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Everybody's a critic. And lately some Style readers have shown no mercy for local restaurants, venting all sorts of complaints about food and service. Here's a sampling:

Saved by Tarrant's

The bottom line of this letter is — thanks to lousy service at a Richmond landmark, we found a real gem in downtown Richmond. The difference was all about service, superb at Tarrant's and just plain rude at [a notorious Italian mecca]. Apparently they don't need any new customers, and I don't think any new customer would really care to be subjected to the intolerant and arrogant atmosphere created by that host. — L.P.

Salt in the Wound

We had dinner at [a VCU-area upscale Italian restaurant] last Saturday, and I had the worst restaurant experience of my life. My fish was like a salt lick, but my goal was to get my mahi fillet as they do all their fish: with its perfectly browned topping with fresh oregano, crushed red pepper, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper, done without killing my taste buds with salt.

I told our server it was too salty, and his shoulders and face dropped; I could see he'd been through this many times before. He did the walk of shame to the kitchen teller window and spoke to the chef, came back with the same fish and said, "The chef can make you another one, but you'll have to pay for it."

What? I told our server I wasn't going to do that, so he took it back again and came back with the same fish, reporting that the chef said since he was just going to make it exactly the same way again, he suggested I scrape off the top of the fish.

What? A "screw-you" attitude from an egotistical "chef" is not what I'm willing to pay for. I didn't want to do the whole asshole thing and write a letter, but if the owner doesn't give a damn, what point would there be in calling or writing them? It used to be my favorite restaurant, but I will never return. You only have to piss off one customer at a time. — Ann

Turnover for the Worst

From our vantage point, we quickly learned, not by choice, that the [Innsbrook-area seafood restaurant] was understaffed, had a new manager, the host wasn't used to working in a "family-style" restaurant — he'd only worked in chains — and no one was busing tables because the busboy was doing dishes.

Our server, possibly also the bartender, was more interested in flirting with a lone man at the bar than serving us. She served the man an appetizer and another dish that looked like shrimp cocktail (not on the menu), which she ate on the run — dipping the shrimp into sauce, eating, tossing the tail and serving drinks. I never saw her wash her hands. It was rather disturbing.

The table next to us asked the manager for biscuits — they were still eating soup. Later, when they settled their tab, the manager apologized and said the biscuits were baking; however, we'd seen a basket of biscuits served in the interim to the man at the bar.

Please understand that it was not our choice to witness all this drama — we simply wanted a nice meal out, maybe even a romantic evening. It is difficult to ignore all these things going on around you when the service is slow and seating places you at the edge of all the activity. — K.G.

Why Excellence Is Rare

Quantity of restaurants does not equal quality. There are several reasons:

1. Servers are inadequately trained. Too often wait-staff approach the table looking sloppy, dirty, sleepy, ill-prepared and, worst of all, rude! Blame goes not to the server in most cases, but to the restaurant manager or trainer, who many times is not there supervising operations. The buck should stop with them. Well-run restaurants hold meetings/training sessions with staff regularly to keep things fresh in their minds: For example, if you're having a bad day, do not take it out on the customer.

2. A tight restaurant labor pool. Due to the number of recent restaurant openings, there are simply not enough good waitstaff to go around. This is apparent in Richmond if you eat out often.

3. More hidden charges. Recently, I lunched at a Church Hill eatery and asked for bread. The waitress asked what type I wanted but didn't mention there was a charge until the bill came. That's really cheap and deceptive!

4. A menu you can trust. If your menu says "homemade crab cakes" (plural), you'd better have more than one showing up on the plate and they'd better not be frozen.

5. Many restaurants ignore the details, like keeping water glasses filled. Those are things customers remember. — Chuck Baldwin

There are many perceptive and professional servers, owners, chefs and managers working in Richmond restaurants, and we salute them for their attentive hospitality over long hours with an increasingly demanding clientele. Let us know if these complaints strike a chord, and if you have suggestions for owners or customers on ways to continue refining the food scene.

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