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Urban and Tabor: Don't Fall in Love With the Food

Because, it will change the next time you eat it.

So, last weekend I hit the Tabor Tavern in Morris Plains and , an unprecedented two times out in one weekend without Jim and without our son. Yes, I felt the guilt, my son pleading with me not to go being the main reason. The fact that Mommy goes out socially but three times a year apparently was not reason enough to just let me go with a kiss goodbye. Instead, I received the full-court guilt press–with quivering lips and pleas for me not to go rivaled in sadness only by Kate releasing Leo in to the Atlantic.  

With so many things on my mind, where to begin? I guess with the most troubling thing. You know, I am really not a fan of this type of swinger-style table service, with multiple servers sharing and serving tables. I don't like it. I am a one-server kind of gal. And, I can’t imagine the servers like it either, unless they are terrible servers, then they have to love it, because it is server Socialism, the best earning for the worst. 

Is that why we are seeing this trend? Has the next generation of servers who want to make a ton of money doing as little work as possible come on the scene? Ruining it for the hard working, don’t need to write anything down, at-your-service servers? Is this a new style based on a lack of qualified servers who can work alone or for appearance’s sake? I wonder.  

On Saturday afternoon, my family and I hit the Tabor Road Tavern (owned by Harvest Restaurants, the same restaurant group as Urban Table). Five women, a server's most dreaded vision coming through the door, a pack of women with nothing to do except keep him hopping with special orders and a mediocre tip (though we are patently excellent tippers–everything else was true).

This was my fifth or so time to Tabor. My earlier visits were right after they opened, so I chalked any gripes I had up to growing pains. The unfortunate thing is, the first time I went, it was amazing, and it has gone downhill every visit from there on. I have one major issue with Tabor: the complete lack of consistency from one visit to the next. Oh, and the tag-team table waiting for reasons just explained.  

The first time I visited Tabor, I got their chopped salad. It was so good that, the next day I was at the supermarket trying to buy the ingredients to recreate their red wine vinaigrette because I had to have this salad every day for the rest of my natural life. It was that good. When we went back again, the cock-a-doody salad was different. It was half the size for the same price! And still more different each time thereafter, though the vinaigrette always made it all okay because it was amazing ... until this final visit, when I found my beloved vinaigrette, a master blend of red wine vinegar, oil and seasoning I could never recreate, was now creamy. It wasn’t before, but now it was. 

Now you should know, this salad comes with a creamy dressing per the menu but I always ask for the red-wine substitute because, according to Jim, that’s what women do. We also ordered soup, which I never do, but it was sort of a dreary day which made it a soup-ish day and the server described their chicken chowder as something I wanted to try. He did his job well, he made me want it. And out the soup came and, unlike the salad dressing, it was not creamy.  I expected creamy ... doesn’t “chowder” conjure creamy? Well this was brothy and, even though it was one of the best soups I ever had in my life, hands down, no question. It was the most delicious pea soup I have ever had and I hate pea soup. It was a brothy pea soup. Have you ever heard of such a thing? 

Oh wait, I am sorry, were you waiting for me to describe the chicken chowder? Yeah, well we ordered chicken chowder from Waiter 1 and Waiters 3 and 4 brought pea soup–the wrong soup–and we devoured it anyway.

Now, I also raved to my family about Tabor’s mac and cheese. I ordered this once for my son a while back and oh sweet cheeses, it was the most amazing thing I had ever eaten. I have no idea what they put in it, I think it was beer or wine or something you don’t usually taste in mac and cheese, but it was the greatest. So of course, I shared this info with my family and of course, with a review like that, how could you not get three orders of it for the table? Well, when it arrived, it neither looked nor tasted like what I had before or what I described to family. It had ham in it, so it tasted like mac and cheese with ham in it–that’s it, like putting croutons in salad and calling it special. The smooth creamy look and texture of it was gone, like they were giving you less of the cheese sauce, some of the pasta was altogether bare, and you know, most importantly, I felt stupid for recommending it so highly.   

So now I think about the brothy pea soup a lot, I want it again, but I’ve done this often enough to know that if I go back for that soup, it just won’t be the same, so I am not going. I should also mention that between the soup and the meal we were offered dessert, as our left-hand waiter did not know what our right-hand waiter was doing and offered us dessert before we had our lunch.

