I've had several good meals at The Ten Bells, a well-reviewed wine bar in Manhattan's Lower East Side over the last couple years. Dark and cozy and decorated with empty wine bottles and chalkboards that display that day's menu, the food is simple and delicious—tapas like papas bravas, albondigas, and creamy brandade, as well as excellent charcuterie (duck rillettes!) and cheeses.
I've recommended the place many times to friends, visitors to New York, and wine-obsessed colleagues and have always had a good time. The servers are usually knowledgeable and welcoming and even if there's a bit of a wait for a table, I don't mind as long as I have a glass of wine in hand and some bread to nibble on, which is normally the case.
But on one recent weekday night, when I ducked in for a late dinner with my boyfriend, the restaurant bore little resemblance to the low-key place I could always count on for some tasty bites and good wine. Our experience started out nicely enough—it was a bit crowded so we stood at the bar and, after a few minutes, one of the managers moved us near a couple that was just about to leave so we could snag their seats.
Unfortunately that was the last of the niceties for the night. It was another 30 minutes before we could get anyone to take our drink and food orders and another 30 minutes before our glasses of wine arrived. Our food arrived, all at once, another hour after that. To make it worse, our waiter—a tall, disaffected type—made no apologies for the wait, didn't offer anything for us to nibble on in the interim, and only comped us a round of wine after I sipped my previous glass and got a mouthful of sediment. Finally, the food was uneven: The brandade, papas bravas, and Spanish tortilla were fine, but the quail the waiter enthusiastically recommended was overcooked, cold and, worse, not at all fresh.
I was upset, especially since I had always liked Ten Bells so much. I'm willing to give it another chance—any restaurant can have an off night—but as we left we talked about how much a prompt glass of wine, some bread and a little bowl of olives could have made all the difference. Not to mention a waiter who actually cared about whether we were having a good experience or not.