Wednesday, November 6, 2013

At I Gemelli: Too many plates, too little table

Gamberi alla Toscana -- shrimp with Tuscan-style beans -- at I Gemelli, an Italian-American restaurant in South Hackensack.


I don't pretend to know anything about running a restaurant, but after decades of dining out I know how I like to be treated.

On Monday night, at I Gemelli Ristorante Italiano in South Hackensack, I felt mistreated.

Three of us were seated at a table so small there was no room for three large serving platters a waiter brought over and dinner plates at the same time.

The host insisted we had said nothing about sharing all of the dishes, and resisted when I said he should return all but a pasta entree to the kitchen and bring the others out one at a time.

We had arrived a few minutes after the restaurant opened at 5 p.m., but I had forgotten my iPhone and went home to get it while my wife and mother-in-law waited in the vestibule.

When we were seated at a table for four, we were the only ones in the dining room until near the end of our meal.

We were greeted and seated by one of the twin brothers who own the restaurant, Luigi and Saverio, who are of Spanish and Italian parentage ("gemelli" is the Italian word for twins as well as intertwined pasta strands).

A whole bronzini or European sea bass in a white-wine and lemon sauce was perfectly cooked, and just right for three to share.

We had good memories of our first visit to I Gemelli in December 2010, and I chose it for my birthday dinner on Monday based on that visit.

But everything that could go wrong did go wrong. 

Even though the food was exquisite, prices were higher and portions were smaller.

And the service wasn't as seamless as I remembered it.

We ordered two Caesar salads ($8 each), and Saverio said he would split them into three portions (his name is listed on my receipt).

We also asked for Gamberi alla Toscana ($23); whole-wheat linguine with shrimp and langostino meat in a fresh, chopped tomato sauce, a special ($25.95); and a whole bronzini or European sea bass ($30).

I thought I made it clear we wanted to share all of the dishes -- my wife later confirmed that -- but I realized something had gone amiss when the waiter arrived with all three serving platters and tried to put one down in front of each of us. 

Then, because there wasn't room for dinner plates, he tried to put appetizer plates on the small table, which held a bottle of wine, a bread basket, wine and water glasses, a carafe of extra-virgin olive oil and more.

The dining room at I Gemelli Ristorante Italiano, which is a BYO, below.
I would prefer an opera soundtrack, not the old rock-and-roll I heard on Monday night. And, please, would someone turn off the flat-screen TV in the front of the restaurant.

The waiter called Saverio over, and he insisted we had said nothing about sharing the food.

When they were walking away with the two of the three serving platters, I called after them that it is "more logical" to serve the dishes one at a time for sharing, and I could hear Severio repeating the phrase, as if he was mocking me.

We shared the pasta first, but I doubt there was more than four or five ounces of linguine in the pricey dish. But we loved the fresh tomato sauce and tender shrimp.

Our second dish was real comfort food: a large platter of white beans with more delicious shrimp, mushrooms and fresh herbs.

And the whole fish was moist and perfectly cooked, but it was about half the size of the whole bronzini we were served in December 2010, according to the post I wrote then:

At I Gemelli in South Hackensack 

Despite the service glitches on Monday, we loved all of the food and how it was prepared, but feel I Gemelli no longer is as good a value as before.

When I asked for the check, my wife urged me not to stiff the waiters for the host's bad manners.

Our shared meal of salad and three entrees cost about $20 more on Monday than did our  similar dinner of soup, salad, risotto and whole fish in December 2010.

During the service contretemps, I said out loud , "What ever happened to 'the customer is always right'"?

I Gemelli Italian Restaurant, 268 Huyler St., South Hackensack; 1-201-487-422o.

BYO, free parking in lot, open Mondays to Fridays for lunch and dinner; Saturday for dinner and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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