Where Moderately Good Food Meets Less-than Moderately Good Service
Linda and I decided to head on over to Casona tonight to try out the dinner menu. If you have read my blog before, perhaps you may recall my review of Casona’s brunch. The folks at Casona were so happy with my review of their brunch, they sent Linda and me a gift certificate to come by and try dinner. Now I want to get something clear, when I blog about a restaurant, I give my honest review of the whole experience. If it’s good, I say so. If it isn’t, I say that as well. I don’t write a review to get a free meal but I am not a rich man so when a free meal comes my way, I gladly except it. However, when it comes to my review, I base it on my experience not on who paid the tab. Enough said.
Collingswood is such a wonderful town and when it’s all decked out for Christmas, it’s even more special. The trees that line Haddon Avenue are trimmed in swirls of white lights and big, beautiful glowing “Season’s Greetings” signs span the street. Even though it was extremely cold tonight, the streets were full of shoppers, strolling in and out of the various shops and restaurants. Even Santa was out, waving and greeting passersby. Collingswood represents hometown Christmas at its best. It’s worth the visit regardless of where you’re going.
Casona is no exception when it comes to decorations. Dressed in the same white lights as the rest of the town, Casona fits right into the season. Warm and inviting, the decorations spill into the restaurant without overwhelming. The lighter touch still captured the Christmas spirit without making me feel like I was dining in Santa’s village…
I arrived a few minutes after my 6:30 reservation and informed the manager that my dining partner was delayed in traffic due to an accident she encountered. He said that it was no problem and asked if I would like to be seated. I thanked him but told him I preferred to wait for her in the lobby. I was pleased and impressed that he offered to seat me as it is the proper thing to do but I felt it was better if I greeted Linda at the door.
Linda arrived about 10 minutes later and we were seated in a corner by the staircase. It was a little tight but still nice and intimate. We were quickly greeted by our server, who’s name I think is Dana. She was a bubbly girl with blond hair and a huge diamond engagement ring that Linda immediately noticed. Our server commented that she keeps forgetting to take it off before she comes to work. She noticed that I had brought a bottle of Merlot which she immediately opened and served us.
Linda and I had decided to share the Taquenas appetizer but we were informed that they were all out. Even though we have had the Empanadas before, they were so good that we decided to share the sampler version, which includes one each of the cheese, beef, and chicken for only $8.95. It’s a real bargain and great for sharing. As expected, the Empanadas were outstanding–light, crispy and just plain delicious. They are served with three dipping sauces and our favorite is the garlic mayonnaise. We had asked for extra but the dish did not have any extra when it arrived. We asked again for the extra sauce and it was brought to the table.
As usual, Linda and I decided that we would order two meals and split them. We picked the Lobster Enchiladas ($18.95) and the Lechon Asado ($18.95). The Lobster Enchiladas consisted of a side of white rice and two beautiful enchiladas overstuffed with lobster and covered in the most tasty and quite unusual butternut squash and clam juice sauce. The enchiladas were both sweet and spicy yet neither taste overwhelmed the other. Linda and I really enjoyed them and I was particularly happy that they were not smothered in the traditional fishy white sauce that normally accompanies seafood enchiladas at other restaurants. (Note: The dish looks a little overdone but fortunately, the enchiladas themselves were not affected.)
The Lechon Asado consisted of white rice, citrus-marinated pork, and sliced plantains molded into a shape similar to what flan looks like. It’s accompanied with two sauces neither of which were identified on the menu or by our server. I couldn’t tell what the lighter sauce was but I believe the darker drizzles were a balsamic reduction of some kind. Unfortunately, the dish was prettier than it tasted. The flavors worked nicely together but the dish was rather dry. The pulled pork, although flavorful, was only slightly moist and when coupled with the plain white rice and the sliced plantains, it screamed for moisture. Halfway through the meal, I discovered the darker sauce which really helped make the meal “pop”. There was very little of the sauce so I only managed a few bites with this tasty combination. The dish would have been considerably better if that sauce was drizzled over top of the whole meal or was offered in a side dish. We both agreed that if we were to return, we would not reorder this dish.
For desert, we went with the Caramel Flan ($7.95). We had such a great experience with the pumpkin flan special during our brunch, that we just had to try their regular flan. Speaking as someone who has hated flan in the past, Casona’s flan is the tops. It’s not overly sweet and tastes like a cross between a custard and a pudding.
The couple next to us noticed that I was taking pictures of the food and commented about it to us. Linda explained to them that I blogged and whenever we went out to dinner, I would write a review. They asked if I wrote a food blog and I explained that I write a more general blog but that whenever Linda and I eat out, I blog about the experience. We also noticed that they had ordered the Seafood Paella ($26.95) and the Churrasco Steak ($24.95). The gentleman’s paella looked fabulous but the lady seemed to be having a rough time with her flank steak and appeared not to eat much of it. (Update: Steak was okay. She was just full.)
Linda gave Casona a C tonight and I gave it a B-. Although the food is generally good, the service seems to be spotty at best. In addition to not getting the extra sauce with our appetizer, Linda asked our server to bring her a glass of ice. After waiting a considerably long time, we had to ask a bus boy to get the ice. After he delivered the ice, our server showed up with some. Our dinners came out too early. We were just finishing up the appetizer when the food runner showed up with our plates and had to do some juggling to sit them down. I prefer at least a few minutes of rest between the appetizer and the main course. We waited too long for the server to come by to get our plates after we finished eating and then waited too long for her to come back to take our desert order. In addition, we had leftovers that we asked her to pack up and which she forgot to bring back to us. We asked for them and fortunately she had not tossed them.
We weren’t the only ones who had a problem. The couple next to us had ordered the Ceviche appetizer special and their food arrived before the Ceviche did. The manager did come by to visit the table about the mistake and Linda thinks she overheard that the waitress was “confused” about their order. Additionally that would have been a perfect opportunity for the manager to visit the remaining customers to see how their meals were going. Unfortunately, that never happened. It surprises me that in today’s economy, where consumers are watching every dollar they spend and where they spend it, that good customer service practices get ignored. I know that when I eat at a restaurant and the manager takes the time to ask me how things are going, I tend to feel better about my meal. It’s something that costs the restaurant nothing but adds so much to the dining experience.
As far as Casona is concerned, Linda said she’d definitely come back for brunch but wouldn’t rush back for dinner. I personally think they’re on the right track but need a little more work. The location is great, the food is generally good, but the service tends to be hit or miss. My dining experience tonight was okay, even nice, but I kept feeling like things could have (or at least should have) been a lot better. If they could just tie up some loose ends, I believe it could be.