Monday, March 29, 2010

Brunch at Masa 14

*Team post by Angela and Mark.
I had guests in town this weekend - my sister Pam, my future brother-in-law Jason, and their friend Jessica. and on Saturday, we took advantage of the beautiful weather and took a walk over to Masa 14 for brunch.  Mark and I had been there before for dinner, which was a little hit-or-miss both with dishes and service (they do have a really fantastic black cod dish), but we'd heard some pretty good things about brunch.  While we hoped for a better experience, unfortunately we were met again with hit-or-miss food, as well as more serious service problems.  I hate giving negative reviews, but I think we're just about done with Masa 14 for dining.

Click below to see what we ate!

Mark and Jason both got a Masa breakfast pizza, with house bacon, egg yolks, gruyere cheese, pico de gallo, and arugula.  Mark enjoyed the dish, but Jason noted that it was overly onion-y.  Sure enough, upon closer inspection, the minced red onion dominated the dish.

Masa Breakfast Pizza

The guys also each ordered sliders.  Jason got the blackened tuna club sliders, with house bacon, avocado, confit tomatoes, and arugula.  He seemed to like this dish better.

Blackened Tuna Club Sliders

Mark got the Wagyu beef sliders, with chipotle aioli, Bibb lettuce, caramelized onions and goat cheese.  He liked them but didn't love them.  On the plus side, the meat was well-seasoned and juicy.  Mark, though, shockingly felt like goat cheese (We're talking about a guy who wants to invent goat cheese-flavored gum) was the wrong choice, as the mini-sandwiches could have actually benefited more from some contrasting flavors and textures.  As it was, the creamy goat cheese didn't do much to stand apart from the caramelized onions or juicy meat.  From my bite, I agree with Mark, but I think I enjoyed it a little more than he did.

Wagyu Beef Sliders

Pam got the chilaquiles, with corn tortillas, chorizo, queso cotija (a hard cow's milk cheese), soft scrambled eggs and salsa verde.  She was kind of so-so on the dish, giving it a "B-".


Jessica got the petite mushroom escabeche omelet (not pictured), with arugula, roasted peppers, and tomato jam, which she didn't seem to love, but didn't hate, either.  They split an order of Anson Mill grits, with chipotle pepper, Oaxaca cheese, and green onions, which they declared to be the best dish of the meal.

Anson Mill Grits

I got the grilled chorizo sausage, poached egg, and salsa Mexicana.  The sausage was very tasty, and the salsa was full of bright, fresh flavor, but the egg was overcooked (the yolk was pretty firm).

Grilled Chorizo Sausage, Poached Egg and Salsa Mexicana

The service was, I hate to say it, but... not good.

(I'll let Mark take over here, since he actually waits tables for a living, and is often the first to understand what is happening when there are hiccups in service.)

Let me begin by saying that I work in a restaurant with pretty rigorous standards and expectations for service.  While I know it's unreasonable to hold other restaurants to these same standards, I do think there are a minimum of things that should be expected at a certain class of restaurant, should I offer my patronage there.  Honestly, these are all things that you don't need me to tell you about, because they're very basic principals of good customer service.  I know as well as anyone that mistakes happen, but a mistake can almost always be forgiven and forgotten with a sincere commitment to solving the problem and an apology.

The first couple of issues I had with the service would normally be things I'd forgive.  But, in retrospect, when larger issues present themselves later in the meal, it's tough not to go back and re-examine all of the kinks. In spite of the restaurant being virtually empty (we almost walked past because it was so empty, we assumed it must be closed) it took nearly ten minutes before any server greeted our table and took a drink order.  At that point, we'd already had a solid ten minutes with the menus and we were ready to order food as well as drinks.

Normally, I'm the most sympathetic when it comes to waiting for drinks.  Cocktails require waiting for one bartender and sometimes there's a long line of drinks to be made before yours come up.  Taking several minutes to return with a round of drinks isn't out of the ordinary and sometimes guests have difficulty understanding this.  I was just a little let down that our food started to hit the table a few minutes before our server was able to return with a relatively easy drink order.  (Another service standard is that it's tacky for food to hit the table before the guests have anything in front of them to drink.  If your drinks are taking a long time, you need to tell the kitchen to slow the food down.)

But, mind you, I said 'started to hit' the table.  Our food arrived in spurts over the course of several minutes.  Another service standard is that you should be able to have all of the food hit the table in as short of a window is possible.  This way, guests aren't left out and everyone can begin to eat before their food turns cold.  The first of our food was nearly cold by the time the final dishes were trickling out of the kitchen.

Up to this point the service had been patchy but forgivable, but this is where it fell flat on its face.  Halfway through the slow trickle of food hitting the table, out came a mushroom pizza.  After passing it around the table a few times without it finding a home, we soon realized that a mushroom omelette must have become a mushroom pizza in the game of 'telephone' between when the order was taken and the food was delivered.  A couple of minutes later when the food runner brought the next wave of entrees, we tried to explain to him that we hadn't ordered the mushroom pizza.  After he tried to tell us we were wrong, we finally were able to get the order straightened out... or so we could only hope.  While we waited for the entree to be made, nobody stopped by the table to apologize or establish any sort of expectations as to when it might come.

