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Trattoria Enoteca
Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg, Kadettenstrasse 2, Bergisch-Gladbach

But let’s begin on a positive note… From the moment the bowl of focaccia & assorted breads hit the table, accompanied by sun-dried tomato and tuna spreads, we knew our appetites were in capable hands. Tantalizingly addictive...

… As were the appetizers. My wife selected a special three-course Sunday evening set menu, which included starter, entrée, and dessert. She chose a prelude of minced scallops and mozzarella cheese served on a beautifully embellished oblong plate. The dish proved to be as much a treat for the eye as it was for the palate. My arugula salad was of a simpler nature… but just as profound in its apparent simplicity. The greenery was perfectly trimmed, at the very peak of good health, and adorned with toasted pine nuts, shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and artistic splashes of balsamic dressing. Roasted halves of cherry tomato at the periphery added just the proper note of contrasting color.

And entrées were no less noteworthy. Beef is generally considered the Achilles’ heel of German cookery (as kitchens are usually more adept at pork and veal)… but you certainly couldn’t prove it at Enoteca. For some unknown reason, both my wife and I decided to go the red meat route. Her sliced strip steak with a mélange of mixed vegetables was superb… ditto my filet buttressed by puffy Parmesan potatoes and kissed by a subtly assertive Barolo wine sauce. All was just as it should have been…

But it was following the entrées that things began to go awry… Since my wife had ordered from the prix-fixe three-course menu, her dessert arrived soon after the plates had been cleared… along with the check. And this did not bode well, as our young female server had committed a major faux pas. In European restaurants – in contrast to their American counterparts – the check is never presented at table until it is SPECIFICALLY requested. I’m not quite sure what she assumed (because I had ordered à la carte, I did not want dessert… or that we did not wish to have coffee or, perhaps, a postprandial libation) but she assumed incorrectly.

And here’s where it really began to hit the fan. Our server seemed more than a little bent out of shape that I would have the utter temerity to order not only two espressos but also a tiramisu… since she had already gone to the not insignificant trouble of printing out our check and kissing us off.

An inordinate length of time passed… The espressos were missing in action. But when they did finally put in an appearance (after a good 20 minutes), I decided not to press my luck; I asked immediately for the check. Well, you guessed it… Another 20 minutes or so rolled by and still no check… and the tiramisu was definitely AWOL.

By this time, of course, my wife and I were both bleary-eyed, having endured overnight and connecting flights and X number of hours without the benefit of slumber. Needless to say, we were more than anxious to put an end to this ordeal. We extricated ourselves from the table (no one seemed to notice) and made for the hostess’ desk in the foyer. My wife wisely decided to take a breath of fresh air while I settled the matter in hand.

When the hostess or a server eventually showed up (I honestly don’t remember which), she actually bid me a good evening, assuming I had already settled the bill and that I was undoubtedly awaiting my wife who had probably popped into the restroom (in other words, were we unscrupulous characters, we very easily could have taken advantage of the situation and left without paying). I then indicated that we had waited the arrival of the check for over 20 minutes but to no avail. She offered not a word of apology but disappeared and promptly returned with the check, which I even more promptly paid with a credit card… and then asked to see the manager.

Ten minutes later a young man appeared accompanied by an even younger female assistant. I assumed that he rather than she was the manager, not because I am a male chauvinist, but because he seemed infinitely more interested in impressing her than he did in appeasing me. I indicated that we had thoroughly enjoyed the cuisine but that the service left a good deal to be desired. He asked for specifics… I recounted… He seemed not terribly concerned. But when I mentioned that the service had been so inattentive that we very easily could have slipped out the door without properly settling up, the light seemed to dawn. Undoubtedly heads would have rolled… perhaps his among them.

The problems encountered at Trattoria Enoteca are by no means unique, as service (or the lack thereof) continues to be the major thorn in the flesh of restaurant diners. On the other hand, I have absolutely no doubt that Enoteca’s rather unusual position in the culinary/hostelry hierarchy certainly contributes to its faux pas. You see, Enoteca is tucked away in lower level of the Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg. But this posh hostelry is also home to Restaurant Vendôme, Chef Joachim Wissler’s temple of haute cuisine, a recipient of three Michelin stars. And I would be so bold as to suggest that some of that three-star mentality has obviously rubbed off on the hotel’s more humble dining establishment.

A trattoria is by its very nature a “casual” Italian eatery; an enoteca literally means “wine repository” and often refers to a wine bar that serves up good vintages at reasonable prices. Given this eatery’s modest moniker, Enoteca’s service, which, at times, bordered upon the downright “snooty,” seemed inexplicably out of place. The most blatant perpetrator (although our server came in a close second)…? The young woman who poured our wine throughout dinner; she appeared to ooze condescension from every pore of her body (and not just at our table, but with other parties as well). Regardless of a restaurant’s place in the culinary hierarchy – whether haughty or humble – there is simply no place for this type of attitude.

The Bottom Line: If an eatery mucks up at the outset, it has the entire meal to make amends, so to speak, to win back the customer’s confidence. On the other hand, should it screw up near the conclusion of the evening… Well, regardless of the quality of the cuisine, the last thing that transpired will most assuredly be the first thing the diner remembers. And that is certainly the case here.

The Artful Diner
September 2010

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

E-mail Artful Diner!
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München Münster Bergisch-Gladbach Lübeck