And here is the really funny thing, the night before in my weekend of decadence, I went to Urban Table with my friend, Michelle. We knew we would have to wait but it didn’t matter as we planned to sit at the bar for a long chat–we were told at 7:30 p.m. that the wait would be 45 minutes. For two women, 45 minutes chatting frankly is like not waiting. A new species of animal could be born, evolve and become extinct over a good chat between two girlfriends. So we were seated at 9, and that was like waiting. And do you know why I think we waited for an hour and a half? They were waiting for a table for two to open. Now, I completely get that, you don’t want to waste seats at a four-top on two people, that makes perfect sense. But after an hour of waiting, does Urban Table think that they are that good that I eventually won’t walk out when I see multiple people who came after me sit down before me? Oh, I will. After an hour, you do what you have to do and for people who have paid their dues–waited, bought drinks, you don’t tack on almost another hour of waiting. That’s just wrong.  

The food was good, it wasn’t mind-blowing. So anyhoo, back to the funny thing. Wouldn’t you know at Urban, after our salad, again, we were offered dessert before we had our main course and the same excuse was offered, “I’m sorry, I thought so-and-so brought your dinner out already.”  “So-and-so” being the other member of our wait staff team. In defense of both places, the wait staff was very good, knowledgeable and friendly, and delicious as it was, they took the soup off our bill when we didn't even complain about it at Tabor, which was very nice. And if you go, definitely ask for Nick, he was great.   

So for these new vogue restaurants, I mean, if you are trying to impress us by offering us multiple table staff, in this case, quality definitely needs to be considered over quantity. Our hour-and-a-half wait does not lead me to believe the multiple-server approach is getting anyone out any faster at all. And in that hour and a half wait, you ran out of the beer we were drinking, on a Friday night??? You ran out of domestic light beer on a Friday night? Not impressed, Urban. 

And as for Tabor, I highly recommend it: the food is good, sometimes awesome, sometimes eh, but don’t fall in love with anything you eat, because when you go back the second time, it will be different.

Dw. Dunphy September 25, 2011 at 08:08 PM
Someone once said to me, "As goes the economy, so goes the consistency." I can only assume that wisdom might apply here.
karen September 26, 2011 at 02:10 AM
I have to disagree. I think the food is always delicious and the extended service is welcomed. Oh and the employees... class A, respectful, groomed men and women doing a great job!!! We love you TABOR!
Beachbum September 26, 2011 at 03:08 AM
My first commute home after a trip to Bermuda, my husband and I stopped for due to the heavy traffic. After the expensive dinners in Bermuda, I was looking for a reasonably priced dinner. Low and behold, the prices were equal if not more than Bermuda prices. Bermuda is an island where everything is imported; Morris Plains is not. Actually the dinners in Bermuda had much larger portion sizes. I do not like the multiple server aspect. In fact, the service was slower than if we had only one consistent server. I also agree with the mac and cheese. Much of the pasta was uncovered. The other food was good, albeit small portions. Sorry but I won't be back, not for those prices. In their defense, their drinks are reasonably priced.
helloworld September 26, 2011 at 03:35 PM
I thought I was the only person who felt this way about Urban! On my first (and only visit to Urban) my boyfriend and I waited 15 minutes at the bar and the bar staff did not even bother to stop and ask us if we wanted something to drink (there was only one other group of 2 women sitttng at the bar)! Unexcusable. At least the writer had her drink order taken... Although the staff was nice and friendly, I was not a big fan of the multiple wait staff. Too many people around, too much confusion, and in my opinion for a mid-scale restaurant, unnecessary. I wasn't a big fan of the food - average, at best. And for the pricing, would have expected more. Although I've never been to Tabor, I have heard about the mac & cheese but after reading the article and suporting comment, not sure if I would even bother...
lynn magnusson October 08, 2011 at 01:31 PM
I couldn't wait to finally try Urban. It's on my way home from work, and oh, so convenient! We were so disappointed. Flavorless burger, except for the blue cheese. Flavorless turkey burger, though the salad dressing upon which it rested was delicious. Service was ridiculous. Nice, friendly, clueless team of wait staff. Neighboring tables all complained about their food, too, but we did enjoy their company! We won't be returning, sadly....
Brett Wilshe October 21, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Higher volume restaurants have an "all hands on deck" mentality, which is why you get a different person running your food and drinks to you all night. It's definitely not as intimate, but you do get your food faster and it doesn't have to sit on the line cooling down.

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