Friday, April 13, 2012

Review of Circa 1922, Wilmington

            Rarely is there a restaurant where our experience was so bad that it makes me feel as though my time and money were wasted.  Circa 1922 in Wilmington is one of these restaurants, and I’d encourage everyone to avoid it.  Our best opinion is that they were overly pretentious for the sake of being pretentious. Given their reputation, I expected a great meal, but from the poorly sized, overcooked food, to the rude service, to the snooty hostess, we won’t even return here for a free meal. 
            We walked in at about five minutes after five and the hostess gave us a glance up and down that made us feel very unwelcome. Then, she asked, “Can I help you?”  Well, it is a restaurant at dinnertime, so we mention that we’d like to dine.  Then, we asked if we could sit in the bar area (as they had tapas specials at the bar).  Her response was “I guess” and led us to our table.  I’m sorry if we offended her by our desire to eat at her restaurant. 
            Once seated, we were met by our middle-aged British waiter, who was could possibly be the rudest man in the food service industry.  I’ll explain why, later in the article.  When he asked for our drink order we both said sweet tea.  His response was that “we don’t HAVE (emphasis on a drawn out have) sweet tea, but I can get you unsweetened and some sweetener.”  Nice enough, but it is rare to see a restaurant in the south that doesn’t make sweet tea.  In fact, as Megan pointed out later, all three restaurants that we have been to that did not have sweet tea, were a let-down.  Perhaps that should be our new standard, no sweet tea, we leave.  It would have saved us this experience. 
            What kind of place is this?  Looking at the menu, it seems very unfocused.  I mean, they have sushi, tapas, bar items, pastas, meats, seafood; it is like this restaurant is in the midst of an identity crisis and is going to try many foods of many origins, until they figure out their future.  Once we got a look at the tapas menu, we decided against it, instead favoring the half-price sushi menu.  We ordered the Trio of Tuna and the Lobster Roll.  The Trio of Tuna consists of 3 bites of spicy tuna roll, 3 miso-seared sashimi covered in black and white sesame seeds, and 3 pieces of tuna tartare with light crackers.  The spicy tuna roll was missing the spicy.  No sriracha or spicy mayo anywhere on this.  The seared sashimi was very fresh, but we couldn’t taste any miso.  The tartare was realistically just thin slices of sashimi, not the normal chopped tartare found elsewhere.  When Megan, the tuna lover of our couple said that the best part was the thin crackers, that isn’t a good sign.  The lobster roll was lobster with julienne mango and cucumber, then the whole roll was tempura fried.  While there were seven pieces, notice that each one is roughly half an inch thick, whereas normal sushi is almost double the width.  Then notice that the lobster and mango get smaller in amount as the roll goes on, with the end piece having no mango at all and just a hint of lobster.  Also, aside from the sweet chili sauce dip that accompanied it, there was no flavor to this sushi roll at all.  We were very glad that this was half price sushi night, because if we had to pay the full price for the amount of sushi that we received, we would have been irate. 
            For dinner, Megan couldn’t decide between the Lobster Ravioli and the Filet.  So she did what she normally does, ask the waiter for his preference.  Instead of offering a suggestion or describing the dish in better detail to help her decided, he just kept asking, “what have you eaten most recently” and saying that these are “two very different dishes.”  Wait, lobster in pasta and beef filet are different?  Really?  Come on, throughout the whole meal, he treated us like serfs, unworthy to dine at the king’s table.  When Megan even asked him what his preference of the two was, he just said that she would “have to make the decision on her own.”  Thanks a lot for your guidance.  She went with the Filet.  It was served in a tower with a rosemary polenta cake on bottom, wilted spinach in the next level, balsamic glazed mushrooms in the next, then the filet, and topped with thinly sliced onion vines.  Starting from bottom, the polenta cake was not the creamy polenta you would hope for, instead it was rather dry and the rosemary was subtle to the point of indistinguishable. The reduction sauce dressing the meat completely overpowered the polenta.  The mushrooms consisted of two slices of mushroom; believe me, we had to search for them.  Then, the medium-rare steak that Megan ordered came out without any pink whatsoever in it, meaning it was well-done.  As we normally do not send food back, Megan asked the waiter for a steak knife to cut the obviously overdone filet.  Our favorite Brit’s response was “you shouldn’t need a steak knife to cut a filet” and then he continued to the next table to pour their drinks.  Afterward, seeing Megan fuming at being insulted he walked by and said “I’ll get you one anyway though.”  Are you kidding me!?!  Yes, a filet should be tender enough to cut without a steak knife, but this one was drastically overcooked, and regardless, who is he to tell a customer that they can’t have a readily available knife. 
            I ordered the Crabmeat Cheesecake.  It comes in a bowl with a Pecorina (similar to a romano or parmesan) crust encasing the fresh blue crab and roasted garlic.  Outside of the “cheesecake” was a Champagne and brie cream sauce with a few green onions tossed in for color.  Now, when I, or probably anyone, hear cheesecake, I expect a creamy, decadent concoction served in a large slice.  This was nothing like that.  It was more of a tartlet-sized crust that was severely over baked to the point of dryness and topped with wilted sprouts and shaved cheese, probably more Pecorina.  Inside was only crab, no creamy cheese and anything remotely resembling a cake-like quality.  The cream sauce that my tart was swimming in was very bland, and I doubt even the most discerning of palates could have found a hint of champagne in it.  Honestly, I thought it was just a basic béchamel sauce of cream and flour.  It added nothing to this dish.  My biggest problem with it was the size.  It would have been great as an appetizer, not a full entrée.  Oh and it does not come with any side or anything else to help fill your starving stomach. 
            We couldn’t believe how ostentatious this place was.  They give off the reputation of fine dining, but they don’t come close to living up to the hype.   The service was rude, the food was of poor quality, and aside from the appealing décor, there was nothing redeeming about this restaurant.  Without question, it was the worst fine-dining experience we have ever had.  I really have to take pause and think before I try one of the other 5 restaurants in this dining group.  Yes, it is possible that they just had one really bad day of operation, but based on some of the other comments that are posted about Circa 1922, I doubt it.  Sure, you can eat there and make your own opinion, but if you read this far into my post, you were warned. 

Scale 1-5 stars
Food Quality
Food Creativity
Value for the Price

Circa 1922 on Urbanspoon

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