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Underground Cafe

4 Hulfish Street, Princeton, New Jersey
European 609-924-0666
Date: December 24, 2005 {Web Site}

Dan and I were meeting our friend Anne for dinner and I suggested we eat at the Undergound Café. This is a new place in Princeton I knew Anne wanted to try it because she’d mentioned a glowing review in the local paper. I had eaten here just a week before so I felt confident we’d have a good time. Since it was Christmas Eve, I called to make sure they were open and Dan suggested I call back to ask if we needed reservations. On my second call, I was told there was going to be a $20 cover charge for the band (Eastern European music) that was playing that night. I verified that if we arrived before the band was to start (8pm), we wouldn’t have to pay the cover. I was told we didn’t have to pay.

The Underground Café is tucked underground near the corner of Hulfish and Witherspoon streets. This European-themed restaurant with glass table tops and leather upholstery seems quite cozy and welcoming as you enter the restaurant.

We arrived at the restaurant around 7:40pm and were seated promptly. Anne walked in just after us and the waiter immediately came over to get a bottle of the wine we’d brought with us to open. After the waiter had returned with our wine and taken our orders, the owner (Assen) came over to tell us about the band playing that night and the cover charge. We looked at him dumbfounded because we couldn’t believe he was attempting to charge us a cover charge even though we had arrived before 8pm. When I replied that I had called twice before we came and verified that we didn’t need to pay cover if we arrived before 8pm, he said ‘not when you arrive at five minutes to eight’. He eventually backed off but this was strike one for the night. I was furious and ready to leave. I relented a bit because we had full glasses of wine and since there were only two other tables of diners, I knew they had already started our food.

I never saw the live band but on Dan’s return from the bathroom, he informed us that the “live” band was a man in the corner singing to recorded music. I hope the rest of the band showed up later because that’s a major rip off to charge $20 for that.

I had really wanted the grilled chicken and brie panini I had on my previous visit, but since they stop serving sandwiches at 5pm, I settled on the bourbon chicken entree. Dan had the pasta carbonara and Anne ordered the chicken rolls. The first two orders arrived and Anne was told her food would be out in 5-6 minutes.

I received three thin fillets of chicken which were served with mixed vegetables and white rice. Both the vegetables and rice were a little over done but still good. The chicken wasn’t very flavorful.

Dan thought the carbonara was ok. His biggest complaint was that the chef didn’t use fresh parmesan and there was too much of it sprinkled atop the pasta. I sampled his pasta and the sauce tasted a little burnt to me.

When Anne’s food finally arrived, it was undercooked and the wrong thing. (Strike Two) When the waiter brought out the new meal, it was the right thing, but again the chicken was underdone. It looked as though they barely cooked the chicken this time. (Strike Three) The waiter and the owner saw us staring at the food and came over to find out what was wrong. Anne showed them her undercooked food. They sort of stared at for a few moments because they didn’t seem to know what to say. Well, I guess the third time really is the charm because Anne’s food finally arrived done and she thought it was tasty. She ate a few bites of the chicken and decided to play it safe by not eating it all. Her meal was also served with mixed vegetables and white rice.

The owner redeemed himself when he offered to comp all our meals for the evening because of the repeated mishaps with Anne’s dinner. I was about ready to recant my refusal to set foot in the restaurant again until the final straw. After we had a light-hearted exchange with the waiter, the owner asked about my prior visit to the restaurant. I told him that it was wonderful and his reply was “We all make mistakes.” Maybe it was his accent (He’s Bulgarian) or maybe it was the fact that I was feeling sensitive from the rest of the evening, but he didn’t sound very sorry. I hope he didn’t spend a lot on décor, because with this type of attitude he won’t be in business long.

Since Assen is from a restaurant family (His family owns 5 restaurants in Bulgaria), I was very surprised at his whole attitude during the evening.

We were so disappointed with dinner that we decided to skip dessert and have a nightcap at another restaurant in town.

There are a few good points to the Underground Café: it’s a BYOB restaurant, has nice décor and great serving pieces. The mix of Villery & Boch and Ikea dishes and silverware make for a great presentation of the food.

Special Note: As we were leaving the restaurant, I checked the sign outside that mentioned the band playing in the restaurant that night. There was no mention of a $20 cover charge.

Credit Cards
Wine List
Party Michelle, Anne, Dan
Service Excellent Good Fair Poor Server {Server}
Price $$$$ $$$ $$ $ Total $0
Overall Excellent Good Fair Poor Manager Assen