Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Written with Lindsay Williams-Ross
We consider our restaurant reviews to be recommendations, not critiques. We only slam a place when our hand is forced. There are just some people who should not go into any industry where dealing with the public is a chief priority.
It truly pains us to do this. We so wanted to love Krust. We so wanted to write a glowing review and turn you on to this hidden bakery-cafe in Burbank. It fills a real culinary void in the neighborhood. The menu is not exactly complex or cutting-edge. Anyone who can plug in a hairdryer without electrocuting themselves can operate a panini press, and the paninis seem to be the center of their lunch menu. We can't speak for breakfast items, since we haven't had the constitution to get up and be insulted first thing in the morning. Still, the food is simple, clean, tasty, and well-presented - exactly what you want for a nice, relaxing girls' lunch. But time and time again, no matter how many times we visit, we have yet to enjoy that pleasant lunch
It could have been so nice...
The interior borders on perfection - decorative carvings, comfortable seating, and a beautiful array of baked goods. However, the layout is a little off-balance. The menus are on a stand by the door, off to the side, and completely hidden if anyone stands near it. The first bakery case used to be filled with tempting goodies, but it now sits empty. The large bakery case to the right is filled with - jewelry. Yes, jewelry. For sale. It makes the room seem like one of the hobby/careers of rich wives (Ooh, let's start a party planning company! I took a jewelry making class once - you make such good cupcakes; you should start a bakery! ).
The only case that actually contains baked goods lies inconveniently below the register. If you want to make a selection, you have to crouch down, and sometimes ask other patrons to move out of the way (or peek between their legs).
The set-up at the counter is also awkward. If you are waiting for a to-go order, there is nowhere to stand that isn't blocking the bakery case, the servers, and the other patrons' egress. There are signs everywhere telling you what they don't have, and a huge sign on the countertop that begs you to review them on YELP, which reeks a little of desperation.
One of the co-owners, who we believe is named Kaylene, runs a tight ship--Captain Bligh tight. When you reach the counter, there is no smile, no greeting. The confusing layout sends mixed messages and every move you make is open to chastisement (why didn't you see the menu before you came up to the register?). You'd better know what you want before you get to the front of the line--you certainly aren't going to get any friendly suggestions of what to order, and your inquiry about a dish is her inconvenience. In any service industry, explanations to innocent questions (delivered by a smiling and upbeat customer) ought to err on the side of the customer being right--or at least give the impression that the customer is important.
Your order is taken in a snippy and perfunctory way, then coolly tapped into the register. The requisite questions ("coleslaw or salad?") are delivered in the same tone as a surgical nurse offering you your choice of injection via the arm or the rear end. She is so reticient to speak, she skips over important points, like the fact that their iced tea is made with a fruity red herbal tea and not the usual black tea.
Once you find a place to sit, your food will come out without much delay (an upside, for certain), but it will be tossed down on your table as if by a surly teenager whose night it was to help Mom serve the tuna casserole. And, as you were warned via sign: If you order separately, the food will be delivered separately. If you ordered a hot item, it will arrive after the cold item. CAVEAT EMPTOR, folks.
Krust has "rules" about things--some are on signs and some are not--and the ways the management chooses to enforce them are blatantly unprofessional. We've been yelled at, sneered at, glared at, and lectured. We've been talked about in the kitchen by the whole staff, within earshot of the dining area. On one visit Kaylene attempted to ensnare one of us in someone else's argument. If you dare break an unwritten rule, you are treated as if you just peed on the floor.
For example, on our most recent visit, we quietly took a few pictures of the baked goods on display and the food our own plates. We have been doing this kind of thing for a long time, and choose to be very subtle about it so as not to disturb the other diners. We use a teensy camera, no flash, and take it quick. We are polite; we never take pictures of people, whether patrons or servers, without permission.
If something is on our plates and we have paid for it, it seems like we should be able to do with it as we wish, within the boundaries of public decency. If a bakery item is clearly on display, it is begging to be photographed. We will ask permission if anyone is around. But if someone is already barking at us and ignoring our attempts to make nice, it's not exactly an environment that encourages questions. We might have asked for permission, had she ever given either of us so much as a "hello" even once during the many months we have been patronizing the cafe.
So, minutes after a subtle and quick shot, after the camera was already put away, Kaylene came flying across the room at us like a banshee. "You can't take pictures here!"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know. Maybe you should put up a sign by the door."
"Lots of people come here to review us and THEY ASK FIRST."
We were a little surprised by her statement since the first rule of restaurant reviewing is not to tell the restaurant that you are reviewing it. We were also surprised at how personal she was making the whole incident.
We didn't say any of these things out loud. We just nodded apologetically while she ranted, willingly accepting our punishment for breaking the unwritten law. She stormed back across the restaurant, and then she turned to us from behind the counter and sniped, "...And I don't appreciate it!"
That was the final straw.
When did we get married? Did we marry and divorce this woman without remembering it? Why was she suddenly acting like a furious ex-wife? A restaurant professional walks quietly over to your table, says, "I'm sorry. We don't allow pictures." and gracefully walks away. Instead, this had become an MTV's Real World drama.
We were so upset, we couldn't stay to eat. Lindsay walked up to the counter to request to-go containers for our untouched food. As she approached the kitchen, she could hear the owner still ranting to the staff. Then she told Lindsay that she didn't like the fact that we were sneaky.
The Burbank-NoHo-Toluca Lake area has long needed a great bakery-cafe serving breakfast and lunch options without the scenester vibe of Studio City's Aroma. It sounds great in theory, but on every one of our visits to Krust our experiences have been consistent. Consistently uncomfortable, disappointing, and negative. It's too bad, because we wanted to love Krust. We'd have settled for like. We were taking those pictures so we could write a wonderful review. But now all we can do is warn you to stay away. The harpy behind the counter has driven us off one too many times.
It is hard to understand how someone can pay such minute, Martha Stewart-ish attention to detail in their decor and food, and then not give a tinker's dam about customer service. Perhaps it is all about control. The perfection of the icing swirls and the just-so placement of every jar might not be the result of her aesthetic, but of having to make every little thing perfect or die trying. And what is the X factor? What is the one thing the owner can't control? The patrons. We have to wonder if she wishes we would all just go away and let her finish perfecting her rosettes.
1723 W Verdugo Ave
Burbank, CA 91506