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False Seafood "Tower" at Firebird Russian RestaurantLike most people, I love a good deal. So when something catches my eye like the image above on Groupon or LivingSocial, I have no issues with snagging the deal. In Minneapolis, I’ve had good experiences with the quality of the food and service at the restaurants that have offered deals through these venues. However, I am sadly learning that this simple expectation is not applicable to the restaurant deals here in New York City.

Firebird RestaurantWhen approaching Firebird Restaurant located in the bustling Times Square area of Manhattan, the decadent black and gold gated exterior leads you to believe that you’re in for a grand experience. The Groupon deal I had purchased was for a seafood tower and two glasses of prosecco or two shots of vodka. Although my daughter’s favorite food is sushi, any kind of seafood is a close second. So the thought of a seafood tower was rather exciting to us especially given the tantalizing photo above that lured me to purchase the deal to begin with.

proseccoTo give you an idea of where this review is headed, let me start by asking, what kind of cheap ass restaurant in this day and age wouldn’t serve complimentary bread or something similar on the table? That’s unheard of especially when you’re an establishment that boasts about its excellent food and service. But, I was distracted by the fact that the server had clearly placed the second glass of prosecco in front of my 14 year old daughter while I was away from the table freshening up so I didn’t think to ask about the lack of bread until much later. Let’s be clear about this situation. Although my daughter is 14, she doesn’t look a day over 13 so why anyone would assume a young child in the US would be drinking a full glass of prosecco is a bit disturbing.

In addition, when dining out, I typically let the waitstaff guide the ordering process. In this case, the server didn’t bother to go over any menu items or specials with us and basically assumed that we didn’t want any other food or drink except what was included in the Groupon. I took this as a signal that what we were going to be served would have been filling enough for two people with normal appetites. However, when the seafood platter – not a tower – was delivered, I was a little Seafood "Tower"shocked that the server hadn’t suggested that we order more food. Even just adding a soup or other filling appetizer might have been sufficient. You can see by the display that what we were served was mostly shells and not shellfish. This amount of food is adequate as a large appetizer to be shared by two people, not as the main course for two people.

Considering the original image included in the Groupon ad above, I was expecting a freshly prepared seafood tower that was hot, warm, or cold depending on the seafood and not ice cold all around. Regardless, I wanted to give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt given the accolades on their website. Maybe, the seafood would still hold up to our expectations. So my daughter started in on the shrimp which wasn’t terrible, but there wasn’t anything stellar about them as well. If anything, the shrimp was slightly overcooked – i.e. it was a bit on the too firm side. Next, we moved in on the lobster tail. My pieces were edible, but chewy. Hmmm…lobster should not be chewy, right?

Seafood "Tower"The little neck clams might have been the freshest part of the meal. The worst offenders were the Maryland blue crab cocktail and the Jonah crab claws. Those were horribly inedible! The crab cocktail was pasty and the crab claws were spongy. Yes, you read that correctly. Pasty and spongy are NEVER adjectives that should describe seafood. This was the poorest quality seafood I have EVER tasted and I am shocked that this restaurant would try to claim that this is $110 worth of food and drink. Even my 14 year-old could tell that there was a quality issue with this food. It tasted as if it had been cooked who knows when, then frozen, then barely defrosted for our meal. Yes, the food was THAT cold.

After this last straw, I finally waved down the waiter who never checked on us by the way, and shared my thoughts about this meal with him. He denied that there could even remotely be a quality problem with what we were served. He cited that they’ve been serving this quite frequently because of the Groupon deal and that no other patron has complained. Oh, really? When I got home, I was so annoyed about this experience, I bothered to do some research on this. Here is what I found from a very quick Yelp search. After further pressing while we were there, he did then admit that the regular chef doesn’t work on Sundays and so this had been pre-made. Quite honestly, that’s the least of the issues to me. If you can’t get a simple cold seafood platter right (pre-made or not), what is the rest of your food like?!

In a last ditch effort to leave on a moderate note, I asked about the lack of complimentary bread which he explained I needed to request. This is an unacceptable practice for any establishment, but especially for an establishment that is claiming that the meal I came to experience is valued at $110! Own up to your lack of etiquette, Firebird Restaurant. Either you offer it complimentary, or you don’t. And if for some cheap ass reason you don’t, then offer it to me for a fee up front. This is a terrible lead in to what should have been an exemplary dining experience. To add insult to injury, the complimentary rolls we were then served were rubbery which once again indicates to me that these were not even close to being fresh. I find it interesting that after I voiced this concern, the two tables near me that had also been waiting extensively long for their food were then served a different kind of bread than what my daughter and I received.

I really wanted to be able to say something decent about this place. So in addition to requesting the bread, I ordered what I assumed would be a VERY simple item to fulfill. I ordered the soup of the day which was supposed to have been a cream of sweet potato soup. After 15 minutes of waiting for the soup that never came and having consumed barely edible bread and picked at disgusting seafood because we were starving, I requested the check and we left. Had it not been for the fact that I had already paid for this meal through Groupon, I wouldn’t have bothered trying to eat any of the food and would simply have left. That’s how bad the food and service were. To say that this was a subpar dining experience is being extremely generous. Neither the food, nor the service were acceptable and the sad part is that the restaurant wasn’t even busy. I understand that seafood might not be a Russian specialty. But then, don’t offer that as your “deal” to get people in the door. And minimally for any restaurant, offer good service so that I’d be willing to come back and try the real food. Given our experience, I would NEVER come back here. Save your money and go elsewhere. Even a street vendor could give you better food and service. *sighs*

On a much better note, if you don’t mind the drive, my daughter and I had an exceptional experience at Sammy’s Fish Box on City Island in March of 2012. The Crab and Lobster Feast for 2 was quite abundant and well worth the drive.