I understand that the 1st few months of a restaurants, or any small business, are crucial for building a trustful customer base and raving publicity. Because in the following months a huge percentage of them (96%) either fail within the 1st year or succeed and maybe 5 years down the road start to churn out a paycheck for themselves (4%). Those first 3 months are essential for staying at the top of the “J” curve. By the time that Little Water Cantina has irritated enough diners, fall/winter will hit and their fancy patio won’t be the consolation prize for all the overpriced tasteless mush, crappy service and arbitrary corporate-like policies which inhibit them from providing common sense customer service.  Unless they have some sort of intervention,  they will more than likely wallow at the bottom of that “J” until they have to close their doors.

Now lets get down to the part where I explain my disdain. It’s Thursday afternoon on one of the 16 days of summer in Seattle. I walk in, I was swept away by the darling decor, the sun beaming in and sparkling over the bar, inviting me, luring me: hey, have a sangria on the patio and breathe in the nice cool air drifting off Lake Union. And I was swooning over the fact that the whole operation was LEED certified (platinum efficient GREEN practices) and that their (promoted) mission was to provide exotic Mexican food, with a Pacific Northwest Twist, sourcing locally & organic when most possible. Nevermind the boxes of Peruvian mangoes sitting in plain view. They really do support local. Pu-lease.

This waft of euphoria lasted for about 3 minutes, when the friend I was meeting at the bar had to close out her tab before being able to sit with us on the patio because of their jackal rules. She was waiting for a party of 5-6 but since they weren’t also present they shuffled her around from private table to bar stool as if she were a game of musical chairs, making her close out at every shuffle. Really? You couldn’t just sit her at the WIDE open table and let her friends trickle in? Or rather, just keep tab on her tab? Get over yourselves.

The 2nd insult was the “happy hour.” 6 dollar “chips” and a tiny ramekin of watery pasty soupy tasteless guacamole (local avocados….?) Where was the peppers? Where was the garlic? the onions? The tomatoes, which ARE local and in season? So sad.

The chips were WONTON strips. I’m sorry, but last time I checked traditional Mexican chips are made out of corn, not flour. And they were super greasy just like fried wontons. C’mon, 6 dollar chips are not happy hour. And to add insult to injury, another friend ordered their Albacore Tuna Ceviche ($15) (which had 3 dinky pieces of fishy albacore) and that came with corn tortilla chips that I attempted to soup up the rest of my guac with, only to find they were stale and chewy. How do you screw up corn chips? Either the oil was too hot when they fried them, they let them sit out (more probable) or they got them in a bag that was left to dry (most probable).

The other “happy hour” item were the empanadas ($8 for 2). I’m sorry, a happy hour menu should cut off at $5-6 ESPECIALLY if its finger/handheld food like a dinky little empanada, which by the way was mushy. Don’t be fooled by appearances, their empanadas were dull and should have been fried and greasy. Inside they had maybe 4 little pieces of dry bland pulled pork “jerky.” and had some watercress (okay…) and a salty overly vinegar hot sauce to try to mask the empanada’s lack of depth.

Lets do a price check: La Isla, has a wicked happy hour and coincidentally has wickedly delicious food. Their comfort crusty buttery possibly lardy sturdy savory marinated pulled pork delicious empanadas run about: $3.99 each. At happy hour, they run: $1.99. Little Water Cantina: get over yourselves! La Isla is also partnered with the Green Scene recycling program! You maybe LEED certified and support local/organics, but you can’t depend on those factors to make that your “shtick.” I understand that your operating and overhead costs must be phenomenal, but having feathers doesn’t make you a chicken. Having well-designed plates, ethical-epicurean recipes, Green practices, homemade hot sauce, doesn’t make you a Pacific Northwest go-to for gourmet Mexican food.

Lets get to dessert: the grand finale. Dessert was on the house. But it came with a condition: to have hot sauced spilled and splattered all over a couple of our friends from the stumbles of our waitress (not her fault, the fault of poorly arranged crammed patio seating). As a courtesy, she offered 2 desserts to the hot sauced casualties. In my opinion, she should have comp’d them. Or at least comp’d a drink. If they couldn’t even get corn chips right, what made her think we wanted their spongy watery chocolate graham cracker Flan Cheesecake (which I didn’t quite understand) or Tres Leches cake (which, I only spotted one milk and that seemed to be condensed milk in a can).

The results of getting hot sauced was that one of my friend’s purse got demolished a bit, the hot sauce got in the crevices of the fine stich-work. Its just a purse and it can get cleaned, but who wants to deal with that? And the damage control didn’t control anything except destroy any remaining approval we had for that place. And here’s the icing on the Tres Leches: when brought our (separate) bills, they decided to stick us with an included gratuity. Really? Since 1st you made someone close out like 3 times so technically they weren’t apart of the billing party, and we had maybe a glass of sangria and an order of chips and 2 appetizers. I get added gratuity, but for a group ordering dinner, not at happy hour. I should be able to decide whether and how I am going to tip. That was wack. The ultimate wackness was that I noticed I was charged $9 for the supposedly $6 happy hour sangria (seriously, 6 bucks for juice, some mango puree at the bottom and wine?)

Turned out, she mixed up mine with one of the hot sauce casualties and charged her the happy hour price. She did order the drink maybe 5 minutes past 6. So what the waitress did was adjust my bill, which took 15 minutes, and brought the hot sauce casualty a bill for the extra 3 dollars she was undercharged for ordering a Jungle Juice Sangria 5 minutes past 6, and of course another hit of mandatory gratuity. SERIOUSLY? You couldn’t just let it go? Especially after you spilled hot sauce all over her? This is what I meant by ridiculous arbitrary corporate policies.

I am fuming just reliving this whole bit. My advice is that the owners chill out for a bit trying to salvage a profit. Charge reasonably and not try to nickle and dime everyone. And for the love of carne asada, please get another chef in the kitchen. If you go into a small business, you have to factor that you are going to loose some money. And you have to win over your customers in those first visits. The biggest challenge for restaurants in a food-centric city like Seattle, is to secure repeat business. And you guys will only attract a shallow-non food appreciative crowd for a short while until they get distracted by some new hot kid on another waterfront block.

And that’s that. Little Water Cantina. nothing to see here.

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