Everyone loves Travail in Robbinsdale. Dara wrote: “Young chefs cooking their hearts out and not a server in sight: The enthusiasm is thrilling.” Rick Nelson gave it 3 1/2 stars, writing “dining here is a blast.”
During the blizzard the week before last, another couple joined my wife and I at Travail on a Friday night, taking advantage of the snow in order to avoid the reported one-to-two-hour wait times. Travail doesn’t take reservations, so it’s first-come, first-served, and we only had to wait about 20 minutes.
The food was really fun. We did a 10-course meal that was supposed to serve two for $60, along with a $15 charcuterie platter and a $6 order of blue cheese tots (Don’t miss those! They are incredible!).
Our 10-course was as you’d expect at a highly acclaimed place with young chefs: generally outstanding with a few misses. The pork cheek (pictured) had about two flavors too many on the plate (orange, carrots, marinated cheek—it was trying too hard), but the potato/leek soup was out of this world. You get the idea. For the price, it’s an amazing value.
But the chef as server thing. I may be the only food writer in town who hates it. I hate it. We sat down, someone came over and took our order for a bottle of wine (great list at great prices!). Two minutes later another server came back and asked to take our drink order (we were confused at first and thought it was the same guy). Then someone took our food order. Three times during the meal someone tried to take our food order! We were in the middle of eating 10 courses and someone asked if we wanted to order more food.
The price points at Travail are so low, that you don’t expect a fine-dining experience. I’m cool with that. But it was irritating to have our conversation constantly interrupted for no real reason.
And, if you’re going to do the chef as server thing, you need to showcase the chef. Why didn’t the chef who made the soup bring us the soup. “I’m Joe and I just made this for you. Here’s what I was thinking…” Make it a show. And introduce yourselves! No one even said who they were.
Maybe you save money by not having servers or maybe it’s supposed to be part of the charm. But if Travail wants to be in the top tier of restaurants in this town, worthy of two-hour waits, its service needs to match its reputation.