of San Diego's biggest talents in the kitchen. I simply don't have the space to go into detail. Enough has been said about his skills. I'll just add that I highly recommend the cured fish and caviar plate.
Compared to the casual service that's in place at most restaurants, even when the food is comparably expensive, being waited on with such care and aptitude almost comes as a shock. It can be difficult to accept the royal treatment, but it would be in poor taste not to do so. Places like Mille Fleurs exist for no other reason than to make guests feel special. That's not something that comes easy to most people, but it's something everybody deserves from time to time.
For reservations and information, visit millefleurs.com.