We were headed to the New England Aquarium last night, so we picked a restaurant at Faneuil Hall for dinner. We'd heard good things about wagamama (the lower case name is part of its design vibe) from friends and a Globe review and we love Asian food, so off we went, joined by our friend Arwen and her 6-yr old son, B.
The design is clean and funky. The tables are big 10' slabs of wood with fixed benches set in a Morse code pattern of dot-dash-dot, and people share them based on the size of their party. My favorite touch was a shelf under the table where you could put your bags or purses and have them safe as well as out of the way. There's an open kitchen along one wall, and each station has a big monitor where they receive the orders from the wireless handhelds used by the wait staff. As we were seated, we were warned that all of the food was made fresh to order, so things would not all arrive at the same time or in a specific order. It was pretty clear that what this meant was each station was working independently, so if you ordered something everyone else wanted too, you were going to wait longer than you would if "your" cook wasn't busy.
When you order, it's entered into the handheld unit the waitstaff carry in holsters, and the menu item number is written on your paper placemat so whoever brings the food knows what dish goes where. I suppose this solves some of the clunkier issues of table service. The menu clearly labels all of the ingredients, including shrimp paste, which is useful for people with allergies or kosher issues.
We'd thought things would be fairly kid friendly, and sure enough, there were kids under 6 at about 3/4 of the tables. In looking at the menu before choosing the place, we thought "plain chicken and noodles or rice, apple juice - that will be an easy sell". It wasn't quite: the mini chicken katsu (grilled chicken with a sauce on the side) was dry without the sauce. E didn't like the chicken plain, which I discovered by accident after he'd already chewed and rejected two pieces before accidentally trying the sauce and liking it. He also was not attracted to the noodles, even though I normally can't keep him out of my plain-noodles-that-should-have-sesame at home. The corn on the side was also a loss, despite him enjoying corn at home. Z thought the dish was okay, and ate the chicken and the noodles. He even ate the corn on the side despite it being surprisingly very cold - chilled in the 'fridge? For drinks, the orange juice was just fine, but the apple juice was rejected. It appeared to be whipped from some base and had a titch of lime in it, but none of the kids liked it. They like apple juice and apple cider, but were just turned off by the unfiltered texture and taste of this version, along with the foam.
We contemplated the duck gyoza, but DSR pointed out that this was the only item on the menu with duck, so it wasn't likely to be wonderfully fresh. We decided to split an order of the chicken version and one of the veggie version between the three grownups. This seemed like a wonderful opportunity for DSR to eat gyoza at a restaurant; they're normally pork, so we stick to frozen or home-made that are pork-free. Unfortunately, the veggie gyoza were bland, and the chicken gyoza were tasteless. This seems a cardinal sin when there's so much flavor that can be jammed into that little package. Even the dipping sauce didn't help much. As DSR noted in his own review, the frozen gyoza we buy are better than those. And the_nita
's are best.
DSR and I decided to order two dishes we were both interested in, then swap. I started with the ginger chicken udon. I thought it was fine, and worth eating. I was already nearly half done by the time DSR's chicken chili men arrived, so we swapped and he started on the udon. He got a few bites in and stopped, asking if I was sure there wasn't shrimp paste in it. I'd already checked with the waiter that only the two items labeled as such on the menu had shrimp paste, but DSR found a flavor in it that he really didn't like, something salty and sharp. On later menu review, I'm wondering if it was the pickled red ginger garnish. The manager was delivering something to the table at this point, so I asked him again about shrimp paste, and he was just telling DSR he'd be happy to have the kitchen remake it just in case when B knocked his water glass off the table and shattered it. It was cleaned up quickly and efficiently and the offer to remake the dish was repeated, but by this time we were getting a bit tired of being there due to the slowness of service and the kids getting bored, so we'd already swapped back and I was finishing the udon.
DSR described the chicken chili men as spicy chicken cacciatore; it was a perfectly unexceptional dish, but not his idea of an exotic dining experience. Arwen felt the same about her own chicken chili men.
Now the service issues:
When we had placed our initial order, we noticed in less than a minute that we'd forgotten to put in E's order. Our waiter had stepped away, so we tagged another waiter and asked for it to be added. He seemed to be doing it, but it apparently never happened. After the food started arriving, we added it again, and it showed up right away. We told the waiter that E didn't like the apple juice and we asked for orange instead, and he brought a second apple. The next try was correct.
E had been playing in my water glass, so I gave it to him and looked for another. I really could not get anyone's attention to have this done until the waiter arrived to start delivering food. No one offered to refill the water during the meal. I needed to take E and Z to the bathroom after the meal; we were already waiting for the check, and I was very dismayed to discovered it still hadn't arrived by the time we all got back. It should be noted here that the restaurant doesn't have its own bathrooms, they point you to the marketplace bathrooms which are about 100 yards away. Finally, the waiter checked on our dessert status (none - we'd already been there an hour, and we just wanted to leave) and brought the check. Then we sat there for nearly another 10 minutes without our payment being picked up. We were not being subtle - E had his coat on, and I was standing up with my scarf around my neck and my bags on the table. There was starting to be a line at the door, and the host was busy clearing tables. He got to the one next to us, and I grabbed him with "I know you're trying to turn the table, but we would really like it if someone would please take our payment". He apologized and took it right away, and processed the split check correctly.
In summary; we didn't think the food was worth returning for, and the service was erratic and not what we were looking for when we had three kids 6 and under with us. I suppose we might try it again some time without the kids, but I think I could make stuff at least that tasty myself.
We also didn't enjoy the Bertucci's at Faneuil Hall when we there in Dec. The service there was fine, but it was surprising not to enjoy the food when we usually like it a lot. Perhaps we shouldn't have ordered from the seasonal specials menu there, but I loved a dish I had from the summer menu at the Woburn location. Maybe we should just avoid restaurants near Faneuil Hall; too geared towards tourists.