Sunday, October 9, 2011

La Posada's The Turquoise Room - Change is Not Always Good

It isn’t often that I have to say something negative about a place that is on my “raves” list. But Friday night’s dining experience at The Turquoise Room at La Posada in Winslow, Arizona left me that disappointed. The disconnect between the beautiful La Posada and the in-house restaurant was made evident to our group almost as soon as we walked in the door.

Enter in Silence – Leave in Peace
These words are on the trackside doors leading into La Posada, the restored Harvey House Hotel. I’ve always found La Posada to be a quiet, peaceful place full of intriguing art and historic detail. La Posada was and is an oasis of culture and beauty in the midst of a small, rural Arizona town that is visibly struggling.

My friends, who were staying at the hotel, were checked in by a very congenial employee and immediately felt the warmth and professionalism that the inn is known for.

The Turquoise Room and the elegant adjoining Martini Bar have always, in my opinion, complimented the beauty of La Posada. With fine dining and Chef John Sharpe's wizardry with locally grown foods, the Turquoise Room was an equal draw to the inn itself and was always eagerly anticipated. It was an important part of visiting La Posada.

However, our recent visit left so much to be desired, we felt sad about the change in attitude, atmosphere and culture of The Turquoise Room. It’s hard to explain, but I believe the change was not a positive one.

We met in the lobby dressed for an upscale dining experience, totally ready for a relaxing evening after a long drive.

Our first stop was the Martini Bar and we commented on how we always enjoyed sitting at the copper bar on the buttery soft leather bar stools and enjoying a drink before dinner. We fondly remembered some of the bartenders who had shared local stories as they helped us with wine and cocktail choices. It had always been a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

This time was different. We were met with a bartender who appeared overwhelmed and certainly let us know exactly when he could fit in our orders and was clearly too busy to interact with us more than necessary to ensure we had drinks in hand. He did mention that he was unhappy in the small town of Winslow and we wondered how he ended up there. We noted that he was an excellent mixologist and certainly knew his trade.

Several couples joined us at the bar and we had a nice time talking with them and finding out what brought them to La Posada.

It’s Not Dining Any More
It was time for our reservation and we were told that our table may or may not be ready depending on how quickly a couple finished their dinners. The reservation had been made days in advance.

Fortunately the lingering couple finished and a table was cleared for us.

We sat down and chatted about our possible selections. I spied the squash blossom appetizers and decided, since I had enjoyed them in the past, I would treat my friends to this delectable appetizer.

Our waitress arrived and took our order for a bottle of wine and the appetizer. She then added that we should order our entrees because if we delayed, the kitchen may not be able to have our entrees ready in a timely manner. Since we wanted to visit with each other and linger over a glass of wine and appetizers we asked that she postpone taking our entrée order. Besides, we really hadn’t had time to decide what we wanted! She agreed and fairly quickly brought our delightful appetizers.

The formerly frantic and busy bartender showed up with our bottle of wine. As he opened it, he mentioned that this isn’t usually his job. We commented that it was nice to see him again. As we enjoyed the wine and appetizers, the time just flew. We noticed the dining room clearing a bit and realized that our waitress had not returned.

The Turquoise Room manager, came to our table as we had expressed some concerns about the service. He explained that they were working on service issues and, in particular, how to move things along in the busy dining room.

I felt that he, an experienced restaurant manager coming to La Posada from New Jersey via Phoenix would have a whole bag of managerial tools to help with efficiency yet would not fit in well with the rural northern Arizona culture which was so important to those of us who love coming to the peace and quality of La Posada.

As the manager left our table, we expected the waitress to show up fairly quickly. She did not and we had to ask a server to find her for us. When she came to take our order, it was getting late. I had the prime rib I was looking forward to but my one of my friends, looking at the time, just ordered desert and my other friend, very unhappy with the attitude at the restaurant declined to order anything further.

The Past is the Past
After mulling this around a bit I realized that the business of The Turquoise Room has changed. 40 person bus loads of tourists were coming through Winslow tired and needing to be fed. When I first started dining at The Turquoise Room, I was impressed with the waiters in their crisp, white shirts who took pride in describing where the chef procured the meats and vegetables. We ordered lamb because we found out it came from a Navajo family. We enjoyed the seasonal vegetables carefully chosen from the Flagstaff Farmer’s Market. The wait staff was knowledgeable and could describe how each entree was prepared.

As we dined, our waiter filled our glasses from the bottle of fine wine we ordered and inquired about our meals and made suggestions for desert. It was a leisurely meal and we didn’t bat an eye when we paid our “fine dining” bill and tipped handsomely.

But as the clientele of The Turquoise Room has changed, so has the type of service. It is more about turning over tables and feeding more people (a la the Harvey House dining room during the war when busy trainloads of troops descended on the restaurant), than the fine dining we enjoyed in the past.

It is we who are no longer the preferred customer of the restaurant. While La Posada still caters to the discriminating guest looking for a weekend of peace and rejuvenation, there is clearly a disconnect between the culture and atmosphere of the inn with that of the associated restaurant.

I don’t like it, but I understand it. As we, rather frustrated, left the dining room, one of our party exclaimed, “The service was better at Earl’s in Gallup!”

The Worlds Largest Online Map Store!We were enjoying guitar music in the lobby, trying to relax and smoke wafted from the restaurant kitchen. The bartender, while cleaning up, offered … “Oh they are cleaning the ovens.” It was 9pm. We were thankful for the beautiful music of the guitarist. Some things had not changed.