Friday, April 20, 2007

The rise and fall, and return of Spazzo

Once upon a time there was a little Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of Bellevue, WA at the top of one of the tall buildings. There weren't really a lot of skyscrapers in Bellevue back-in-the-day, like being on the 15th floor was plenty to get a decent view all the way to Seattle. It was a great little restaurant, with a good chef, a good view, and decent ambience. One of its specialties was having a wide variety of 'tapas', which is really just a fancy word for appetizer but they were small amounts (compared to current fat-America restaurants where appetizers end up containing more food than necessary for an entree!) great for getting a whole bunch and sharing - or as I'd like to do, purchasing 2 or 3 and eating them as a main course.

This restaurant was one of several owned by the Schwartz Brothers. Other SB properties include Daniel's Broiler and Chandler's Crabhouse. Neither of these are 5-star dining experiences, but they are upscale and quiet good. I'd go so far as to say that the filet at Daniel's is one of the best steaks I've had. (I hear the El Gaucho and Metropolitan crowd reving up their keyboards... Let me throw some fuel on the fire, El Gaucho was really good, but the Metropolitan's New York Strip would have been disappointing for $10 and was simply tragic for its real price) And Spazzos, I used to love going there, there sangria was fruity and great.

Then... then something happened. The Schwartz Brothers changed it from Spazzo (subtitle:Mediterranean Grill) to Spazzo (subtitle: Italian Grill). This change was very quiet, no one really knew until they went there. And when they went there, they were kicked in the mouth and that is when the discovered the truth. A little bit of sleuthing on review sites will reveal exactly when the change happened. Just look for the spot in the reviews where they go from 4-5 star "Loved it", "Great", "Good for family or wooing customers" to getting 1-3 star "Crap, WTF?", "Not worth the time" and my favorite (paraphrased, but I really did read it a few years ago) "I'd been raving about this restaurant to some East Coast business reps, so I took them here for dinner after one of their trips. I have never been so embarrassed in my life."

I can attest to those reviews. I went there one night and it was a train wreck. Even if I just reviewed that service on the "do-over" after the first failed attempt at cooking the food, it still would have only garnered a 2-star rating.

Not long after the restaurant went away. The Scwartz Brothers put up a press release claiming that the bank building decided they didn't want a restaurant in it anymore. That's their story, they are sticking by it, and I'm not going to call B.S. on it. I will say that it seems awfully suspicious that once everyone started saying it was nothing more than an expensive Cucina Cucina / Olive Garden riding on the name of a once-nice restaurant that it went out of business. It was also interesting to note that the formerly prominent Scwartz Brothers logo wasn't prominent on the "v2" restaurant. I, and some other people I talked with, thought that the Brothers had actually sold the restaurant.

So, when I saw a sign in late 2006 that Spazzos was going to re-open, with a giant Scwartz Brothers logo, and really really close to my house I was very excited. Not only because I'm tired of the restaurants near me, but also that it had the SB logo on it making me think it was going to be restored to its former glory (minus the Seattle view).

I tried to go on opening night, but was not interested in the wait since I had not planned ahead with a call. We did end up there during opening week.

The restaurant took the place of a Cucina Cucina, and upon entering you would be hard-pressed to figure out why it took months to remodel the place. The seating in the bar area was different, and there was a fresh coat of paint on the walls, but other than that it was virtually identical. Going in to the bathroom I don't think they even repainted (I rarely went to Cucina Cucina, it had probably been over a year so maybe my memory betrayed me).

Looking over the menu it was clear that something was not right. It looked like the menu from Cucina Cucina, not the menu from the 'real' Spazzo. The restaurant was also still called Spazzo Italian Grill (the name of the inferior version recall).

When the food was delivered, I immediately knew that I would never be back. It was not the 'good' Spazzo as I had hoped, it was the Olive Garden clone that I feared it would be. The spaghetti & meatballs was better than what you would get at a cafeteria. The second steak they brought me (I'm giving them a pass on serving me a medium rare steak the first time, chalking it up to opening week jitters) was slightly better than what you would expect out of a modern Outback Steakhouse. (which is not so much)

Iced Tea for $3, my medium-well filet for $32, and Rebecca's spaghetti for $16 put the total around $55. You can get a much better meal at many restaurants for that price - hell you can get an average (and therefore better) meal at one of the chain restaurants in Redmond for less than that.

In short? Pass on this restaurant, unless you are a fan of over-priced sub-par chain-style Italian food.


DogKiller said...

you spelled 'quite' wrong

DogKiller said...

"The spaghetti & meatballs was better than what you would get at a cafeteria."

should be

"The spaghetti & meatballs were better than what you would get at a cafeteria."