Birch Street Bistro… 3 Strikes, You’re Out!


bsb Birch Street Bistro... 3 Strikes, Youre Out!Photo courtesy of Yelp.com

A few weeks ago, a bunch of my mom friends and I planned a GNO (Girl’s Night Out). We opted for the Birch Street Bistro in Roslindale — which was my suggestion, as we wanted something close-by and also wanted to enjoy the great weather by sitting outside. There aren’t too many places in the immediate area that offer alfresco dining, so that limited our selection significantly.

I had been to Birch Street Bistro the week they first opened several years ago and then 2 or 3 times since. Each experience had been “okay”… not great, but not bad. I think they have everything in place to be very successful — cool decor, a decent menu, a great outdoor space, a full bar — It’s just that something is always a little off for me.

That said, they have gotten some great reviews as of late (Zagat, Boston Magazine & the Phoenix)… so I thought it would be a lot of fun to sit on their back patio — which is really nice — and to also give them one more shot to impress me. Unfortunately, they failed.

I made a 7:30pm reservation (for eight) on a Friday night and when I arrived at 7:25, our table wasn’t ready. This was fine, as I was the first one there — though most places usually have tables for large parties ready a little early… so this made me a bit worried.

I waited and my other friends began to arrive. Then it was 7:45… then 8:00… and I checked-in again — this time with a different person than who I spoke to upon arrival. She seemed surprised to hear I was waiting… as my reservation wasn’t on the list! So  I hunted down the person I first spoke to originally and obviously, our reservation was screwed up (which I wasn’t told) and he was trying to finagle us a table. VERY annoying.

It wasn’t until 8:15 that we were seated — not a great way to start off the night, but we were in a good mood because we were out together, so we took it in stride.

The patio was packed and it was clearly a busy night for them… but things seemed to be moving and the other tables appeared to be having a good time. It took a while for our waiter to introduce himself and to get our drink order. We weren’t ready on the food front yet, so we asked for a few more minutes.

Our drinks took an extraordinary long time to come… and by then, not only were we ready to order… we were beginning to get hungry and crabby. Our waiter was in a rush though… telling us he would have to come back for our food order. By then, another person had arrived as well and still did not have water or her drink order taken.

It was at least 15 minutes before our waiter came back… no joke. We were getting annoyed by then, but tried to be pleasant. We ordered a few appetizers and a few dinners — as some of us had dinner beforehand and some didn’t. We also had to ask for some bread and he assured us it would be over soon. Then we waited… and waited… and waited… and waited. No server to be seen. No refills on our water. No refills on our drink orders. We saw our waiter flying-by a few times, but it appeared as if he was ignoring us.

At least 30 minutes later, we finally flagged him down. We NEEDED more drinks by then… desperately, and also wanted to order some wine. We asked about our food… and he assured us it would be out soon, but no apology, nor an explanation as to why he had been ignoring us.

Shortly after, our food began to arrive. We had an order of the Mussels Fritesserved in a saffron broth with hand cut fries ($14). These were decent, but definitely not great. The broth was very tasty, but the mussels were only so-so — they were small, a bit overcooked and sort of fishy. At $14 (when I can buy a 2lb bag in the grocery store for less than $5), I was expecting a bigger order and a better taste. And the fries? Well, they were undercooked… soggy and floppy.

Next we got two orders of the Fried Calamaritossed with lemon-garlic butter and served in a crispy tortilla ($10/each).  These were pretty good, though I would have liked either something to dip them in or a more prominent lemon-butter sauce. The “tortilla” was more of a fried flat bread… that the calamari sat on top of, rather than served in. These weren’t bad though… and they were cooked well — not too chewy or overdone.

Some of my companions got meals, including the Caprese Paniniwith fresh basil and EVOO, served with a mixed green salad ($11), a Caesar Salad ($6) with added grilled shrimp, the Veal Scaloppini with grape and white bean salata, roasted potatoes and a fig compote ($19) and the Grilled Vegetable Ravioliwith a fresh, cherry tomato-basil sauce ($14). I didn’t try any of these dishes, but the general consensus was that they were good… but that nothing was phenomenal or even great for that matter.

As we were finishing our meals… the cockroaches started showing up. Yes, you read that right… the COCKROACHES.

Now… I totally understand when you have a patio outside — where there are other restaurants and dumpsters nearby — you run the risk of bugs; but this was a little excessive. As I was sitting there talking to one of my friends, something moving on the ground caught my eye. When I looked though, nothing was there. My other friend had seen it too, but we both assumed it was just a leaf blowing or something. Then a few minutes later, I saw it again. This time I saw it wasn’t a leaf though… it was a cockroach that was AT LEAST 1.5 inches long.

