Restaurant Mechanics

The food at Intermezzo is amazing. But the restaurant's operations are a rush-time disaster.

In the spirit of positivity, we'll start off with the good stuff. Intermezzo, Vivace owner Daniel Scordato's new fast-casual place in The Plaza at Williams Centre, offers some of the best food I've had in quite some time.

I went to Intermezzo on a recent weekday with Irene Messina. We each sampled one of the six sandwiches on the menu: I got the warm Italian grinder ($7.50), and Irene ordered the vegetarian ($6.95). Irene also got the pear and walnut salad ($6, meant to be an entrée itself). To round things out, I ordered a bowl of the day's soup, shrimp bisque ($5.50), and a large mocha ($3.50).

The reasonably priced food provided a series of culinary hits. The soup, while not as rich and intense as other bisques I've had, was tasty. Garnished with parsley, the soup differed from many bisques in that it included chunks of shrimp; this was a nice touch.

Irene's pear and walnut salad was also worthy of praise. Featuring an abundance of candied walnuts, pear slices (displayed around the circumference of the bowl), mixed greens and lots of bleu cheese, it was simple, yet delightful. The vinaigrette dressing was sweet, but not overly so, completing the dish.

That leaves our sandwiches. Irene and I both agreed that these had to be among the best sandwiches in town. She raved--and Irene is not one to rave--about her vegetarian sandwich. Full of veggies like zucchini, olives, roasted red peppers and eggplant, and topped off with herb goat cheese on focaccia, it was delicious. She noted that the goat cheese was the special touch that put it over the top. It was so good, that on the way back from lunch, she praised the sandwich several times.

And each time, I'd echo her praise with gushing of my own about my sandwich. The grinder was thick with high-quality ingredients: mortadella (an upscale bologna), Prosciutto di Parma ham, sopresetta salami, provolone and Bel Pease cheeses, and highlighted with sautéed onions, tomatoes and a touch of vinaigrette on toasted slices from an Italian loaf. I could eat this every day--it was that good. Combined with my chocolate-dominated mocha (I could barely taste the coffee), it was a culinary treasure.

Have I heaped enough worthy praise on Intermezzo's food? Good. Now, it's time for the not-so-good stuff: I have never been to a restaurant so poorly designed for the way it operates.

Intermezzo, during non-busy times, would be a delight. It's beautiful; three colors dominate the walls, all of which are cheerful without being overly bright: textured peach, yellow and maroon (on the tops of the walls and the open-vent ceiling). On one side of the place, beautifully multi-colored flags, with symbols like coats of arms, jut out from the wall near the kitchen area. (I asked one of the bussers where the flags came from, thinking that they might represent something; she asked a manager, who answered: "From the Bellagio, in Las Vegas." OK then.) Other decorating touches--framed art, a large mirror, a curio cabinet with dishes inside, etc. --give an upscale, yet comfortable atmosphere.

But when Intermezzo is busy, it turns into chaos. It's run like a fast-casual eatery: You go to the centrally located counter and order your food, at which point, they give you a cute miniature bucket with an order letter inside. Then--in theory--you find a table, sit down and enjoy the vibe and conversation during the short wait for your food. Well, this theory gets shot all to hell during busy times, when all the tables are occupied. Here's why:

· There's nowhere to stand and wait after you order. You're either in the way of the door, the coffee condiments bar or the ordering counter. Alternately, you can go and wait near the tables and lurk over diners.

· The folks behind the counter give you your drinks before you're seated. I stood there, holding my hot cup of coffee, as people darted by, for a full five minutes. This is uncomfortable, not to mention rife with spillage possibilities.

· There's no help in determining who gets tables as they open. As a result, it's a free-for-all.

This led to some interesting incidents of psychological warfare. As Irene and I stood there, waiting for a table to open on one side of the restaurant, a woman with a baby stroller walked up and glared at me, clearly annoyed. I wasn't sure if she was looking at me in an effort to empathize ("Can you believe this chaos?") or to goad ("I have a stroller, so I get the first open table, dude. Or else."). Meanwhile, Irene was looking toward a table occupied by a senior-citizen couple who had finished with their meals. She was watching to see if they were leaving soon; the woman caught Irene's gaze and shot her back a look that would frighten a bear.

Disaster can strike if your food is ready before you get a table, too. When I ordered, the jovial woman behind the counter said a table should open up before we got our food, no problem. Well, about seven minutes later, I saw a server wander by with a platter consisting of everything we'd ordered. She took our meal for a walk around the restaurant as we watched, helplessly. Thank goodness, just as she was about to make her second loop, a table opened up, and Irene pounced to claim it.

Then, as we ate, we got to experience the joy of having forlorn would-be diners wander around, clutching their beverages, staring at us to see if we were almost finished. This didn't create a nice, relaxing lunch atmosphere; it created a feeling that we should hurry up so someone else could sit down and dine. As a result, this hurt the food: We couldn't savor it.

Daniel Scordato and his staff need to figure out how to remedy this problem, and fast. Maybe they should consider making Intermezzo into a table-service restaurant. Or perhaps they should come up with a numbering system to determine who gets open tables first, and have someone coordinate this with the kitchen, to assure the food doesn't come out before customers are seated.

But as it stands now, I can't recommend Intermezzo--now only serving lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends, although the menu promises that the restaurant will be "opening soon during evenings with wines and appetizers." Its operating procedures are a mess, and this is not fair to Intermezzo's customers--nor is it fair to Intermezzo's amazing food.