Fine Dining Fiasco
Posted: 2006-09-28. Categories: California, Fishermen's Grotto, Restaurants

Fishermen’s Grotto #9 – San Francisco, CA

Back when we had money to burn (or at least we thought we did) Shawn and I used to enjoy dinner out on the town, something elegant, with atmosphere and ambiance. We enjoyed a quiet relaxing meal prepared to order and served in style.

These days we are more careful with our money, economics being what they are today. Tuesday, we had a severe lapse in judgment while celebrating our sons tenth birthday. Since he had never experienced Fine Dining and all it has to offer, we decided to treat him to the experience. Boy did that backfire.

Dining Choices

Having friends who reside in “the city” has its advantages. Having a poor memory is a definite disadvantage. After arriving at the decision to treat ourselves to a nice meal, the question was: Where to go? Walking along Fisherman’s Wharf in the brisk evening air we discussed dining at The Franciscan while taking in the view of the San Francisco Bay.

We examined the menu and decided to check out Fishermen’s Grotto #9 before making our final decision. Oh, how I wish we had gone with our first instinct. The Franciscan had a delightfully extensive menu that I’m certain would have been more to our liking. Unfortunately, my bad memory played a sordid trick on us. I thought I had been told that the Fishermen’s Grotto was a wonderful place to eat. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Hoodwinked by the Doorman

The doorman greeted us with a smile and we inquired with him about the use of butter warmers. You see, back in the stone ages luscious crab legs were served with butter warmers, which kept the butter at the perfect temperature while you fought to get every last morsel of crab out of the shell.

Fishermen's Grotto #9 Receipt 

Today, the practice of using butter warmers has been discontinued, deemed a fire hazard, they are not allowed. That hasn’t stopped me from inquiring about their use whenever the opportunity to dine on crab legs presents itself. I’m hoping someday I will be in for a delightful surprise.

At any rate, the doorman assured me that their crab legs were served with butter warmers and their crabs are steamed on the premises, as he waved an arm to his right. We were sold and made our way to the elevator accompanied by our new friend.

As we entered the dining area, I noticed the restroom and decided to avail myself of the facilities, while the rest of our party was seated. The tiny restroom was full, so I waited behind two others standing in line and observed my surroundings. The room certainly could have used some attention. It was then I noticed the bullet hole in the window. I found that a little disturbing and tried to dismiss it out of my mind.

Afterwards, I had no trouble locating my family, seated in front of the large windows overlooking – well – it would have been the bay had we been seated on the other end of the restaurant. As it was, we had a view of several other restaurants, billboards and a street full of people. And a few boats at dock. The view wasn’t as nice as the one afforded diners at the Franciscan, but it would have to do. Our server promptly greeted us and immediately took our drink orders.

When she returned with our drinks she brought along a portion of half sliced sour dough bread. Sour dough bread is a dense bread as it is, so serving it only half sliced through, made it difficult to tear off a piece. It was not served with a knife. The cold sour dough bread was served with butter that was even colder.

The Language Barrier

As I attempted to request some butter that was not ice cold, I grew frustrated because it was obvious our server spoke English as a second language and she simply didn’t understand what I was requesting. After finally getting through to her my request, she returned to our table with the room temperature butter and an attitude of her own.

To say the meal went downhill from there is an understatement.

My husband ordered the Abalone, listed at “market price” on the menu – $69.95. He was given a choice of Penne Pasta, Rice Pilaf or white rice and chose the Penne Pasta only because he disliked that the least. The vegetable was a broccoli and cauliflower mixture. The plate was garnished with a strange combination of tarter sauce on a bed of lettuce, topped with a black olive and a side slice of beet.

My son ordered crab cakes at $24.95. He chose the Penne Pasta as well and it was served in the same manner as the abalone.

I had been all set to order crab legs and spend the evening happily fighting to free them from their shells but our waitress informed me, after struggling with the language that she had never heard of butter warmers and they did not use them. So, I resigned myself to Filet Mignon and Half an Australian Rock Lobster Tail, listed at “market price” – $37.75.

I ordered fries instead of the rice or pasta offering and requested a cup of soup as a substitute for the vegetables and was informed that that was not allowed. Would I like to order a cup of soup (at $6.50)? No, thank you.

The waitress served our meal with little fanfare and quickly made herself invisible. She returned later to inquire as to how we liked our meal. I informed her that my lobster had been overcooked and dried out. I refused having them remake the lobster tail because I had just freed it from the shell, which was too much like work.

No Talking With Your Mouth Full

Shawn had a mouth full of food and didn’t get a chance to respond before she ran off again. Shortly after the waitress left, he told me that his abalone was the worst he had ever had. I sat for quite some time trying to get a glimpse of our waitress, so they could finish cooking his abalone.

When she did not reappear after about ten minutes, I flagged down a waiter, who promptly removed his plate to return moments later with abalone that had been visibly cooked longer. The difference was night and day. Shawn said it was a vast improvement but that it still wasn’t the best abalone he had ever had. His vegetable mixture was also undercooked but by this time, it was too late to worry about it.

Poor Menu Selection

I was very disappointed with the menu selections. The Penne Pasta was tough and the sauce was nothing special – it didn’t make the pasta more palatable. My Fillet Mignon, while acceptable, the flavor was bland and lacked definition. It was served with A-1 steak sauce, which I rarely use but I was sorely tempted this time. Had it not been for the little cup of butter provided with my lobster, I wouldn’t have been able to eat it. It was non-flavorful, tough and lacked character.

