Close, But No Cigar (Updated)
Outstanding: beer selection, covered roof deck, wide open space, daily events
Meh: attempt at sustainable food presentation, food, service, oysters
Awful: 2nd floor smell, cleanliness, preparedness for DC Beer Week 2009
Absent: staff, promised Oregon oysters
Well, ‘The Common Man’ is really disappointed. This week is DC Beer Week 2009, and since I am going away this weekend I figured one event would be perfect (enough), so I chose oysters and beer, why wouldn’t I? The Reef advertised oysters from Oregon flown into DC, with a list of Rogue Brewery beers, from 5-10 and I was drooling thinking about it early in the day. I was expecting a salty, shellfish extravaganza, but it turns out they were swimming into the deep end and couldn’t keep their heads above the water.
So I got there at about 6:00, and it was getting busy. I went right up to the roof deck, content with how busy it was until I saw there was one bartender, yes uno bartendero, serving approximately 70 people. He was working his ass off, and he had a teammate *trying* to help him keep up, but the wait was unsatisfactory. I immediately ordered a Rogue Captain Sig’s Northwestern Deadliest Ale and a dozen Blue Point Oysters, excited I got my order in before the floodgates opened. (I reviewed the Rogue beers here.)
As I waited, I watched The Reef take a dive. The frustration in the staff-members’ faces and the level of customer angst rose in tandem. They could not keep enough Rogue beers (the special beer advertised for the night) up there, nor could they keep them cold enough (it was about 90 degrees, with heavy humidity) as I drank a couple of them warm. Bottom line, they were unprepared for a heavily talked-about and advertised event in the worst way: not enough staff. I blame management for that, not the staff, again, they were working their asses off.
So after 50 minutes, I got my oysters (they were backed up with only 2 people shucking combined with hundreds of oysters ordered at all times, again, this was an oyster/beer event). They weren’t really worth the wait, though I was surprised they knew how to shuck. The Blue Points were a little milky, and not salty enough for my taste, and I think they mixed in some Gigamotos. Oregon oysters are supposed to be sweeter, and more elegant, as Oregon oysters are gaining a following as of late. Trusting my instinct, I looked closer, realizing that their oyster choices, Blue Point, Malpeque, and Gigamotos, aren’t actually from Yaquina Bay, as advertised. Boo.
At first I figured that Blue Points could be, as many bays have Blue Points, but they were actually from either N. California or Long Island. Malpeques are of course from Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Gigamotos are from Washington state. WTF? So essentially, if the event was supposed to be Oregon beer paired with Oregon oysters, they failed big-time.
Instead of getting more average oysters, I decided to order their bison burger. On every other Tuesday, they are half-off, and I figured, “hey, for a place that makes a claim at being local, sustainable, and conscience of sensitive agriculture, I could get a good burger”.
I liked it but meh. It was a standard burger, on what appeared to be brioche bread (hopefully homemade); with fresh tomato, lettuce, and pickle; and it was cooked medium-rare like I asked. But it was fishy that an establishment that makes such a lofty claim of sustainability and food conscientiousness served me what seemed to be frozen Sysco fries and obviously Heinz ketchup (ie. high-fructose corn syrup). I’ll give the chef the benefit of the doubt because, as I’ve witnessed, it is often hard to do what’s right while coming up against an owner’s desire to drive a BMW, if you know what I mean, but he’s trying.
As I sat digesting, and contemplating the extreme contradictions of The Reef, I looked around and saw that the place was a pigsty. There were un-bussed glasses and dishes EVERYWHERE. I watched what appeared to be the manager trying to keep up with it a little, shucking here, cleaning there, but the space is huge and very crowded, thus he couldn’t keep up. Again, where is your summer staff?
On a positive note, the chef tried to pair small bite creations with the Rogue beer flavors, and I think his flavor profiles, while slightly erratic (lime salad paired with a chocolaty stout?), were creative. The Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar beer went pleasantly with the mission fig, chestnut honey, and regiano parmesiana cheese plate–bravo.
So, I will give The Reef another try on a normal weekday night, as maybe it’s a bit unfair to judge wholly on the night of an event. But you have already betrayed my trust with your oyster switch-a-roo. Next time I will enjoy one (or a few) of their many beers (certainly a delight) and another creative kitchen concoction, but please chef, don’t try to WOW me with your food ideology if you’re not going to come through, just make it happen.
UPDATE: So Mike at DC Beer sensed my frustration. This is good, and shows that the people behind these events really do care about the people who pay the big-bucks for the beers and food. And as customers we care when they get it right. I will look forward to next year when they do a bang-up job. But I am still not very happy that they were supposed to have Oregon oysters, yet they did not, nor did they tell me when I said, “I’ll take a dozen Newport, Oregon oysters please”, tisk, tisk. I’ll cut them some slack on preparedness, but I will not for this transgression. Should I give The Reef another chance, on a not-so-crazy night? I probably will. Cheers.