Usually, this is where the server swings by the table to realize that one of the diners is missing an entree. "Oh, I'm sorry, I misheard you.  I'll have the omelette right out."  But this never happened.  As the rest of us finally caved in and started picking away at our food, Jessica was left waiting another ten minutes.  Once again, that's a forgivable offense... but nobody really seemed to care enough to stop by and explain or apologize.  Our server was nowhere to be found.  We weren't certain that the right dish would ever even make it to the table.  It finally did arrive... without any explanation, any apology or even the simple acknowledgment of some sort of error.

When the food finally arrived, we were lucky that nothing else was wrong because we didn't see anyone until the meal was finished and our server snuck by to refill someone's coffee.  I wasn't upset, I just walked out really let down.  It was so dead in Masa 14 that afternoon that I would've figured the staff would want to encourage return business.  As we walked out, I passed a manager on my way to the restroom.  He had been standing out on the floor the entire time, never looking terribly busy, and for everything that went wrong, he (and the server) had the simple means to correct it all by simply walking by.  As it stands, I walked out under the impression that the staff didn't care if we ever came back and they have no need to worry...

We won't.

While Masa 14 may be a decent spot for pre-concert drinks (it is a fun space, after all), there are so many other and better options for brunch/dinner along 14th Street and the U Street corridor.


  1. Good review. I almost went there for dinner last night, or at considered it. Now it's even less likely. It completely unacceptable to not even make any attempt at an apology. I probably would have had words with the Manager on my way out.

  2. Thanks, Evan. Your comment makes me feel better. I really hate writing negative reviews, but it was the second time we had dined there, with very similar problems - problems that could be fixed with just a little bit of effort. For my money, I'd much rather end up at nearby Cork, Posto, Rice, or Birch & Barley.

  3. Also makes me want to write more reviews on my blog vs just putting them on Yelp. There are enough restaurants out there, that if a place has bad service and the food doesn't make up for it, eff them

  4. Yeah, it was a matter of both flawed service and food - one could have made up for the other. Oh, well.

    I've never posted anything on Yelp (Mark has), but I do read the reviews there. You could do both (blog and Yelp)...I feel like they may reach slightly different audiences.

  5. Interesting review. Negative feedback is always difficult but being in the service industry I would have thought you would have at least mentioned your poor experience to the manager. That being said, I hope your tip reflected the service as many servers and patrons think that tip should be 20% no matter what - wrong (inmyopinionneway). Lastly, I've been to MASA once and had a good experience. The service was just average but I thought the food was delicious. It's a fact that some restaurants operate better with a full house rather than when it's empty and maybe MASA14 is one of those. I would say give it one more try during a Friday night w/ reservations and hopefully their "primetime" staff will be on-hand.

  6. Blake - that's a good point, we probably should have mentioned our problems to the manager at the time. Part of the reason that we didn't (or at least, part of the reason that I didn't) is because we were with guests and just wanted to be on our way after the meal. But you're right, we should have said something at the time and given them the chance to make it right.

    That being said, we actually have gone to Masa 14 during a busy weekend night and while it was better, we didn't have a great time then, either. It's not that I don't believe you can't have a good overall experience there (obviously, since you did!), it's just that I haven't.

  7. Yeah, sadly.. this WAS Masa's second chance. The first time, our server forgot about us as we sat with empty plates and empty drinks for 15 minutes (honestly, it might have been longer...) while she was having a personal conversation with her co-worker right in front of us.

    I'm sure some of their servers are better than others, unfortunately for us, two of the worst service experiences we've had in the last year have both been at Masa. And honestly, I'm not sure how a dish is returned to expo, and a new dish is cooked and sent back out ten minutes later without an apology. This is basic hospitality. If Masa has any sort of system in place for keeping their guests happy it had a monumental break down during our visit. Judging by my two visits, I'm leaning towards the idea that they don't place any special emphasis on their customer service... and while the other restaurants on 14th had lines out their doors at noon on Saturday, Masa had maybe four or five tables... so, I suspect we're not the only people who feel that way.

    It's a fair critique that we should have notified the manager. He was having a conversation with someone when I passed by him. Perhaps it was more my passive-aggressive nature, but I also don't personally feel that it's my job to have to tell someone they should've apologized to me. With guests in town I think the attitude was mutual amongst all of us that we should just get going.

  8. In any event, I love the honesty. Once Is Chance, Twice is Coincidence, & the Third Time Is A Pattern; as the saying goes . . .

  9. I'm not sure I'm going to make it to that third time to see if it's a pattern. I'm more a fan of 'fool me once, shame on you. fool, me twice, shame on me,' which means I only have to go twice to prove my theory. :-)