Friday, October 28, 2005

Cheating The Belvedere, A Suspect L.A. Times Restaurant Review

I am frankly very suspicious of a restaurant review that appeared in the Times' food section Wednesday, Oct. 26. It seems to me that the reviewer, the L.A. Times' Leslie Brenner, may have had some kind of hidden agenda, because my sister, Carolyn, and I have eaten twice at the restaurant she reviewed with a far different, and better, impression.

Reviewed was The Belvedere at The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Brenner has written an insulting review, chastising the restaurant for poor service, inconsistent food, an "attitude" on the part of its staff and particularly a wine service she and her guests detested. She even writes that the gorgeous setting in which all this occurs is "stodgy" and "could use a facelift."

If The Belvedere were to sue Brenner and the Times over some of these comments, I would be happy to be a witness for the plaintiffs. My testimony in court would clash with her review.

My sister and I returned to the restaurant just last Sunday evening to celebrate my sister's birthday. We went because we had been so delighted with our first dinner there, last spring, before my long Alaska trip.

Let me state right away that we had no experience with the wine list, because neither of us ordered wine at either dinner. I did order a drink before each dinner, which was served quickly and was delicious. The waiter immediately asked Sunday whether I wanted a vodka or gin gimlet, and when I replied, "vodka," asked me what brand of vodka. It was generous in quantity and when, well through the dinner, I finished it, the waiter immediately inquired whether I would like another. All this was different than the uncaring attitudes and delays Brenner claimed had occurred when her party ordered wine.

The dining room at the Peninsula Hotel is not "stodgy," nor in need of a face lift. It is a beautiful, rather spacious room, and our own experience was that we did not find other guests so close that their talk bothered us by seeming to be noisy. I don't know where Brenner could possibly have reached these conclusions.

When I called The Belvedere to make reservations, the person who took the call asked if it were a special occasion. When I mentioned my sister's birthday, the woman immediately suggested that cake would be served at the end of the dinner, although she told me the waiters would not be singing happy birthday. It was a delicious cake, very much appreciated by my sister, and it came with complimentry candy and cookies.

I don't know what Brenner's experience was, because I wasn't there with her, but there was nothing inconsistent in quality in the four main dishes and four appetizers my sister and I ordered in our two dinners. All were exceptional.

One of the dishes I ordered, however, was the very pekin duck that Brenner ordered and claimed was "tortured into a Modernist vision." I do not know what she means by this. Suffice it to say that the waiter immediately told me the dish would not be Peking duck, so I wasn't expecting it, and I found the dish to be extremely good.

Brenner's entire review is filled with a determination on her part to take almost every shot at the restaurant and its personnel that she possibly can, and our view of it was entirely different. We felt on both occasions this is a pleasant, outstanding restaurant, well deserving of its high Zagat ratings of 26 for food, 27 for decor and 27 for service. The 2005 Zagat review concludes that The Belvedere has "innovative American cuisine served by an "attitude" free staff "with eyes in the back of their heads;" naturally, it's "pricey," but it's "impressive" when something special is in order."

I agree with Zagat. Zagat is not always right, but on this occasion, it is.

I particularly resent Brenner's many comments about the so-called "attitude" of the staff, which she says faded a bit only when she brought two Frenchmen with her on one occasion. My sister and I had no Frenchmen with us on either occasion, and we found no "haughty" attitude, such as Brenner claims she found.

When my sister and I left the restaurant, we were given little tins of granola as a small gift for coming there. I've tried the granola and it too is delicious.

Brenner did a hatchet job on The Belvedere. It doesn't deserve it, and The Times owes the restaurant and the hotel an apology.



Blogger Matt Weinstock said...

Wow! You and your sis must be chowhounds. Sounds like a good place for a special occaision meal.

This is the first time I ever heard that the INCREDIBLE SHRINKING LOS ANGELES TIMES GOT IT WRONG.


10/28/2005 1:07 PM  

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