In the next 15 minutes, while we impatiently waited for our check to arrive, we saw another 5 or 6 HUMONGOUS cockroaches come scurrying out of the rocks nearby and run UNDER OUR TABLE! Needless to say, we all got up and stood around — waiting AGAIN — for our server to show up with the bill.

By the time we got our bill, we were practically running out the door. We had a great time together, but a very annoying, frustrating and buggy dining experience. Will I go back? It will take some serious coaxing, with a promise of WAY better service and much better food. I’ll consider the roaches a fluke… THIS time.

My guess is that my fellow diners feel exactly the same way. It’s such a shame too… because we don’t have many great neighborhood restaurants in our area (especially ones with outdoor patios), so Birch Street Bistro could have really cornered the market. Too bad for them.

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26 Comments to “Birch Street Bistro… 3 Strikes, You’re Out!”

  1. Rhea says:

    Gosh, I really like this place but your review makes me queasy.

  2. Have you tried Sophia’s Grotto in the same local? It’s very good foodwise I think, and might have provided a better experience, however, I don’t think they have a full bar (just beer and wine).

  3. Tammy (BFW) says:

    Joe — Yes, I love Sophia’s! We thought about going there, but figured scoring a table for 8 outside would be downright impossible.

    Rhea — The thing is, IF you get a good server and have a good meal, it makes all the difference. It was a combination of the lack of reservations, the ridiculous waiting times, the awful service and then the unexpected guests that made me PO’d. And I’ve had bad service there before… so I had to give them a poor review. If you have good experiences though.. keep going!!!

  4. Kathleen says:

    Hi Tammy –

    I have to say I share your opinion on Birch Street, always just a little off. I have not been back since I had a risotto that was vegetarian on the menu but showed up LOADED with pancetta…they offered to pick it out for me, which I kindly informed our server that I was able to do myself.

  5. Tammy (BFW) says:

    Kathleen — that’s unacceptable… and gross if you don’t eat meat or pork!

  6. Maisie says:

    Hi Tammy–
    Your review captured our night well. I will add that the caprese panini was awful–so little basil that I kept checking to make sure it hadn’t fallen out. Almost no flavor at all. By contrast, Sophia’s Grotto’s paninis are just delicious.

  7. Tammy (BFW) says:

    Maisie — thanks for your 2 cents!!!

  8. mickey says:

    Tammy,
    Thank you for the warning!!!! I love to sit outside to eat so I am always searching for al fresco venues. I saw a bunch of people drinking outside at the new Sakara Grill in West Roxbury near Walgreen’s. I’ve been there once and the food was very fresh and the drinks reasonable.

  9. Kathode Ray Tube says:

    Oh God, roaches in Rozzie! Not that it’s so impossible to imagine, but I usually see roaches in Central Square Indian restaurants! Yuck — my experience at Birch St. is similar — slow service, not great food. I really like the service and the vibe over at Geoffrey’s. A nice place to have a drink or a meal.

  10. UGH! That just turned my stomach! What a terrible thing to be visited by after eating!

  11. melissa says:

    i really hope you complained to the owners… no one should have to be treated like that.

  12. jenny says:

    That place ia awesome…I wonder who your server was?

  13. Jen says:

    Just had my three strikes you’re out there too! My boyfriend and I were served an ice cream sundae covered COMPLETELY COVERED in whipped cream and chocolate. When we dug through to the ice cream, we realized why… the ice cream was freezer burned. This was after we had a crappy salad and a medium burger that was cooked so long it was more like a frisbee. There was no apology, no refund, no offer for something else. Luckily no cockroaches either, though. Sophia’s and Delfino’s will get all our business from now on!

  14. Liz says:

    Sophia’s Grotto is just across the patio however the two restaurants are worlds apart. The food,atmosphere and service at Sophia’s is exceptional.Sophia’s is as comfy as being at home just with better food and a waitstaff you will wish to befriend. By far the best night out in the square.
    LBev

  15. Jayme says:

    Im sorry you had such a horrible experience at the Birch Street Bistro, I was there last week with 4 of my girlfriends and we had a great time. Our waitress was very friendly and seemed to check up on us every 5-10 minutes. Our meals did take a little longer then I would have expected, but once my salmon came, it was definitly worth the wait. I also was not on the patio so I cannot say I wouldn’t have reacted the same way you did, but overall I give the bistro a thumbs up and really enjoyed my dining experience there.

  16. heath fuller says:

    I really liked your blog!

