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

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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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