I practically had to force my son to eat his crab cakes ($24.50), which is normally one of his favorite foods. He simply didn’t care for the flavor and judging from the looks of them, they too were undercooked.

You can be certain the next time we venture a trip into San Francisco we will research our options much better and make a better choice of dining locations. It’s a rare occasion these days when we drop $50.00 for dinner. We spent $170.00 at the Fishermen’s Grotto #9, which may not seem like much to those who regularly frequent Fine Dining establishments but for our family of three it was a huge let down.

Shawn was forced to order a Shirley Temple ($2.25), when he found he couldn’t get his usual raspberry tea with his meal. My son and I each ordered two soda’s each ($4.50), which we were charged for. It is our custom to tip 20% but had a tough time coughing up the $14.36 we left.

Three thumbs down for the Fishermen’s Grotto #9!

7 Comments to "Fine Dining Fiasco"

  1. Shawn K. Hall says:

    I just wanted to add that the waitress (‘Natalie’ if the receipt is to be believed) had an attitude from the moment we asked if they had “room temperature” butter. She must get asked quite often for butter that couldn’t be used to cool your drinks, you’d think she had a better answer than “let me check.”

    My Abalone was a very poor excuse for a $70 meal, regardless of what you’re having. And with sides of uncooked pasta and uncooked vegetables – ridiculous! I hope their chef turns the oven on next time or figures out what the burners are for. That said, my favorite restaurant is Mallards in Modesto. If you get the chance… no, scratch that, MAKE the time – go to Mallards. It’s a meal you won’t regret at a very fair price (not cheap – fair).

    I’m sorely disappointed.

    Natalie, if you ever read this, I do hope you take it to heart. Maybe you should get work in a field more suited to your linguistic skills, like an overseas call center.

  2. Retail Bandit says:

    Fishermen’s Grotto Update

    After writing this article, I promptly sent a copy of it to the e-mail address listed on Fishermen’s Grotto’s website. As of today (Oct. 14, 2006) I have received no response from anyone representing them. I guess they simply don’t care.

    We might have been taken to the cleaners this time but it won’t happen to us ever again and if I can save even one other person from going through what we did, I will be satisfied.

  3. Anthony says:

    Dear Annette (and Shawn),

    I found your blog through a simple “google images” search. I am a member of the ownership family of Fishermen’s Grotto. I am saddened, as much as you were frustrated, by your experience in 2006. We have served thousands of happy customers every week for the past 73 years. It takes just one unhappy customer to disappoint me.

    Yes, Natalia was here on an exchange program from Russia. Overall she was a very good waitress who simultaneously held a server position at two other restaurants on the Wharf. Many were enamored by her accent. She was consistently FAST and professional in her service. I cannot make excuses for her, but she is human. She is no longer a server with us as she returned to Russia upon learning of the death of her father while she was here. I don’t know anything more specific about your experience than what you’ve written but on behalf of The Restaurant I deeply apologize things were not up to your expectations.

    You are correct in that butter warmers are not available to us. They have not been used since a period before any of our employees joined our team. Unfortunately, I would not expect that many even know of butter warmers and were perhaps assuming you were asking for warm butter aka drawn butter. Of course, as you experienced that is served with our crab and lobster dishes and gladly replenished throughout the course of your meal to keep it the correct temperature.

    If I read your review correctly, your main concern with your meals was the undercooking/overcooking? If I’m not understanding I’d be happy to listen to more specific feedback. Again, I apologize your meals were not to your liking. Our cooks and chefs are very experienced and most have been with us for 10, 20, 30+ years. Additionally, I cannot apologize for the quality of your food. We go to great lengths to purchase and deliver to you only the finest seafoods and steaks the marketplace has to offer. I have full confidence in the quality of our product. Also, no, our staff is not permitted to exchange a side of vegetables for a cup of the world’s best clam chowder. That is a decision only I can make and sometimes will.

    Lastly, thank you again for choosing our restaurant. Each an every individual that walks through the door is important to me. If you ever find yourself in the area on classic foggy San Francisco day, and need something to warm your belly, come see me, introduce yourself and a couple of bowls of that famous clam chowder are on me.

    Please feel free to contact me at if you would like to provide further feedback or have any questions for me.

    Anthony G.

  4. Retail Bandit says:

    Dear Anthony,

    It only took two-years to get a response from someone at your establishment. Wow! I’m glad our food didn’t take that long to arrive. I appreciate your kind offer of “a couple bowls of that famous clam chowder” but no thanks. One experience with your restaurant left a lasting impression – one that will last me a lifetime.

    I was hoping some of your more satified customers would write but thus far, no takers. Not to be rude but seriously, I’ve had better seafood at Long John Silvers and at a much better price.

    If you want a lesson on how to serve a fine meal and treat your patrons well, might I suggest a visit to The Firehouse in Old Town Sacramento?

  5. Amy Anonymous says:

    One word – wow! Things are less complicated where I come from, on the Eastern side of the United States.

    I will say one thing to this guy’s defense – I have been called Fast and Efficient by many, MANY people at work and there are always those few out there who interpret fast as “rude.” I choose to respect peoples’ time as my family is full of professionals who deeply value their time.

    Time is such a funny thing. I once encountered a family from India in line at the greengrocer’s who declared that a competitor beat the price by – get THIS – two cents. They had spent two whole hours driving all over creation, checking everybody else on the market for a better price.

    This nonsense happened during the 2009 gas crisis, when people were paying $6 per gallon 😛

    Anyway – life sometimes dishes out the strangest justices – really 🙂

  6. Amy Anonymous says:

    I do, however, feel sorry for that family. Ouch.

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