We ate for you at the “El Arrecife”

El Arrecife Restaurant, Punta Cana
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Slowness is not a negative thing per se – some things get definitely better the slower they happen: growing up, for example, is a slow process, yet for most of us it has about the right speed (just my wife keeps sighing: “Grow up, Mark, grow up!”). Or the huge credit card bill you ran up at that strip bar the other night with the colleagues; wouldn’t it be great if it came just a few years late? Or the annual drive to nutty Aunt Maggie. I wish the drive would never end – because the meaningless family chit-chat that follows once we are there always ends for me in a hospital, with a nervous breakdown.

And so, it is not negative at all when the manager of the “El Arrecife” tries to set a new standard of slowness. Au contraire, my dear Hastings! But does he succeed? We found out for you.

Disguised as plain tourists we entered the beautiful restaurant at Punta Cana beach. One immediately breathes in the new relaxed spirit that engulfes the place like an omnipresent signature. No queue outside, and no busy hustling inside. Once we sat down, we were ignored for at least another 15 minutes (great!), despite aggressive waving, shouting, and singing. The staff did a fantastic job at ignoring us – and not only us! We also witnessed:

  • A table of six next to us still without starters, after just an hour fifteen or so (they had arrived before us, so we have just their word for this).
  • A couple that arrived shortly after us ended the experiment right after they finished starters (which they took from the self-service buffet), only 30 minutes after being seated.
  • A group of 12 Spanish (!) tourists taking matters in their own hands. One of them finally grabbing an order book from the waiters’ desk, writing down the orders for his party (their silly request for a brand new Porsche as dessert did not go very well with their waiter, though).
  • A couple that got married at the resort left the restaurant divorced after having been constantly ignored by the staff for about six weeks. After two weeks they started to argue what they should do about “the situation”, and concluded that a divorce would be the best for their unborn children.
  • A display showing the current order status in big red letters: “Pending orders: 5,772 (now serving orders placed 43 days, 9 hours, and 11 minutes ago)”.

But we wanted to continue the experiment. And so the first one to break the wall of silence was the “Bread Guy”. Which came as a surprise for us. Was that a biblical reference? Possible, but he put two rubbery rolls and two formerly crisp bread sticks on the side plate without great ado, along with a piece of butter packed in plastic. Needless to say, that guy did not take our order (and yes, we would have been somewhat disappointed if he had done so).

Next one to go was the “Water Guy”, pouring fresh clear water into our glasses. Again no orders being accepted. (It has to be noted, though, that those refusals were uttered with the most beautiful smiles we had ever seen.)

And then our waiter came, about 15 minutes after we sat down. By that time, I knew the menu, a refreshingly simple matter, inside out already. I had settled with: 5-11-21 (seafood salad on coconut for starters, grilled salmon with fresh vegetables as main course, and mixed fruit on lemon cream as dessert). Unfortunately, this was too much for the waiter to remember (or to write down). Apparently he could only take the orders for starters and main courses, but not for dessert. Also, he appeared to speak just Spanish, adding greatly to the authentic mood of the place (though I overheard him discussing Einstein’s relativity theory with one of the guests, a Professor from the MIT, at the table next to us, in accent-free English). Yet he pretended to know nothing about food. Petra had asked him whether her Dorado would be served baked or grilled, to which he replied: “Si, it’s included.” That answer puzzled us, so we wanted a confirmation. “Does your wife wear pink knickers when sleeping?” – “Yes, it’s a fish. And you don’t pay anything.” Then he added a gesture of flipping a burger. We interpreted this as: “The Dorado will either be grilled or baked, and it may neither look nor taste like a Dorado at all.” A statement that could not be more wrong as we should soon find out.

Only an hour after we placed our orders, my seafood salad arrived. An excellent, simple, fresh, no-frills dish. In a word: delightful.

And fifteen minutes later, the main course came (while in the meantime more guests have left the restaurant in silent protest, refusing any further communication with the waiter). The verdict? Exceptional.

Now, if I were a Michelin judge, I’d assign a single star to the restaurant, for the food alone. However, the non-existent service would lead me to demanding two stars back, leaving the overall impression at “minus one star”. Which is ultimately sad.

We ended the experiment at about four a.m. in the morning, long after the restaurant closed. They never bothered to take our orders for dessert, or to refill the dry white wine. Nor did they wonder about the two persons (us!) sitting at that table in the corner.

Bizarrely, one of the few English TV channels at the hotel was BBC America, featuring Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares every night at 7 p.m. (It’s a show on restaurant improvements.) It might be a good idea for the hotel management to call Gordon Ramsay for immediate help, to find out “what the (beep) is wrong in this (beeep) restaurant. You nutters! (Beep.)”

El Arrecife Beach Bar & Restaurante
at the Grand Palladium Bavaro Resort & Spa
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Open 11am-4pm, and 7pm-11pm

One Response to “We ate for you at the “El Arrecife””

  1. Dave says:

    Paradisus Palma Real has to be the best Punta Cana Hotel.