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Instant Reaction: Terrible Dining Experience at Monticello in Davis

Between happy hour at dinner, I eat out more than 100 times a year. Over that number of meals, sometimes the food will be bad, other times the service will be bad. Sometimes both. But I’ve never been to a restaurant that seemed to go out of its way to make sure I had a bad experience.

At the end of June, I went to Monticello in Davis for Sunday brunch to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday. As you might remember, Sac Mag’s Kira O’Donnell spoke highly of it in a blog post in April 2011 and Sactown Mag featured it in its recent article on the area’s top brunches. I was hopeful that it’d be both tasty and enjoyable.

When we arrived at Monticello at about 1:15 p.m., the restaurant was about 40 percent full.

We quickly settled on what we wanted to eat. I ordered the ham and cheese “seasonal omelet” ($9), my wife ordered the walnut caramel French toast ($8), my mother-in-law ordered the Spinach “seasonal omelet” ($9) and my father-in-law ordered the Monticello Burger ($12). We also ordered a side of cottage fried potatoes ($4) to share. We ordered at about 1:30 p.m. or so.

And then the wait began. At about 1:50 p.m., I started to wonder where our food was. At 1:55 p.m. – 25 after we ordered, no waiter had been by to let us know the status of our order. I got up and walked to the front of the restaurant to ask them to check on the status of our food. They disappeared into the kitchen and walked back to our table.

They didn’t come over to give us an update – leaving us to wonder whether this brunch would actually become an early dinner.

At 2:05 p.m., our meal came, but the waiter accidentally brought out waffles instead of French toast. Since we didn’t want to wait another half an hour for the right entrée, we told him it wasn’t a big deal, and he apologized and said the item would be taken off our bill.

He also told us that since they were closing for the 4th of July week, they were out of Cottage Fried Potatoes and gave us regular fries instead. (Note that he didn’t ask us if we’d be ok with the substitution of one side with another. He just made the substitution of country-style brunch potato wedges with fries on his own.) I understand running out of food, but why not give us a choice if we’d want another side instead of choosing one for us? Fries were an option on the menu, and I purposefully didn’t order them.

He then returned to our table with French toast, explaining that he had brought out entrée to the wrong table. We had already started eating the waffles given our previous discussion, so he also left the French Toast with us.

A quick review of the food. The omelets were mediocre. There was nothing “seasonal” about a ham and cheddar cheese omelet. My father in law seemed to find the burger delicious. The waffles and French toast were both average to good. I’ll readily admit that the poor service we received definitely diminished our enjoyment of the food. Maybe it was better than how we perceived it, but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time. To continue nitpicking, if you wanted hot sauce, it’d cost an extra dollar. The menu said it was housemade, but I can’t recall ever being charged for a condiment at a sit down restaurant – regardless of where it was made.

When the bill came, both the French toast and country potatoes were still on the bill. Even though the waiter promised to take the French toast off the bill, since we eventually received it, I understood why it was there. But I was outraged to see that we were charged for the potatoes. For the waiter to unilaterally decide to substitute one side dish for another without giving us a choice is unfathomable. I did not receive what I ordered and wasn’t about to pay for it. Our conversation went a little like this.

Me: Excuse me. Why are the cottage fried potatoes still on the bill?

Waiter: I brought you the fries instead.

Me: Well, I didn’t order the fries, and I didn’t receive the potatoes. I don’t think I should be paying for items I didn’t receive.

Waiter: Um, I didn’t charge you for the waffles, either.

Me: I didn’t order those either.

Waiter: Fine, I’ll take it off the bill.

That's not an exact transcript, but it's pretty close to the actual exchange we had.

I generally don’t write bad reviews about restaurants. I know many are just small businesses trying to make a living. Often, I can tell they’re trying hard, and they just didn’t succeed on the one time I ate there.

That wasn’t the case here. We ordered food. We waited more than 30 minutes for brunch at a restaurant that was less than half full. When the food did come, they brought the wrong food. They admitted they made a mistake and promised to take that entrée off the bill. They did not. They substituted one side for another without checking with me, then tried to charge me for it, and then gave me attitude for refusing to pay for a side dish I never received.

After having the side dish removed from our bill, we paid $42 for the meal including tax. I left a $3 tip since the service was so bad. We didn’t get out of there until 2:30 p.m.

Contrast that experience with the brunch I had at Orphan in East Sac on July 4th. We ordered their Peach Cobbler Pancakes and Avocado Scramble. Both were excellent. The peaches were ripe, juicy and abundant. The avocado scramble was well balanced and featured a massive amount of the featured ingredient. That meal cost us about $25 for 2, including tip. Best of all, we were in and out of there in less than an hour.

I’ve had a lot of mediocre dining experiences, but never one as bad as the one I had at Monticello. Maybe it was a rogue server. Maybe they were having a bad day (although online reviews suggest that service is an ongoing problem at the restaurant), but the service was actively terrible and the food wasn’t worth the hassle. There are too many good places for brunch in the area to give them another try. I won’t be back.

Monticello is located at 630 G St in Davis. They can be found online at http://monticellocuisine.com/.

Orphan is located at 3440 C St in East Sac. They can be found online at http://www.orphanbreakfast.com/.

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