Last night, Pere and I met friends for dinner at relatively new French "Bistro" in Ahwatukee called La Vigne French Bistro & Wine Bar. La Vigne opened in May and I had been dying to try them out. I always have high hopes for new independent restaurants in my area, and the addition of a new French restaurant was irresistible.
When we arrived at the restaurant, it was practically empty. The place was huge, with a very large patio to boot. For a small intimate space, that might have felt ok, but for a 5000 square foot restaurant, it had an off-putting feeling. In such a busy shopping center, with Ra Sushi right next door packing people in, why was La Vigne so empty? I put aside my initial impression and decided to just let the experience speak for itself. On the La Vigne website, the restaurant owners state that the restaurant was conceived after a trip to the French countryside and that they wanted to bring a slice of France back to Ahwatukee. Having been to France several times, I can't say that the interior had the desired effect. Although it was nicely appointed and tastefully done, Pere remarked that the interior was much more Tuscan than French, and it certainly didn't look like any bistro we had ever been to.
We took our seats and started to look over the wine list. There were several French varietals on the menu, but none that I particularly recognized. Our server wasn't at all knowledgeable about the wine list, so I decided to play it safe and only go with wines I recognized. It's a shame, because I really like French wine. But without the advice of someone who can offer an informed opinion, I wasn't going to spend $50 on a random wine I may not like.
When our server came back to take our drink order, Pere ordered a gin and tonic. I was in the mood for gin as well, so I went with a gin martini, up, with a twist. Our friends Bill and Leorna ordered splits of Mumm "Napa Cuvée M sparkling wine. When our server arrived with the drink order, she was a little flustered. Apparently, she had bumped into the bartender on the way out and spilled the drinks all over herself (which she told us). That explains the high-water mark on my martini, which subsequently wasn't topped off. Leorna took one look at her champagne and immediately remarked to the server that it was completely flat, and to please bring her a new glass. At about the same time, she also realized that the waitress had brought out the champagne in a glass, but the split bottle was nowhere to be seen. When the waitress returned with new glasses of champagne, she apologized for the first round and remarked that the bartender had poured off the last of an open bottle, and that's why it was flat. That's when Leorna informed her that she had ordered splits, not by the glass champagne. After some looking over the wine list, the server acknowledged the mistake and headed off back to the bar. A few minutes later, she returned with two splits and once again apologized. She popped the corks (loudly) on the splits and told Bill and Leorna to go ahead and keep the other drinks on the house (too bad they were all flat).
As we settled in with our drinks and began to look over the menu, our server returned and asked if we were ready to order. We politely told her we had just started to look at the menu, and would need a few minutes. She took that literally, and returned about three minutes later. We let her know a few more minutes would be necessary to make our selections. I hate feeling rushed, and usually do a good job at setting the pace I want by slowing down the ordering, or ordering appetizers and waiting for them to come before making entree selections, but none of that really seemed to be effective here.
The entree selection was pretty sparse. One thing that I found a bit irritating was the steak selection. It took up almost an entire page on the menu, but made no sense to me at all. The menu listed three different steak options, all for $29.99: Steak au Poivre w/ cognac and red wine sauce, Peppercorn Steak (isn't what Steak au Poivre means?) w/ peppercorn cream sauce, and Steak Grillé with no sauce, although you could add either of the two previously mentioned sauces, or a béarnaise sauce for an extra $1.49. All three came in either a 9oz fillet or a 4oz New Your Strip for that same price. So essentially, the could have just listed it as a pepper crusted steak with your choice of sauces, in either a 9oz fillet or a 14oz New York Strip for $29.99, and the same steak, just without peppercorns. It certainly didn't have to take up an entire page. Beyond the steak options, other choices included Duck a L'orange, three chicken dishes, a salmon dish, and a scallop dish. All entrees came with soup or salad, choice of potato, and wither asparagus or green beans.
At this point, we decided on a few appetizers - Pate, and endive spears with apple and Roquefort salad, and a bowl of French onion soup for Bill. We also took this opportunity to place our entree orders.
A few minutes later, the appetizers arrived. The pate was good, although given the generous amount a few more pieces of toasted baguette would have been appropriate. The endive with apple and Roquefort that Leorna ordered was particularly good. Bill's French onion soup was well received too.