  17. Rich says:

    This seems odd. Too much detail and it strikes some false notes. I’ve never seen cockroaches running around under rocks for example. Blow this blog off and try it yourself.

  18. Tammy (BFW) says:

    Rich — I can assure you it’s true. And I have 5 other friends to back me up with it. I’m sure it was a bad night… but in our books, it was a REALLY bad night. I’m all for people trying places themselves, all I do is talk about my experience (which I’m willing to accept is a one-off). However, asking folks to “blow off” my blog is uncalled for.

  19. John In Rozzie says:

    First the positive: I always love Birch Street’s atmosphere, and I go as often as possible on Thursday nights for the FREE live music by the EXCELLENT house band and their raucous guests.

    But ohhhh…I do wish that Mark would hire more staff! I agree that there is always a feeling that something is “missing”, and it always — at least for me– comes down to their chronic shortage of waitstaff.

    One additional bartender is DESPERATELY needed (at least on Thursday nights), and please please PLEASE hire more dining waitstaff, and ones that are hoping to actually EARN their tips!!!

    But, folks, why compare Birch Street to Sofia’s Grotto? Yeah, they both serve Italian stuff, but, c’mon, they are very different places, offering a very different atmosphere/experience. Sophia’s is a zillionth the size of Birch Street, the food is stock, the atmosphere is generic (faux everything), and, like that horribly clorox-laced sushi joint next door, the walls are unclean.

    Cockroaches on zee veranda? Girls, awaken! Have you EVER dined in Europe? Or the friggin’ BACK BAY??? Anywhere near any living tree, bush, shrub, flower, or drop of water? F.F.S. Seriously, wake up.

    GROUP SUGGESTION: Warn any potential BF’s that you’ll be a boring soulmate on any picnic, camping trip, or bear hunting misadventure. Me? I suggest you dine in the nearest sterile environment; Yelp “New England Baptist Hospital” and see what the gals there all say about Operating Room 3G — cleanliness to the max, and no cockroaches. Wear your best scrubs, nuff said? Yeah, choose wisely, grasshopper! Silly, silly women.

  20. John In Rozzie says:

    OMG — How on earth did Yours Truly neglect to mention the reassuring reality that the those naughtie lil’ cockroaches did in fact agree to NEVER traipse onto Sofia’s Grotto’s eleven square feet of real estate on said patio extraordinairre! Ladies, they signed a contract! Honest !!!

    OOPS — that was 2009. Things are up for grabs in 2010, what with Scott Brown and all. Assume nothing, Earthlings (and Sofia’s enthusasts)!

    p.s. Where in heck IS that darn grotto?

  21. John In Rozzie says:

    Dear Ms. “Tammy (BFW)”,

    On behalf of your seventh-grade English teacher, please DO reevaluate your use of the word “your” in your title to your fun and interesting tale about the Birch Street Bistro.

    NB: Goddess Tammy, please, in the future, remember to spell “your” in this case as “you’re” (“…three strikes, you’re out!”), and, may we suggest using capital letters, as in fact you used it for a TITLE.

    Suffice to say, thank heavens you nabbed a guy who makes enough money to keep you blogging in your spare time.

  22. Tammy (BFW) says:

    Dear John in Rozzie,

    You spent so much time pointing out your opinions to me, that I decided to dedicate a post JUST to you!

    You can see it here: http://www.bostonfoodandwhine.com/2010/02/05/dear-john/

    Enjoy!
    Tammy

  23. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this review, Tammy. I rarely eat on a patio because it’s hard to control external conditions, but roaches are particularly bad.

    I’d like to confirm that since your original post, Birch St Bistro continues to lack adequate waitstaff and quality food. I’d also like to add that the place is also way overpriced for what they offer.

    I encourage everyone who sees this post to save your evening, save some money, and take your business to Geoffrey’s (also in Rozzie square). They’ve got it all: the funky vibe, attentive service, tasty and filling food, and a knack for making good cocktails. Show them some love.

  24. Interesting says:

    I happen to be going to Birch Street Bistro tonight due to the fact that the band that will be playing there tonight is pretty good. I have to agree with most of the comments here. When you are waiting for service you can get pretty pissed off. The long wait is ridiculous. I also find Mark to be pretty darn rude although he tries very hard to appear otherwise. God forbid if you ask him a question. He acts as if you are totally annoying him. If it weren’t for the bands Birch Street Bistro would fizzle out.

  25. Interesting says:

    Is John from rozzi Mark the owner? If so, listen up Mark. You’re place is starting to suck! I hope you pay your bands well for “they” are your business!!!

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