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February Trip; Virgin Fire

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February Trip; Virgin Fire

Virgin Fire? Left me Cold

Well, this was the least successful meal of our trip. Perhaps because it was a Sunday. Maybe because I had raised my expectations too high. The Virgin Fire chef had worked with Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston--one of my favorite chefs. I dunno? Regardless of reason this was a disappointing meal and experience.

In the restaurant’s defense; I had arrived at least one half hour early. I had misjudged the time it would take to find a cab and travel from Caneel. We were directed to the empty bar for drinks. It took a short while to get the bartender’s attention, but she was very nice once we had it. No sooner had our drinks arrived than our table was ready. We had a choice of in or out. After some hemming and hawing we settle on an outside table.

As we pick up our drinks we are told that we had to settle up with the bar before we could be seated.

Digression: Sometimes this practice benefits the owner/manager, sometimes the waitstaff, sometimes the bartender, sometimes the POS system and sometimes all of the above. But I can assure you that the one person it NEVER benefits is the client/diner/guest. I leave it to those who may reading along to ponder and sort out that last statement. I find it mildly annoying and note that Virgin Fire is not the only establishment that maintains the practice.

The Food: It is an interesting menu. I note that and here is where I add that I would like to have sampled more of it, especially some of the apps. Also, to be fair, this review must be taken within the context of a single visit with a somewhat limited dining experience and I will only comment on the dishes we ate and the service that we experienced.

My wife had eaten Mahi-Mahi on three separate occasions during this visit to St John. It is her new favorite fish. I asked her to rank them. She liked them all. But suffice to say that somebody has to finish last and it was Virgin Fire. Not that it is bad, just that there is better to be had.

I ordered the Himalayan Salt Block with shrimp, tuna and beef. It comes with three small ramekins of dipping sauces. Ponzu and I don’t remember the others. Thai red chili maybe and something else. My waiter suggested I order it for two (single 12, double 24) as that would make a more suitable main course. So I did.

My reaction upon being served; “Is that a DOUBLE order?” “Oh yes.” came the response. It was barely a decent appetizer.

2 maybe 3 slacked PDQ/IQF shrimp split through down the middle. About 26-30 in size (maybe 21-25), but hardly what I would call “jumbo”, even in my wildest imagination. A pretty long putt that.

4 slices of sinewy Tuna that looked as if cut from a tail.

4 slices of very thin slivers of beef.

I could read the New York Times through the slivered Tuna and Beef, but that was the nature of the dish. You quickly cook this raw product on a hot brick of salt and dip it in the sauce. It’s kind of gimmicky and certainly a triumph of style over substance…Well, maybe not so triumphant and decidedly light on substance.

Restaurant financials are based on much more than raw food cost and I tend to avoid that road, but given this silly portion size and even on St John; the COGs had to be in the single digits. That’ll make for a pretty good margin. However marginalized my stomach was in the process.

So I’m still hungry. We ask if we could order a wedge salad. That should be fast. My wife is also in a salad mood so we ask if we can split that wedge.

The answer? “No”. After my quizzical look the waiter says, “But I can bring you a sharing plate.”

“Okay” I tell the waiter. I’m capable of splitting a salad at the table myself. When I saw the salad and noted its average presentation; I wondered why it couldn’t be split in the kitchen. Who knows? Maybe someone in the back was feeling particularly uncooperative with the front. I didn’t see how splitting a wedge salad that looked as unremarkable as this was going to sully or mar any sort of magnificently constructed presentation. I chalked it up to one more bit of culinary silliness.

More Silliness: The forgotten bread. We asked for it when that wedge salad came. A warm piece of brioche that reverted to its old stale self once the warmth wore off. Some strange sweet cold butter accompanied it. We inquired. Honey from a local apiary.

I’m all for a good locovore angle, but better to serve it apart from the butter. The mix-in doesn’t work when its refrigerator cold and nothing will elevate stale bread.

Service was polite but very slow. Particularly when there is needy four-top ordering drinks, bottles of wine and mounds of food. I was just a cheap deuce with a 78 dollar check (before tip). I appreciate a waiter needing to take care of a potential good tipping table, but a good waiter would also keep me from noticing that.

It wasn’t a horrible night. Maybe a 2 star TA rating if I were to post there. We will remove Virgin Fire from the rotation. My time on St John is short and there are better choices, so why go looking for disappointment when it can so easily find you on its own.

New York City, New...
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21. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

I am new to these forums but not new to STJ or dining. It seems like the OP has a little excessive in his negative review. Even at some fine dining restaurants in NY, the bar is settled before being seated.

22. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

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Rockport...
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23. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

I don't know if the original poster is still reading but I really admire you stepping up to address some of the issues mentioned. I wish you the best of luck- love the space- and now will definitely be sure to visit with our party of 4 in April.

