Oak Park, CA
After a movie and light shopping, decided to drop into this franchise Italian restaurant, lured from The Oaks Mall by a prominent Happy Hour sign featuring $3 house wines and $5 martinis--the first lie/rip-off.
Restaurant was virtually empty as the matre d' steered me and my date away from empty booths to obviously less private and less comfortable seating. When we politely pointed out that we preferred the empty booth nearby, we were told that 'the manager's' policy was was to reserve booths for bigger parties, and then gave us the choice of sitting outside (a chilly below 60 degrees), or the less desirable table for four (we were two.) After we settled for the indoor seating, a party of four was shortly seated at the booth we had just requested (apparently our four-seater wasn't good enough for them)--always a sign of bad management (I use to manage restaurants.)
We ordered two glasses of the house red, where we were told by our waiter that indeed the best of three choices was the chianti. The wine arrived with a breadplate, and both I and my date reached the same conclusion--the wine tasted like spiked Welch's grape juice, but what did we expect for $3 'Happy Hour' wine?
My date ordered the pasta carbonara, which was very good, not too cheesy, cooked al dente, with a nice touch of pancetta (or whatever.) I ordered the more pricey Veal Marsala, which was buried in what one could only describe as $20 worth of cous cous--delicious cous cous, but the three 1/2 dollar-size medallions of veal were very stingy for the price.
The bill came, to the tune of roughly $55 (we had been there maybe 40 minutes). We called the waiter over to point out that we were billed the full price for the drinks, not the Happy Hour price. The waiter said that he would speak to the manager, but that the Happy Hour price was only if you sat at the bar (which would have made our bill $6), not if you sat in the restaurant (where again, we dined on 8x that amount.) After perhaps a lightening fast two minutes, the waiter returned saying that he spoke to the manager, and that the full charge price would apply.
Repeat: they lure you in with false advertising of reduced price alcohol between 3 and 7 pm, seat you in undesirable seating even though the restaurant is empty, serve you stingy main courses, then have the balls to tell you that Happy Hour doesn't apply to a $50+ meal. I pointed out to our waiter that this was a terrible way to run a restaurant, that we would never come back, and that we had no hesitancy to spread the word out there to warn others not to likewise be taken for fools.
I'm sure the $1 tip we left sparked some additional 'management' dialog, but in the meantime--STAY CLEAR OF THIS RESTAURANT and go to the CHEESECAKE FACTORY across from them. You may have to wait a little longer, but at least you get real value and a respectful, enjoyable experience.
(We would have left no stars, but the waiter did deserve credit for his politeness and obvious embarrassment at his boss' 'policies'.)