Win/Fail Fridays: Yay for Wequassett, Nay for Hungry Mother

Welcome to Win/Fail Fridays, where food editor Donna Garlough mouths off about her latest dining-out adventures.

This week’s WIN: Spot-on service at Thoreau’s Tavern, Wequassett Resort

It’s been a hectic few weeks, so when I made plans for an eating weekend on the Cape, I mistakenly booked the wrong night at Twenty-Eight Atlantic, the restaurant at Wequassett resort (and the new home of chef James Hackney, former executive chef of L’Espalier). Our Plan B was to eat at the adjacent tavern, Thoreau’s, which affords a peek at Twenty-Eight’s stellar dining room and outrageous water views. But when we mentioned our mix-up to the hostess on arrival, she clued us in to a little secret: that occasionally they’d serve Twenty-Eight’s menu in the bar. Jackpot!

Even more delightful: The service. While our server could have easily plunked down our plates, what we received was something in between casual bar service and white-tablecloth coddling. Plates were changed, water regularly topped off, and courses were perfectly spaced, but the staff was chatty and kind, not buttoned-up and stuffy. And the food? A bright, gorgeous panzanella salad, seared scallops nestled under hollowed-out orbs of cantaloupe — scallops in the Hatch Shell, my hubby called them — and a caramelized strawberry shortcake I’m still dreaming about.

This week’s FAIL: Haughty hosting at Hungry Mother

A huge bummer, this one, because I’m an enormous fan of chef Barry Maiden’s Southern-inflected cuisine. But last week, I popped into Hungry Mother sans reservation (theme of the week, I know). It was early enough in the evening that snagging a bar table was a distinct possibility. Unfortunately, all of Cambridge seemed to have the same idea, and after a sweet, apologetic hostess delivered approximate wait times—forty minutes for the bar, longer for the dining room — my hungry companion and I stepped away to mull our options. We returned to the host stand, now being staffed by a stressed-looking gent, and inquired how long it might take to be seated in the dining room.

You’d think I was asking for a kidney. “You don’t have a reservation?” he asked incredulously, eyebrows raised. “At least an hour,” he snipped loudly, then frowned and spun away without another word.

I get it. Restaurants get busy, and if you don’t want to wait, you’d better book in advance. But a weekday walk-in isn’t a punishable offense, and asking about a table isn’t out of line. Had our only interaction been with the first hostess, we’d have shrugged and left, hoping for better luck next time. Instead, the message we got was, We’re busy. Who needs ya? I’ll come back because I know it’s fantastic, but I know plenty of people who’d walk away and never return. Southern hospitality? Not this time.

Stay tuned for next week’s Win/Fail!