Price Paid: Above $100 (dinner for three before tip, but I didn’t get to see the entire price because I was treated and didn’t want to be rude!)
Time: Friday, 8 PM
This particularly chilly November Friday evening found my dad, my sister, and I wandering down Main Street in Manayunk looking for a restaurant my dad and I used to frequent years ago: Sonoma. I was hoping that we could all share a nice dining experience while my dad was back in the area for a few days. As we looked in vain, I attempted to ask a woman walking past us if she knew where Sonoma was located on Main Street. This woman gave me a look that can only be described as one of utter disgust and annoyance before mumbling an “ugh, whatever” under her breath and continuing on her way. Little did I know that this merry soul (please note my sarcasm….indeed the lowest, yet best, form of wit!) would set the tone for our entire Manayunk restaurant experience. I could have actually inferred the evening’s progress from any one of three pre-dinner events:
1. The heinous traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway (a Philadelphia favorite, for sure!)
2. My sister’s unending attempts at nauseatingly punny jokes (wonder where she gets her sense of humor from, Dad!?)
3. This outstanding woman’s helpful attitude
We finally located the elusive Sonoma in a place now labeled as Derek’s Restaurant. Apparently Derek’s Restaurant turned into Sonoma while maintaining the same owner and chef. Unfortunately, Derek, who I assume is the owner, didn’t seem to carry over the customer service, reasonable prices, or pleasant atmosphere.
I was struck as a I entered the restaurant (quite literally) by the host who rudely yelled, “Excuse me!” and found it appropriate to throw his arm out in front of himself as he crossed in front of the entrance. I was hit only in the shoulder, but my poor handbag took a substantial smack and neither of us got an apology! Assault aside, we were seated within a few minutes despite the restaurant obviously being very crowded with limited table availability. Our table was in the back-most room of the restaurant against a wall. There was a room-long bench on one side of the table that provided seating for multiple tables and chairs on the other side. The tables were all packed extremely close together (with at most 6 or 7 inches between each one). This made for a very uncomfortable experience when my sister and I tried to squeeze past the couple at the table next to us to get to our seats on the bench. Throughout dinner, it also allowed for an extreme lack of privacy. There was a bar upstairs (that seemed to allow for more casual dress judging by the people I saw go up there) with very loud music playing and a lot drunk singing. I could barely hear my father seated across the table, but I could clearly hear the couple next to us yelling conversation to each other. My dad asked me to include a special note that Derek’s Restaurant did not provide “gentleman’s napkins” (dark napkins that prevent a man in a suit from getting covered in the white napkin fuzz that claimed my poor dad as a victim).
The service was okay, at best. Our waitress was friendly enough, but seemed very inexperienced. My dad tried to crack a few jokes (as usual), but she was very stiff and didn’t so much as smile. The food was good, but definitely overpriced for the small portion sizes. My dad and sister ordered a fixed-price 3-course meal. For $30, you could choose one each of several choices of salad, entree, and dessert. For $45, the 3-course meal came with 2 glasses of wine. We ordered the tomato mozzarella salad as an appetizer to share. According to the menu, this salad includes sliced vine ripened tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, pesto, and 12-year aged balsamic vinegar. Now that sounds all well, good, and fancy, but, to be honest, I really didn’t taste a difference between Ken’s Steakhouse Balsamic Vinegar dressing and Derek’s Restaurant’s 12-year aged balsamic vinegar. I think it just gives the crowd there an excuse to act more snooty (yes, Guru, I did say “snooty”). To get back on track, the salad was good, but small. For $9.95, I would have expected at least one of us to have more than one small tomato-mozzarella stack, but alas. The pesto added a unique flavor. The restaurant was out of the White Zinfandel my dad and sister ordered, but they never got notified about this until almost halfway through the meal.
My dad and sister both started with a Caesar salad. It didn’t look like anything out of the ordinary. My dad thoroughly enjoyed his, but my sister thought there was too much dressing. My two dining companions also ordered the same entree – grilled chicken with spinach fettuccine. It looked fresh and was very well presented (as were the salads and our appetizer). However, neither of them could come up with a better way to describe their meals other than “very good.” Again, the serving sizes were certainly not large. For my meal, I ordered the shrimp ravioli: spinach ravioli stuffed with shrimp and tossed in a lobster-basil-tomato-brandy-butter sauce (the menu’s wording for the sauce, not mine). For $18.95, I only received about 9 small-to-regular sized ravioli. The ravioli were, however, very good and the sauce tasted as good as its description sounds. For dessert, we all shared a raspberry bread pudding and an apple cobbler. Derek’s signature raspberry bread pudding was served warm with chocolate bourbon sauce and Tahitian vanilla ice cream. It was a decadent and inventive way to serve bread pudding; it was more like a cake than pudding. I still preferred the simpler and “more boring” apple cobbler. It, too, was served hot and topped with vanilla ice cream. Despite the small portions, the food was overall very good.
Derek’s Restaurant must only still be in business because it provides good food. To cap off our evening, my coat was returned to me by our waitress from the coat check with the right sleeve covered in spaghetti sauce. I still can’t wash it all out and the waitress didn’t seem to care much about it. I didn’t get an apology even after pointing it out (and, no, it was not there before). I got knocked over again on my way out by a waitress who blindly shoved her way past me. Realizing she knocked me out of the way, she was the only restaurant employee who apologized for her rudeness. Perhaps the restaurant would have been a lot more enjoyable if it didn’t try so hard to be something it’s obviously not. Surrounded in Manayunk by a good number of fancy and upscale dining establishments, Derek’s Restaurant is reminiscent of an identity crisis. It tries very hard to be upscale with its selection, prices, and decor. However, the service is certainly not “up to par” and neither is the atmosphere. Derek’s Restaurant tries to cram in too many people into too small of a space. Catering to the bar crowd upstairs also really ruins the experience for the dressed up diners downstairs. As for me, I’ll be holding out for the return of Sonoma. Derek’s Restaurant isn’t worth the hassle it creates.
Autumn’s Score: 1.9 Chews
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