A restaurant rant – why I won’t eat at Gjelina’s anymore

I met my friend Gail for lunch yesterday. She suggested a place about half-way between our homes on Abbott Kinney in Venice Ca., Gjelina, one of the new restaurant faves. I had been there once before about a year ago, and she goes there often with her son.

The menu there is quite creative. Gail had a chickpea stew with greens, israeli couscous and spiced yogurt and harissa, and I ordered a tuna sandwich with roasted peppers, arugula, and caper aoioli. I always order mindful of my dietary constraints. By a choice I made over thirty years ago I don’t eat red meat of any kind, and I am lactose intolerant so I cannot eat dairy products.

We arrived a few minutes before Gjelina opened at 11:30 so we didn’t have to wait for a table. However, by the time we left at 1:00 the place was jammed with people waiting around the room’s perimeter for tables. I suppose that they are so busy gives them permission for their no-substitution policy.

This policy was stated to me when I asked that they leave off the ice cream on a piece of cake I wanted to order for dessert. No, said the server. We don’t do that. We won’t even put it on the side. She said I could move it to the side once I got the plate but of course then I couldn’t eat it because ice cream would already be all over the top and seeping into the cake. What she was essentially saying to me is this restaurant doesn’t care if a customer with health issues makes a request in order to save him/her from getting sick from their food.

So, I opted not to order any dessert, and the server lost a sale. She also lost my regular 18 to 20 percent tip. Gail and I agreed to only leave 10 percent.

I have never had this experience in a restaurant before. I’ve asked for the ice cream or whipped cream that is often served with cake or pie to be placed not only on the side but in a separate dish, and no one has ever flatly refused before.

I find Gjelina’s behavior unconscionable, and as a result it has lost my business forever – even though I admit the food I’ve eaten there is quite good. Hopefully those who read this piece will consider banning Gjelina or at least complaining as well.

I get very ill if even a touch of dairy gets in my system. I would think that in these times when there are so many people with allergic and dietary issues, Gjelina would be more mindful and accommodating to its customers.

Hmmm. I just read a November 22, 2011 Huffington Post article about Gjelina that mentioned other blogger complaints about its no-substitution policy. Well, I wasn’t asking for a substitute. I was just asking for something to be left off the plate. The article was mainly about its recent drop from an A to a C-rated restaurant. Need I say more? Yes, I would give it an F.

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