Compare every element of the fabulous meal you ate the other day . . . let’s say, give them a 5. Now rank the experience of tonight’s meal that you just ate. On a 0-5 ranking system, what would you give them? Say the number you come up with is 3.5.
Using the same grading scale 0-5, now rank the same restaurant comparing them to a meal you ate at Denny’s . . . Denny’s is now given the 5. Now, how would you rank them, or what number would you now give? Remember you can’t give them any higher than a 5. Take into account every element . . . location, price, value, quality, consistency, customer service . . . everything. Don’t forget to add the element of expectation. Were your expectations met? ‘Cause, isn’t that the true test of fine hospitality? Meeting or exceeding the customer’s expectation”.
Now compare all of the numbers . . . was it any good?, . . . really?
Dolce Mente Pompei Ristorante Italiano was refered to us by several folks we had talked with while staying in Cancun. They all said it was really quite good, especially for being right next door, having an Italian owner and an expansive and impressive menu. Well, that night, we were attempting to eat something that we haven’t had over the last week, since almost everything was Mexican or South American/Caribbean. We kinda decided that Italian might be a good choice and had compared several reviews and write-ups on the internet . . . and this place seemed as though it may be hidden gem. It actually had a higher overall average ranking than many of its competitors in the area. When we walked in, hardly any seats were full on this Friday night at 6:30, but most of the tables were reserved. They still had room outside but it was a very windy and rainy day in Cancun so we wanted to be inside. We were seated conveniently near the semi-open kitchen. Once we were seated we were followed by streams of customers about another 30 minutes later that filled most all of the tables. Boy, I guess we just got lucky to still being able to get a seat at this hidden secret. Well, I’m still looking for what was hidden. Some of the reviews identified it as messy, dirty or unkept. Well it certainly wasn’t the most impressively decorated and spit-polished.
The menu looked potentially impressive, with items like carpaccio, gnocchi, several risotto, several fish entres and home-made gelato. Claiming that all of their pasta was hand-made on site got our interest. The first order of business was to get a bottle of vino flowing and we let our vintner-savve friends make the choice. The bottle arrived and was immediately identified as being chilled, or refrigerated by the condensation forming on the outside in the warmer and less arid climate. About the same time we were given a flat-bread of sort with olive oil and cheese sprinkled atop . . . but we were also served a basket of tortilla chips and plain mayonnaise and also a mayonnaise mixed with cilantro . . . WTF is this??? Ok, maybe the Italians are into “maize” or mayo”naise” also. Dunno, . . . kinda throwin’ me off here. So, the others at our table decided to allow the wine to be poured and air up to room temp. Not a bad bottle once allowed to set. Kinda odd that the bottles of red were chilled in an Italian restaurant . . . not that it’s completely wrong, . . . just odd; and the chips . . . not necessarily wrong, just takin’ us all by surprise . . . all of this culture-shock shit. I guess I need to get to Italy soon to check out the trends. Sheesh!
We ordered a couple of appetizers because they sounded good on the menu, and the apps would be an initial test of the food to help us overlook the red wine blunder . . . oh, did I just say that? As I was saying about the apps; we ordered the carpaccio and a charcuterie dish that had prosciutto, salami, cheese and some other stuff, smothered . . . I mean drizzled with olive oil. The carpaccio was a beautiful plate complete with a very tender and thinly sliced beef filet, capers and shaved romano. They also had a salmon carpaccio that I didn’t order . . . sounded too much like lox to me. Well, the carpaccio was wonderfully delicious . . . melted in your mouth, but what is that . . . ? It had a tang that we identified as being lemon juice squeezed over it. Not typical, . . just again odd. The remaining meats and cheeses for our appetizer got us pushed to the next course, even if the salami was a mild and conservative Genoa style.
I had to try some items on the menu so I ordered the ‘ol stand-by, the meal I compare all Italian fare as being equalled across the board. I ordered the linguine and clams. Wait, no linguine? Only spaghetti and clams? Ok, I’ll try that. I’ll also have a plate of the Porcini Risotto. My wife will have the Fettucine Alfredo and our other guests, the Pork Tenderloin Porcini.
Well, the Pork Tenderloin was fine and since it wasn’t my plate I had only a bite to make my assumptions and analogies. The spaghetti and clams was a nicely presented plate with ample amounts of freshly cooked clams surrounding the fresh spaghetti . . . or was it? The spaghetti had a look and palate that of dried spaghetti. The clams seemed to be seasoned appropriately with lots of my favorite “GARLIC”, but perhaps a bit over cooked. They were just a bit on the chewy side. The pasta was fine but again, didn’t seem fresh. Both, however, began to draw a significant pepper aftertaste once I began to taste the risotto.
The Porcini Risotto was way over peppered, the consistency was too stiff and ruined my palate enough to have to stop eating the remainder of my meal because everything became too spicy with pepper. I even had to wait until I got a glass of fresh water in order to finish due to the pepperiness in the wine. Wow !!! Not a good risotto, even plated poorly with the used prophelactic-like looking strips of romano across the top. Enough already!!! It was pissing me off that they screwed that up so bad.
We did however encounter fresh alfredo pasta in a light alfredo sauce. I didn’t think this was a bad plate, but my wife was unsatisfied due to its lack of cheesy prowessness (if that’s a word . . . ). I actually thought this was one of the better plates and used the creaminess of the alfredo sauce to calm the powerful pepper from the risotto. I think the Alfredo plate may be why some of the gringos praise Dolce Mente. Friggin gringos!!!
As we ate . . . and we watched. And, as we watched . . . they got busy . . . SUPER BUSY. This was now a kitchen being challenged with the staff they had available. I may have this wrong; but what we calculated, was the wife of the owner trying to keep things alive both up front and in the back . . . then they got busy. We then saw the Mother of the owner, in a dress or blouse, in the kitchen helping out the back of the house. Then we saw the owner appear momentarily then head off somewhere else. Then we saw the service staff struggling to keep up with larger and larger orders. We saw them trying to get several plates out at the same time with no place to get them ready for delivery (i.e. no landing zone). Some of them under lamps and some of them covered . . . and some of them out in the open air cooling off. It seemed really out of control. Then we saw plates come back because they were cold. You know the ol’ cook sticking their finger in it test to see if the server is really telling the truth. Touch it again . . . yup, feels cold. Then we saw it! Then, the last thing anyone getting a cold plate wants to see, especially a plate that has a protein meat on it, is to see your plate go in the microwave . . . THE MICROWAVE??? To fix an order??? On several plates??? Then we saw the same plate that went into the microwave for 5 minutes unmonitored, come out so hot, it was too hot for the server to handle. The server had to use a service tray to carry it out. Yikes!!!
Well ,I felt bad for the staff of Dolce Mente. The service was not bad, yet definitely lacked far from that of any four . . . or marginally, any three star joint. I even had to ask for a spoon to use for spinning the pasta and an extra plate for my clam shells; and I was never offered additional grated romano or parmesan cheese to top my pasta. At that point I was just into eating and watching. I was really hoping for a gem to rise out from some of the critical reviews I had read . . . but I think all of the good reviews were from all those Alfredo-ordering gringos.
So now I have to ask again, “what rank would you give them?”