Friday, October 4, 2013

Why Not Candle 79?

I am frequently asked for restaurant recommendations from friends and colleagues: some vegan, some not.  My rule of thumb is to offer six options of various cuisine and to always include ice cream as a supplementary suggestion for dessert.  The follow-up question I receive most often is, "Why not Candle 79?"

So, why not Candle 79?

For years, VM and I enjoyed quite the love affair with Candle 79; it was our go-to restaurant for "great food, chill atmosphere, top-notch staff..." and there was no shortage of accolades for them on this blog.  Then, unexpectedly (a month after my last C79 blog post), we had such a horrendous experience that it has kept us from returning.  In fact, it's been years.

I've been accused of being Mean Bean, but the fact of the matter is that I simply call it like I see it.  On this particular occasion, however, the situation was so awful that I chose not to document it publicly.  The problem with that, though, has been that this blog continues to return positive results for Candle 79, when that is definitely not the opinion I'd like to share.  Or at least the whole of it.  I'm sure their food is still delicious and they may even have an entirely different staff by now, but after the feeling that we had that day- so awful that when we left we had to power-walk 20 blocks just to let off steam, neither of us has any intention of ever stepping foot back into the restaurant.

So, instead of removing my previous posts about Candle 79, in an effort to better illustrate the whole picture I will simply add the letter that I sent to management the day following our visit.  In response, we received an apology and an offer to return as their guest at a pre-arranged time.  We declined.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have been a loyal customer of Candle 79 since 2005 and have always felt that the food, service, and atmosphere epitomizes fine, vegan dining in New York. Unfortunately, my experience this weekend was so utterly abysmal that I believe it has served to negate all previous, positive meals. Since the manager was not at all concerned with our disappointment, I thought perhaps this might reach an interested party.

We arrived at 3:15 for a 3:30 brunch reservation; the first floor was less than half full, but the hostess accommodated our request for a table by the window and sat us upstairs. Once our waiter took our order, he informed us that he would be leaving his shift for the day and bid us a good weekend.

Contrary to a typical visit, we did not receive an amuse bouche. We were barely into our appetizer when two employees came upstairs, cleared the settings off of the table next to us, and pushed it up against ours, explaining “Your second course is ready”. And so it was, entrees and sides delivered much too soon: hastily deposited onto an awkwardly adjacent table, cooling as we finished our appetizers. No one returned to remove our plates, so we swapped the course’s dishes ourselves and pushed the table back so that we did not eat our meal next to dirty plates.

Not only didn’t anyone come upstairs to remove the dishes, no one bothered to so much as ascend the steps throughout the duration of our meal. We were neither offered a second glass of wine or libation, nor did anyone ever check in on us in any way. In fact, when I needed extra sauce I actually had to walk downstairs myself in order to speak to a busboy.

When we were almost through with our brunch, a waitress wordlessly approached our table and removed one of the empty plates. I requested more water and her response was only, “Mmm Hmm”. Once she was gone, a waiter came upstairs, stood at the archway to survey ours and the other occupied table in the room and sighed, “There’s still f---ing people here? I hate this f---ing s--t." When I looked directly at him, he grinned.

Once the check was brought to the table, the waitress and this man positioned themselves so that they stood side by side staring intently at the remaining tables of diners; I actually had to excuse myself in order to pass them on my way to the restroom. Then, as I waited at the table for my dining companion to return from the restroom, the waitress returned to the table, pointed at the bill and asked pointedly, “Is this done?”

As we descended the stairs to leave, a woman stood at the base of the steps watching us and muttered to the waitress, “Well, here they come”, as though we were invisible, hard-of-hearing, or both; imagine our surprise when we asked to speak to the manager and learned that it was her. I suppose that with this kind of example, it’s no wonder that the class level exhibited by your staff on this day was so severely lacking. When we explained to her the deplorable service we had received- including, most appallingly, the language exhibited by the waiter, her only response was, “Thank you for your opinion.”

I’ll say here what the manager was not at all interested in hearing. If you choose to close your restaurant at 4pm, that is fine. But do not say that you stop serving at four, allow diners to begin their meal almost an hour earlier, and then attempt to rush them out. In a restaurant of Candle 79’s caliber, it is not unusual for a three-course brunch and drinks to be enjoyed over the course of an hour and a half. In fact, one would think that you would prefer for people to enjoy themselves at leisure while they continue to order drinks and courses.

As I stated earlier, this is not the experience I equate with Candle 79. And, I hope that you will have more than gratitude for my “opinion”.

With disappointment,
Abigail Bean


  1. I wonder what happened in the three years between the last good review and now? Has the management changed? Either way, bummer.

  2. I have never been to Candle 79, and I'm not trying to be a devil's advocate here BUT...your experience doesn't sound that horrible to me.

    Bad service is more the norm in the DC area, something Mr. SV and I actually amuse ourselves with, so maybe that is why.

    Refills and plate clearing -- I've given up expecting that stuff, so long as I got my food and drink to begin with.

  3. Ugh that sucks! That kind of service sounds insanely horrible! Ugh I'm so angry and I wish I could go back in time and yell at that manager!

  4. I've only been to NYC twice, and on my last visit, my 17 yo daughter and I went to Candle 79. I had always wanted to go there, and was SO excited (it was this past January). We were treated horribly. We were largely ignored (despite staff standing nearby), and they were clearly anxious for us to leave and turn the table over. No 2nd glass of wine for me, no water refills, no juice refill for my daughter, no one asking if the food was ok (my daughter didn't like hers and would have ordered something else). For all the great food in NY, on any subsequent visit, I'm going to try as much as I can, and not repeat a visit to Candle 79.

  5. The situation you described is so unpleasant, I can understand why it ruined your opinion of Candle 79. On the other hand, based on the three good years, I really wish you could go back once more to see if what you experienced was an aberration, or the new norm.

  6. I'm in the "don't go back" party. Candle 79 to me is overpriced for the experience. The food is good, but I cook, so for me, it's paying for ease and experience, and if the experience isn't worth the price, I don't go back. In a busy place, feeling ignored can happen, but to have someone be very rude to you is certainly good enough reason to not go back, especially with V-Note being not too far away from there.

  7. That sounds like a really horrible experience!! It does sound like it was all related to service, and that the staff was overly anxious to leave for the day.
    I have been for dinner several times and had great experiences and food, although the most recent was nearly six months ago now, i am at candle cafe more often.
    Unfortunatly the stereotype of new yorkers being rude has a grain of truth to it.....

  8. I was a big fan for years as well and we were always treated well at Candle Café however I had one disappointing visit at Candle 79 which put me off the place. I made a reservation for Sunday brunch and asked if they were okay with children, specifically 4-year old vegan twins. They said it was no problem. As soon as we arrived, the hostess saw us and rolled her eyes. As we followed her up the stairs, not an easy task for 3-year olds, she continually sighed loudly and stomped her feet. The service was lacking and the food was a disappointment as well. I much prefer Blossom. They have always been friendly and accommodating to a large family (a vegan family of 6). The food is consistently very good at Blossom as well.


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