Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sweet Caroline's: What A Disappointing Shame

We braved the frigid weather last night to venture out to a VIP Grand Opening Party we had been invited to at new restaurant Sweet Caroline's in Boston. Let me just say up front that this was so ungracious a reception we wondered if it was really happening or just some weird dream, the kind that food writers have.

It began when we arrived about ten minutes early, walked up the red carpet outside, which we thought was a nice touch, and stepped in. A gentleman greeted us at the door and we advised that we were there for the VIP Party. He gestured for us to check in with the host. As we did so a woman came along and said flatly that no one was allowed in until 8PM. I should mention that the bar area at this point was already about 40% full. We obliged, stepped back and waited by the front entrance. My guest felt so uncomfortable that he suggested we should just go across the street to Jerry Remy's and have a drink. To put him at ease I asked the host if it was okay that we waited inside the door. (Keep in mind that it was 30 degrees out with 50 mph wind gusts, one of the coldest nights of the season so far). She said: "Actually, I think they'd like you to wait outside." Stunned, we still obliged and spent the few moments remaining until it was exactly 8PM walking around the block in the frigid weather. I was insulted, frankly, but willing to still keep an open mind.

When we returned we noticed that, strangely, the red carpet had been rolled up. We gave our names and were checked off on the guest list. We looked around at the very crowded upper level bar then decided to move to the less crowded lower bar, which had much more spacious seating. The very amenable Bartender explained the drinks that were included on the open bar menu for the VIP guests. I asked to order the Blue Moon beer. At this point we were informed that the lower bar does not serve that beer, only the upper bar does. (Is my weird dream analogy making sense at this point?) I turned to my invited guest, who had travelled farther than me to attend this VIP Party, and said: "Okay. This is Fenway. We'll call this strike 2." We moved upstairs.

After settling in, I noticed that many of those around us already had 2 or 3 drinks each lined up in front of them. My dining companion at this VIP Party waited at the bar for 10 minutes ... and then we had our first. An appetizer was offered: an asparagus stalk wrapped with a piece of prosciutto, neither of which was remarkable. I suddenly had an idea for a new PSA message geared toward a new generation of young diners in search of decent food along Boylston Street: IT GETS WORSE. It's like an horrible accident when you can remember each second of grisly detail in slow motion, then all in a flash, stamped on your brain cells forever.

We finally spotted a few friends and began to chat about all of the other great restaurants in this city that we've enjoyed. The second appetizer came around. I didn't know what to say. It was a tasteless square of what was described as pastry but was really more like styrofoam injected with a microscopic portion of lobster. In my opinion, I even doubted it was lobster.

At this point we opted for a second round, chalked it up as the cocktail hour and headed off to a real dinner, at a real restaurant, with real service.

I apologized profusely to my guest and admitted that I wished we just went into Tiffani Faison's Sweet Cheeks as we strolled by on our way to this shameful excuse for a reception. This backyard of Fenway Park is not an easy destination for most people in the city to get to. If you want them to go there then be like the few other inventive restaurants that give them a reason.

I am nothing less than a polite and gracious dining guest at any greater Boston restaurant that I visit and your treatment was an insulting slap in the face that I publicly and deeply resent.

My last piece of advice: If you just want to be a drinking spot, a watering hole for locals, a dive bar with a fancy wall by another name, then throw open the doors and let them in. Just don't invite food writers to your VIP Party and expect them to take your poor excuse for dining and your shoddy, inexcusable service as anything less than a revolting violation of trust. You are a true, lasting, memorable disappointment.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I was going to attend this event last night but was not feeling well. Sounds like I did not miss anything great.

  2. The presentation of the food looks terrible let alone your account of the poor service.

  3. William:

    I am so very sorry that your experience last night was a negative one. We were finishing setting up for the party and sadly we were not ready to open our doors until 8:00 when the event was starting. The people gathered in the bar area prior to that were the family members of the owner who had come slightly early to help out and take a first tour of the restaurant. I take full responsibility for the mishap - my initial thought was it was awkward and dangerous to be moving tables and chairs and adjusting the red carpet that we had to move around to prevent it from both blowing around outside and bunching up on the inside when we tried to fold it over onto itself while guests were standing there. I cannot apologize enough for the start to your evening. If I had to do it over again, I would have found a quiet safe spot for you to be in while we finished setting up. It was merely a judgement call on my part, and clearly I made a wrong one. As for the food portion of our event, again I am sorry that you were disappointed. We serve American/comfort foods mainly and tried to simply give the guests a special treat with items that we do not normally serve such as the aparagus and prosciutto and the lobster on puff pastry. We do take great pride in our restaurant and our intentions were only good and solid. I'm sorry they were not executed well and again, I feel awful that your experience was a negative one.

    I would honestly love to have you back in and would like to both apologize and talk to you in person. I hope such a meeting can take place in the near future.


  4. Ha....

  5. We've chosen to break our policy and publish some anonymous comments that are well-thought and not just cheap shots. So, please feel free to continue to comment. I call them as I see them and while I usually leave the negative aside I felt this was egregious. I thank Kim Rubin for having clear and open communication and the courage to invite me back. I have agreed to do so, anonymously and at some unannounced time. You live. You learn.

  6. I think if the restaurant is still moving tables at 750PM when the invitation for the VIP guests is for 8PM, there is a major problem. Just saying.

  7. It was nice meeting you at Sweet Caroline's! The food and drinks definitely could have been better; I just hope for their sake it was a reflection of being a newer establishment.