(Cross-posted on the Houston Chowhounds board because I know a fair amount of people picked up those Restaurant.com gift certificates.)
On Saturday night my husband and I finally decided to give Brisa a try. They have plastered more menus on our car windshield than we can count and Restaurant.com had a listing for them on their site. Taking advantage of the opportunity, we purchased a $25.00 gift certificate to the restaurant at a discount.
We arrived at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night. There were seven tables occupied out of about 25 (not counting bar seating, where I swear I saw a tumbleweed roll through), mostly two tops. You could see into the kitchen beyond some glass and everyone was standing around back there, unoccupied. In short, the restaurant was not busy at all.
When we arrived, the hostess passed the menu onto our server, and we were instructed to sit anywhere we wanted. We sat ourselves and wanting to avoid any problems when presented the bill, I asked if we could use the Restaurant.com gift certificate towards alcoholic drinks. Our server, I believe his name was Ronny, said he would check with his manager. He returned a few moments later saying “I have some bad news. The manager said we don’t take these.” I asked him to bring the manager over, wondering why the manager didn’t advise us of this himself. Daniel arrived at our table and reiterated that he could not accept the gift certificate. I asked why and he launched into a story that changed a few times. He repeated several times that it was out of his hands and that the owners were having problems with Restaurant.com. He said that they “cancelled their agreement with Restaurant.com six months ago” which I found hard to believe since the restaurant has only been open since May (that would be four months for anyone counting). Then towards the end of the conversation he said that they had been having problems with Restaurant.com for ‘a while now’ and then ‘a month’ popped up somewhere in there too. He also seemed to imply that we bought the certificate a while ago and were now just trying to honor it. I drew his attention to the date printed on the certificate and also told him that they were about to get inundated with these certificates due to the big sale Restaurant.com had on them.
He asked us if there was anything he could do to which my husband, irritated after listening to an ever changing story, retorted that he could honor the gift certificate we bought just last week. Daniel said he could offer us a free appetizer or dessert and at that point I thanked him, but said politely that we would leave. It had the feeling of a bait and switch operation, especially since Daniel’s story kept changing the longer we talked to him. I’m sure it truly was out of his hands, but the whole thing just seemed shady. I didn’t want to patronize a place where I felt that we were being taken advantage of or not being told the whole truth, even if it was ‘the public’s version’ of the whole truth.
At that point Daniel said he would honor the gift certificate and he apologized profusely for all the problems. He said he would still give us an appetizer or dessert for free. We thanked him and set about to ordering our meal.
We asked our server for chips and salsa (to which he replied: ‘we only bring it out if you ask, and you just asked… so… I’ll bring it out’ Uh, thanks!)
For an appetizer we got the cheese ‘tortilla’ stuffed with beef. Husband enjoyed this but I found the cheese wrapping kind of tough. The skirt/flank steak was tender and well seasoned though. The guacamole perched on top of lettuce was tasty too.
For an entree I got the chile relleno and Husband got the Gulf red snapper fillet, recommended by our server.
(Chile picture did not turn out)
Husband enjoyed his fish and said the sauce on top of it was quite good. However, the beef in the poblano chile was terrible. It tasted old and was loaded with lard (I think?) that tasted almost rancid. The upside was that all the sauces/salsas were delicious, especially their tomatillo sauce and what I think was an ancho sauce on my plate– the server didn’t know, said he thought it was a chipotle sauce but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. Beans and rice were unremarkable.
When the bill came, Daniel came back out with a business card and explained that he couldn’t offer us our free appetizer because that would reduce the total bill below $50, which is what we had to spend in order to use the certificate. He presented the business card to us with a handwritten note that our next app/dessert would be comped for us when we returned. We thanked him and didn’t complain because that was what the fine print said on the coupon, but goodness. You’d think he would try to focus more on making our visit NOW good than our next one…?
Given the hassle it was to use our certificate, the attitude of the manager, and the hit or miss entrees, we won’t be returning any time soon. Our server was spot on and wonderful, but I need more than a nice server to get me back to a restaurant. The same goes for chips and salsa. I think the only reason our gift certificate was even honored was because it was a graveyard there that night. Better to have $25 come through the door (plus tip) than nothing at all I guess. Too bad it won’t be coming back.