Saturday, July 13, 2013

Vapiano Food Review


I hadn't planned on having lunch at Vapiano today; but after a disastrous visit to nearby Texas Bar-B-Q Factory, I had to eat something. I'm a big fan of the modern Italian chain's Bethesda and Dupont Circle branches, but sadly the Ballston location leaves much to be desired.

Concept restaurants are a risky proposition, but this Vapiano seemed to miss the boat on many levels. I arrived around 1:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon, but the place was almost empty. A hostess greeted me, and asked if I'd ever been here before. Wanting to avoid a longwinded explanation on how to order, I replied, 'Yes." After an unenthusiastic "Welcome back," I proceeded to the pizza station.

Stations? Yes, stations. Food is served cafeteria style... sort of. Pasta, salad, pizza. Thirsty? Walk to the other end of the restaurant and mozy up to the bar. Each visit requires a scan of your temporary credit card (where's the server's union??) often followed up by a lengthy & necessary explanation of how to properly swipe your card. Color me frustrated, and I've been here several times before.

I lucked out with a competent and friendly pizza guy... I ordered the Americana (spicy Italian sausage, sliced Sicilian pepperoni, tomato sauce & mozzarella) for $11.95, along with a complimentary glass of water from the bar area, and took a seat at one of many, family-style tables... pager in hand. The first thing I noticed was how uncomfortable the seating arrangement is. Stools suck (even though mine had a nice cushion) and the tables are unusually high. Potted plants (they looked dead) dotted the tables and lined the walls (I felt like I was in Death Valley.) Each table had a bottle of olive oil, but oddly no red pepper flakes.

The Ballston branch pales in comparison to Bethesda and Dupont. I spotted three deserted tables with at least two dirty plates each... They stayed dirty for the full duration of my visit, even as more customers piled in. Speaking of spots, look no further than my knife and fork. Even McDonald's clears their tables: Talk about inexcusably poor service. Where's the manager?

I'm pretty sure I found him banging dishes in the pasta station, the single loudest part of any restaurant I've been in over several months. I understand that you need to move pots and pans every now and then; but this sounded like an ex-girlfriend of mine in her kitchen after an untimely argument many moons ago. Bang! Clang! Crash. This went on for almost five minutes. Thankfully, the noise was interrupted by my pager going off. Food's ready.

My pizza was plenty big, with tons of meat. Unfortunately, the cheese wasn't cooked properly (white cheese = two minutes short in the oven.) The outer half of the crust was cooked perfectly; but it caved in towards the middle, making it difficult and messy to handle. Lots of sausage, more than double the amount of pepperoni covered my pie. Both meats were delicious, and the final (properly cooked) half of each slice was divine. Those extra two minutes I spoke of earlier, would have made this pizza perfect.

I ate quickly (more noise... just how many dishes do you have back there anyhow?) so I could leave sooner. Who wants to eat with a bird's-eye view of dirty dishes at the next table? I paid my bill after a final swipe of my temporary card (followed by my Visa.) The hostess was polite and asked me how my meal went. Once again, I avoided a long explanation... After all, I still had a review to write.

Atmosphere: F (Bad seating, dirty dishes, loud noises: What did you expect?)
Crust: B- (Flimsy in the middle)
Toppings: B (Cook the cheese, and we're talking B+/A-)
Service: F (Dirty dishes on tables for almost 30 minutes?)
Value: B- (With free water, $13.03 including tax/no tip is more than fair for lunch)
Overall: D (It's not hopeless. Better management is needed, and pizza is normally terrific.)