Wow! What an experience! If we had not been with friends, we might not have lasted the night.
Asian Gourmet was this year’s choice for our annual Chinese restaurant pilgrimage on Christmas Eve. We had eaten lunch there in the past, and reviews in Yelp (where are all the TripAdvisor critics?) suggested that it was the best in Acton. So why not give it a try to see if it could fare better than the slimy Americanized food at Yangtze River in Littleton?
We arrived in time for our 7 PM reservation and stood in the entranceway for 10 minutes until a table opened. It was one of those convertible tables with four fold-out flaps to give just enough room for seven midgets, and we were planted on the main thoroughfare from the kitchen and in close proximity to the entranceway we had just left. It was as calm as an afternoon siesta in the middle of Penn Station.
What made our meal truly unique this particular evening was the service. It was a true caricature of traditional Chinese restaurant hospitality, even though this restaurant is supposed to be Taiwanese. It was a struggle to get water and tea cups for everyone. For some reason, we needed to ask three times to get everyone covered only to hear a waiter ask “How many cups do you want?” Two of the ice waters collapsed due to the instability of the table leaves, and a waiter ‘came to our aid’ by tossing a white gym towel for us to clean the mess. Meanwhile, amidst the chaos, someone else delivered one small dish of peanuts and another of pickled cabbage to share seven ways (I wonder how many guests would have justified a second dish), while a kettle of tea appeared out of nowhere, too. Those who poured themselves were disappointed to see slightly tinted water. We were initially advised that it was normal green tea, but the waiter eventually bowed to the unmistakable reality of having served us hot dishwater by adding a second tea bag to what had miraculously become Jasmine tea. When we asked for forks, a waitress returned with a potpourri of mismatched utensils and plopped them in front of me to distribute. There was implied pressure to order quickly, as the waiter hung over the table while we tried to choose dishes from a 16 page menu. We had to share, because – just as for the water and tea -not everybody earned the right to a menu, and one lucky diner was limited to the sushi selections from the restaurant upstairs. The waitress was disinterested when we told her about the mismatch and simply returned the Japanese menu into the pile for its next unsuspecting victim.
In all fairness, the food was actually quite good. We had string Sautéed String Beans, Chinese Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, Home Style Fried Tofu with Mixed Vegetables, House Special Rice Cake, as well as brown and white rice. But the dishes were served with the grace of an Austrian avalanche, and nobody ever returned to see if the food was to our satisfaction, refill our waters, clean our table, take desert orders, or deliver our check. At Asian Gourmet, you basically need to ask for everything.
After 40 minutes of friendly post-meal discussion, we requested our bill. Only then did the obligatory fortune cookies arrive as a hand delivered dump – unfortunate since fortunes are often a fun topic of conversation. At the same time, the waitress awkwardly wished us happy "birthday" then shifted her table cleaning prowess into high gear as we tried to share our fortunes and put on coats. Whatever happened to clearing dirty dishes as soon as patrons finish the meal or after they vacate the restaurant?
Will we return? Perhaps for lunch when there is less strain on what we might euphemistically call a ‘delicate delivery system’. But as far as dinners are concerned, unless the staff takes a few lessons in service etiquette from an accredited junior college, the Asian Gourmet restaurant is – until further notice – hereby strictly recommended for take-out only.
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