603 Bush St, San Francisco, CA | Directions 9410837.790262 -122.407352
Neighborhoods: Chinatown, Northeast
What the waitress said …
** This one is for my faithful follower @ Chuey, Cheatum & Chow (e.g. the “C” is silent in Chow). **
Arriving at Swell on Friday night with my GF in hand, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I had eaten at Swell in June 2008 with Ethan, Julie and Sassy, after a Web 2.0 conference. I also recalled that my first visit to Swell left me wanting. Yes, wanting to be delighted. Wanting to be surprised. Wanting to enjoy a good meal. Fortunately for me, I filled up on some tasty h’dourves at a sponsored Web 2.0 Happy Hour earlier that evening. Then, came the wait. First, five minutes because we arrived early. And then, the 35 minutes due to a credit card machine malfunction. Now, you can hardly hold a company accountable for mechanical errors, but you can call them on how the handle a bad situation. A good restaurant that cares about their image would comp customers a dessert, or a drink. I’ve often seen the owner of Pazzia in SOMA, Massimo, bring his guest glasses of Prosecco, and apologize personally for the delay. At the Nawlin’s restaurant Luke, my shrimp was mushy and overcooked the first time around. They brought me a new dish, cooked perfectly, the GM personally apologized for the error, and they gave us a fantastic dessert…gratis. These are establishment that have good reputations, and care what people think about their service. Oh well, it’s SF Dine-About-Town, and the GF really was in the mood for some Lobster Bisque, so let’s eat.
Drinks – The GF ordered a glass of Gewurtraminer. We discussed the sweetness of the wine. And yeah, she said, “I know”. Funny thing is the waitress told her the same thing. We said, “We know.” I had a South African Viognier. I know, I know, these would be better paired with spicy Thai or Indian food, but they seemed like the better white wine options on the list.
At this time in the meal … Just when we were discussing Chuey’s reviews of my Yelp reviews … the waitress walked by whispering-loudly (I know, I know, how oxymoronic, eh), “Thanks for wasting my time.” Now, she later explained to us why she was upset with that table, but it’s never a good idea to air your customer grievances with your other customers.
Starters – The Dine-About-Menu started with a rather uninspired, Lobster Bisque. The GF made the wiser of the two selections. She picked the Crab Cake over the Spicy Tuna Tartare. The Crab Cake was light, flakey and tasty. Honestly, it was the only good thing I tasted at Swell. The Spicy Tuna Tartare was neither spicy, nor did it taste like tuna. Sadly, the Tartare was just the beginning of poorly seasoned dishes. The Spicy Tuna Tartare was so bland, and flavorless that I found myself searching for a bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Mains – The options were Pan Seared Scallops or Bouillabaisse. Neither the GF nor I were interested in the Bouillabaisse. We had the Pan Seared Scallops over Risotto. The scallops were unevenly cooked. The small scallops were overcooked, and the one large scallop was raw in the middle. There was also very little flavor to the scallops, except for the butter they were seared in. The risotto was over-seasoned with lemon. The main was so mediocre, we left a good portion sitting on the plate. I think this is the first time I have ever left food on a plate.
Dessert – There was only one choice on the Dine-About-Town menu, Vanilla and Ginger Crème Brulee’s. The vanilla was tasty, but again the ginger one was overpowered by the strong taste of ginger.
Service – Needs improvement!!!
I found the entire Swell experience to be rather pedestrian, and not a good price – performance pick. There are many, many better places in San Francisco to drop a Benjamin.
A raw bar/Bar Crudo copycat in Nob Hill. – When Bar Crudo outgrew this charming but absurdly small space between Nob Hill and Union Square, Swell moved in like a hermit crab, using the not only the space but adopting the exact same raw-fish-based cuisine. While the "If you liked them, you'll like us" logic is understandable, the inevitable comparison is unforgiving, as Bar Crudo's Mike Selvera didn't just pioneer this type of menu in San Francisco, he just about perfected it. Dishes like Scallops Roulade (Granny Smith apple, parsley, yuzu aioli, wasabi tobiko) and Salmon Carpaccio (wasabi mascarpone, yuzu tobiko, green onion, basil) seem like parallel-universe versions of Bar Crudo's bizarre/wonderful creations, except that at Swell most of these fall flat, either due to incongruent flavor combinations or a lack of flavor in general. Even the wine/beer menu echoes Crudo's, though the selections are not as choice, or as cheap. Ironically, Swell's one saving grace might be the one thing Bar Crudo left behind--the space, which is still romantic, European and like nothing else in the city
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