New York City, New...
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24. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Thank you for responding. I will try again next time we come! I did refer a friend being that I liked your Fish and Chips and Mahi. Her and her husband didn't have a reservation and asked the hostess if they could be seated for dinner. The Hostess told them it would be 20 minutes. There were empty cocktail table and only two people sitting at the bar. They didn't stay and wait , and felt that the young lady could have offered them a cocktail table or bar seating. They would have taken the bar or cocktail table since they were very hungry. They ended up at another restaurant in the center. When they said, thanks but we are hungry, she said ok, next time. I'm not sure if that is what you would have wanted her to say though. Hopefully next time they will try again.

Pittsford, New York
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25. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Michael, I admire both that you took the time to make a detailed response, and the spirit that you wrote in. I dined at Virgin Fire the week it opened and said that I really enjoyed the food, but thought the service was a little slow. I put that down to opening week experience. My wife and I will be back on-island in April, and while we dont micromanage our plan in advance, I expect that we will be back. Thanks for replying

NY metro
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26. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Just back from a business trip in San Antonio where I ate extremely well. Spent a weekend in Richmond Va before St John where I also ate extremely well. All were new casual restaurants.

VA:

The Roosevelt, Dutch & Co., Pasture

San Antonio, Texas:

Cure, The Monterrey

That is the level of my expectation ( along with a place like Fatty Crab which I mentioned) , not necessarily "Fine Dining". It isn't to show off, just to give you an idea of what I like in menuing and food attitude. having said that, I appreciate your dedication and response.. However my comments regarding my meal stand. Every single one of them.

You know what? Maybe I was served an appetizer portion of the salt block. Maybe. It does sound that way; even after it was suggested I order a double and even after it was confirmed that it was indeed a double.

I'm glad that people like the place. I'm glad that they will return. Based on many comments, I don't think you have much to worry about that I didn't like my meal. But for me; on that night, as it was cooked and served; it was an average meal in an average restaurant. Forgive the verbosity of my original post.

As I said twice before on this thread; I can only speak to my single experience and to the meal and dishes that I ate on that evening. Look. It is what it is. You've addressed it with your staff, you and they will fix it and it's over. (shrug)

Edited: 06 March 2014, 17:49
Cruz Bay
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27. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

ngatti,

I've eaten at VF a few times now, and have to agree with everything you have said.

I can probably sum it up even more concisely, in that it just felt like there were cooks in the kitchen, not a single chef.

It's not surgery, no, but if "okay" is what is being aimed for, VF has hit the nail on the head, as the experience there is a solid 5. Nothing particularly bad, but nothing particularly good either.

kod
cherry hill
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28. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

If anything your reviews are favorable to the restaurants.

54b
Dallas, TX
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29. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Bit of unsolicited social media advice for Michael B...

1) Absolutely applaud your social media vigilance and willingness to embrace it as a tool for improvement; absolutely the right attitude to have in this day and age

2) I thought your response started out perfect...humble, self-depricating, appreciative and proactive about getting better, but I would have stopped there. Addressing specific posters comments, especially when a lot of what they're saying is subjective, is a fool's errand because:

A) It only elicits more responses, which keeps this negative review at the top of the forum and makes it more likely to pop up when someone does a search for your restaurant

B) Will most certainly encourage the OP to respond and further defend his or her argument, which it did (even though it was all done very politely); and definitely don't try to discredit the OP by saying he knows too much about the subject or is an industry insider...that only gives him more credibility

C) It also invite more posters to tell you about there bad experiences because now they've got the ear of the owner

D) Even with some response being very positive, unfortunately, the dissenting opinions always speak the loudest, especially when the the original post is negative

3) If you want to encourage further dialogue with people who may have had a bad experience, end your one response post by encouraging them to PM or contact you directly...that way you take the conversation private and it also makes it easier to spiff them if you'd like the opportunity give them some kind of make good...you can also encourage them to join your facebook or twitter feeds where you have more control over the message.

4) If your real goal is to elicit more unbiased feedback, instead of helping to keep this thread at the top of the forum, periodically have a friend post an seemingly innocuous post like, "Virgin Fire: Where is it located and how is it?" That works better because it's:

A) Not negative

B) Reminds people you exist and will invariably tell people where you're located with the responses it will get

C) And if it does elicit some bad responses, then you'll know what people are saying (again, this is not something you want to do that often and I'm sure TA isn't exactly thrilled with this advice)

Anyway, take that for what it's worth. Hope it gives you some food for thought :)

I have a lot of respect for anyone who attempts to do what you're doing on STJ. It's hard enough for any restaurant to make it today, but on STJ, the deck is really stacked against you with higher than average expenses, seasonality, staff attrition, sporadic power, hurricanes, etc.

Best of luck. Hope to drop by for a meal June.

54b

PS. Can I take the salt block with me when I'm done...I know some deer near Annaberg that would love it and aren't real particular about the portion size of tuna :)

Edited: 06 March 2014, 18:37
St. John
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30. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Great advice and thanks. Points taken and appreciated. It's all a learning curve and we do appreciate the guidance found here.