While we were still eating our appetizers, our dinner salads arrived. Instead of seeing that we were still working on our appetizers, our server dropped off the salads right along side of them and headed off back to the kitchen. We could tell that timing was starting to become an issue. Little did we know just how much of an issue it was going to be, though. About five minutes after dropping off the salads, our waitress returned with our entrees. That's when she had the "a-ha" moment and realized just how off the kitchen timing was. She apologized and offered to take the entrees back and hold them there until we were ready. At that point, Leorna let her know that yes, that's what we wanted her to do, but if our meals came out overcooked, we would be sending them back. With Leorna's steak starting out as medium rare, and Pere having scallops, not to mention Bill and I having chicken breasts, we were worried we would be eating shoe leather after the food came back from being under a heat lamp.
The moment we finished our salads (literally), someone was there to clear our plates, and our server was back out with our entrees. I had ordered the Poulet à la Moutarde (chicken w/ mustard), with fries as my potato. What I was served, though, had mashed potatoes instead. This actually worked out ok for me. When I told our server that I had ordered fries and not mashed potatoes, she quickly let the kitchen know to whip me up a batch of fries as they had gotten the order wrong. Instead of soggy fries that had been under a heat lamp for 15 minutes, I had a nice piping hot plate of frites fresh from the fryer, and they were excellent! Our server felt bad enough about everything that had gone wrong up to this point that she offered to comp us two desserts.
Pere's scallops ended up being slightly overcooked, but not enough that she felt she had to send them back. My chicken had just passed the perfectly done state and was a little on the dry side, but the mustard sauce, although a tinge too acidic, did a good job of adding necessary moisture to each bite. I was happy with the dish. Leorna sliced a piece off the end of her steak, and I could tell from her facial expression that she wasn't happy. She had the waitress take it back because it appeared to be well done. She also sent the cognac red wine sauce back because she thought it tasted tinny. A few minutes later, the server returned with the dish and explained that upon returning it to the kitchen, the chef had cut open the steak (in the center), and it was indeed still medium rare in the center. They offered to make her a new one if she still wanted one, but she declined and took the returned entree, this time with the béarnaise sauce.
Since our desserts were being comp'd, we decided on the crème brulée and a chocolate soufflé along with a bottle of Cuvée Rouge Champagne (I don't remember what house as it was Leorna's pick). A few moments later, our server was back to inform us that they were all out of he Cuvée Rouge "because the wine guy didn't come today". She then informed us that the wine list was arranged from sweet to dry (funny, it seemed to be arranged in order of price to me), and we could just pick one above or below our initial choice and it would taste about the same. We declined and instead decided to go with 4 more splits of the Cuvée M. A few minutes later she was back out with the four bottles, letting us know that she had to dig around in the back to find them. Four more loud pops, and we were all sitting back laughing about how disastrous the meal had been so far. It's then that the desserts arrived. The sugar on top of the crème brulée was actually perfectly caramelized. The custard underneath was a bit too warm, and could have used a little more vanilla, but it was still good. The chocolate soufflé that Bill ordered was anything but. Besides the fact that it was yellow, the first bite confirmed it to be a strawberry soufflé. Oh well. At that point, we had finally had enough and asked for the check. Bill also asked if we were the worst table she had that evening. She completely missed the point and replied that actually the table next to us was worse because they had kids, and she doesn't like kids (other than her own)!
I wanted to like La Vigne, I really did. There aren't enough good neighborhood spots in Ahwatukee, and I was really hoping La Vigne would help fill that niche. I can't chalk it up to opening week jitters now that they have been open for a few months. I realize they are still new, but as large as the place is, if they don't start filling tables soon, I don't see how they'll be able to afford to stay open. Given the execution and service issues, they have some serious work ahead of them to counter experiences like the ones our friends and we had. I'm not trying to bash La Vigne. Had the owners been in that night, I would have been happy to talk with them about our experience as I really do believe in offering restaurants constructive criticism, and a chance to redeem themselves. Unfortunately, though, I don't think I'll be going back to La Vigne anytime soon. If they are still around six months from now, maybe I'll give them another shot.