Neumanali is a relatively new upscale restaurant in Hayward. It serves excellent California cuisine in the downstairs parlor of a newly renovated Victorian house. On weekend nights, the tiny restaurant features live jazz (the performers are precariously situated behind the door, be careful when you come in) and it's a pleasant place to spend an evening with friends. Or it would be, if the customer service was better.
The evening started out quite well. We'd made reservations for a Thursday night at 7 PM (November 2004) and the restaurant was half-way full when we got there (and remained so for the evening). We were given our choice of where to sit and decided on the table closest to the outside terrace/parking lot - the furthest away from the music. While we all like jazz, we prefer to be able to talk comfortably during dinner.
The brief menu was somewhat similar to the one online and featured simple ingredient-driven dishes. It's not very exciting, and didn't feature anything new, but that may be a general problem with Bay Area cuisine. It's wonderful to have well prepared food with prime ingredients, but sometimes I wish chefs would do something different with them.
Mike and I shared an appetizer of Seared Sea Scallops on Truffled Potatoes which had been recommended by a glowing >review in the East Bay Express. The review likened the texture of the scallops to that of foie gras, and while I wouldn't go that far I have to admit that they were excellent. They were perfectly seared in some kind of thin reduction sauce and each bite of them was heaven. They had a light lobster-like flavor that I actually found pleasant (and I don't usually like lobster), as there was no "fishiness" to it. The accompanying mashed potatoes were pedestrian in comparison, but still good. Our only mistake is to have shared this dish.
Regina had the soup of the day, tomato basil. She liked it, felt that it tasted very fresh, but found it too salty. Boris had the same problem with his Caesar's salad, it was too salty but fresh and crisp.
Both Boris and I had the rib-eye steak, which I think came with a chimichurri sauce that evening as well as mashed potatoes. The steak was perfectly cooked medium-rare, as I ordered it, and it was delicious, tender and flavorful and very well seasoned. It was also a very generous size, and a good deal for the price ($23, I think). It's highly recommended. Boris enjoyed his steak as well and said it was the best steak he'd had in a long time.
Mike had the seared duck, and here again the chef proved her worth. The duck was perfectly cooked and seemingly without any sauces or artifices it tasted just like duck should taste, of duck and nothing but duck. It was also perfectly seasoned. Bay Wolf should be happy to serve duck this good. The side dish was much less memorable, and indeed other than some asparagus, we can't remember what it was.
Regina was the least lucky of all of us. She decided to forgo the one vegetarian entree and ordered the Herb Mousse Stuffed Chicken Breast Served on Butter Leek Risotto. The risotto was sensational, mushy and somewhat sweet but simply delicious. I could have eaten a whole bowl of it. The chicken was fine but there was nothing special about it; she ate it but it didn't excite her.
Mike had a glass of the Bordeaux and wasn't too happy with it, it was a young wine with no finish whatsoever. It was easy to drink but you had to wonder why you were drinking it. Both Regina and Boris had the zinfandel, but they didn't make any comments about it.
Up to this point in the meal, the service had been quite good. Our bread basket was replenished quickly (the bread was fine, served with oil & vinegar already mixed) as were our water cups. However, things fell apart with dessert.
The brief dessert menu had five or six dishes, including a cheese course. Mike wanted to order the chocolate menage a trois (he almost always goes for the chocolate dessert) but I didn't see anything else that interested me, so I convinced him to go for the Muscat with chocolate truffles instead. Regina and Boris shared the creme brulee.
One of the waiters (service was shared by several of them) brought the muscat and the two desserts, but not the truffles. After waiting for these for a while, we fetched the other waiter, the only one in the dining room, and asked about them. After hesitating a little he then told us the kitchen had ran out of truffles. He had no explanation as to why we hadn't been informed of that and he failed to apologize, blaming it instead on the other waiter. The other waiter didn't come to either apologize or give an explanation either.
The waiter did offer to bring another dessert, but Mike had been sharing my chocolate menage a trois (two double-chocolate brownies with chocolate sauce and a light cream) and the brownies were a tad dry and not good enough to order another portion. I had also tasted the creme brulee and I didn't find it at all appealing (Regina and Boris agreed, but they said the heavy custard flavor grew on them, though they wouldn't order it again) so there weren't really any good options. We expected that given that they had not brought the full dessert or informed us about it, they would at least take the price of the dessert off of the bill. They didn't.
Figuring, I guess, that their truffles only cost them $2 to make, they had only taken that amount off the $182 bill. When we called the waiter to complain, he agreed to take the desert of the bill, but again did not apologize for their mistake.
The mistake, of course, wasn't that big a deal - though their lack of response left us with a very bitter taste. An apology, let alone an explanation, can go so far and it's so easy and cheap to give, that for the life of me I can't understand why they wouldn't offer one. I did write to the managers to describe the situation, and while the manager did eventually write back and apologize, it took two full months for her to do so. One has to wonder if the service problems don't go deeper. Indeed, a recent posting in Craigslist made me wonder if the restaurant is just out of whack.
In any case, we still had a good time and did enjoy the food (though not the desserts). Still, the dinner ended in such a sour note that I can't imagine going back there again.
742 B Street
Tu - Su 11 am - 10 pm