Wu's opened in Charlotte's South End neighborhood in June 2017, and is owned by the same restaurant group that owns Ink N Ivy, Oak Room, Hot Taco, Whiskey Warehouse, Brazwells, Slate, and All American Pub (where Scallionpancake met!), so they definitely know their way around the restaurant scene.
...or they should. We had a not-so-great meal at Wu's. It was our first (and likely last) visit. Maybe our experience was a fluke, but it was so off-putting to our dining companions and to us that we cannot see returning any time soon.
Honestly, this is a bit difficult to write, as we rarely write negative reviews. However, after long and involved discussions at Scallionpancake headquarters, we decided that we want our readers to trust us, and it is difficult to trust a review blog that only publishes the glowingly positive. And, if Tom Cruise taught us anything in Vanilla Sky (and I believe he taught us so many things), it's that the sweet is never as sweet without the sour. Read on to see what went wrong at this Asian/Cajun fusion restaurant on one sultry August night, not too many moons ago.
The menu is a mix of Asian and Cajun, with a healthy dose of seafood, a staple of both cuisines. We had heard good things about the seafood (specifically the boils), the gumbo ramen, and the Kung Pao cauliflower. So, we ordered these items, plus a few others.
Fried Gator Roll
Tasso ham, cilantro, fresno chili, money sauce, green onion
Kung Pao Cauliflower
Fried, tossed, scallions, sesame, fresno chili
These two appetizers were the highlight of our experience. They came out in a reasonable amount of time, though I think it can be argued that thirty minutes on a Tuesday night in a not-at-all crowded and overstaffed restaurant is not reasonable, we were honestly not fazed at this point. We were catching up with our good friends Daniela and Jonathan, and we were having a relaxed evening. The apps were solid--we really liked the gator roll, and it was our favorite dish of the entire night. The cauliflower had a bit too much breading and not enough spice for my taste, but everyone else at the table enjoyed it.
Kimchi cocktail sauce, white wine gochujang mignonette, lemon wedge
So, a word on what happened before these oysters coming out. Our poor waitress, who truly should shoulder very little blame in all of this, dropped her entire tray filled with our food as she tried to juggle setting up the tray stand and a ridiculously heavy tray of food. Previously, our hostess and the same waitress had dropped a fork and a menu, respectively, in this same spot. This area of the floor was clearly slippery and/or haunted. No one came by to dry it or wave some sage over it, which could have likely prevented Tray Drop 2017.
I just want to be clear. We were not at all upset with our waitress for dropping the tray. In fact, the three of us traded stories about dropping items in our food service days (the winner was Daniela, who honest to god spilled food on an infant, making him cry). I say three of us, as Jason has led a very cushioned life where he has not had to serve food to the citizens, and for this he is very blessed. We tried to make our waitress feel better about what happened, and told her it had happened to (most of) us before. We assured her it was no big deal and told her we were not in a hurry when she said the kitchen would re-fire our food.
What was weird, however, was that there were six tables sat in the dining room, and four tables sat outside, and our waitress was in charge of at least five of them. There were about six waitresses and a bartender on duty, and it was hard to understand why our waitress was the sole one harried and stressed out. It even took several minutes for someone to come over and help her with the tray of food on the floor. There were two waitresses standing around talking for most of the night, as we watched our waitress rushing around like mad. Team work makes the dream work, amiright?
After Tray Gate, our waitress brought out the raw oysters, as those were always due to come out on a separate tray. Then, a waitress came out (she did not identify herself as a manager, so I will assume she was a waitress and likely a shift supervisor or closer) and apologized for what had happened. We assured her we were not concerned with the tray drop and that these things happen. She said she would offer us all a round of drinks on the house to make up for our delayed food. We told her that as none of us had a drink, we didn't want one, but we would love some water refills. She said she would get us that, and that she would comp our meals.
Our regular waitress came back around with water, as the other waitress straight up disappeared, and after she left we realized that the oysters had not come with plates, oyster forks, or lemons. We didn't want to further stress our clearly very overwhelmed waitress, so I asked another server for these items. She blew me off and no one brought them. Eventually, I asked our waitress for them, and she brought them, though at this point the oysters were basically gone, as we were starving (we had been at the restaurant for an hour at this point).
Anyway, the oysters. There was no mignonette that I noticed--there was no flavor at all, not in the oysters or the "kimchi" cocktail sauce. That was 100% regular cocktail sauce. This was fine, as we like straight-up oysters and regular cocktail sauce, but it was not the dish the menu promised. We ate them all, because oysters are freaking expensive and again, starving.
Gumbo base, andouille, ramen noodles, crawfish, charred cabbage, kimchi marinated soft egg
No picture due to hunger-induced delirium.
Daniela: "I thought the gumbo was more of a noodle dish since there was little to no broth. The flavors were muddied to me, and it was almost gritty in texture."
The "Wu" Boil with Crab Legs
Seasoned with our signature Wu's seasoning and served with corn, potatoes, and sausage
Daniela: "The boil wasn't bad, although it's hard to mess up crab legs. The shrimp that was added as a peace offering was overcooked and chewy. There were two potatoes and no corn. The spiced butter on the side was pretty tasty."
Jonathan: "The boil and the gumbo made one hell of a mess."
Peanut crusted fried goat cheese, carrot, fresno chili, red onion, crispy quinoa, miso-ginger vinaigrette
No picture because, well, at this point there was a mass of confusion and hunger. It was missing the quinoa. Decent salad, if a little overdressed/soggy. I ate it all, however.
Buttermilk Fried Calamari
Kimchi, lemon butter, cilantro, jalapeno
Came out ten minutes after everything above, even though it's technically an app and we are not sure what took so long in a basically empty restaurant. Didn't taste bad, according to Jason.
Cajun Fried Crab Roll
Cajun seasoning, money sauce, spicy mayo, green onion, goat cheese, cilantro, fresno chili
Anddd this came out ten more minutes after the calamari. Jason said this roll was good, but that he preferred the gator roll.
After our meal, our waitress came and took our plates. No one came by to say anything. We waited another forty minutes. We figured this was because they had told us they would comp our meals, but it's super awkward to just leave a restaurant without having a waitress, manager, or really anyone come over and say thank you, have a good night, would you like dessert, please come see us again, etc. We didn't know what to do. Eventually, our exhaustion won out, and we got up from the table and found the waitress who told us she would comp our meals and told her we were leaving. She said, "Did your waitress bring your a check?" (cue all of us thinking: but you said you were comping us?!), and we said no, we had not been brought anything or been addressed at all in the forty minutes since we had finished our food. She said, "Well, I said I would just comp your boils, but I guess you guys can just go." Sidebar, we only got one boil, not multiples. And um, okay. Don't have to tell us twice to leave at this point. We had arrived at 8:00pm and it was 10:00pm.
Our meal was comped, yes. However, we did not come to Wu's looking for a free meal. We came looking for good food and good service, which is what we always anticipate on a night out. We would have gladly taken the latter over the former. In the words of Jonathan: "It's annoying, because there are so many good places to eat in Charlotte, and we just wasted a night here."
No manager in sight. No business card offered to contact anyone. We did ask for one, but we didn't use it. We decided the blog could be our comment card. Daniela & Jonathan, however, did email the manager and never heard back. Update: Wu's marketing director did reach out in September, and offered us another dinner on them. We have not taken them up on that offer, however. Daniela & Jonathan never received a response to their email.
Yeah, no. Please take me home. I want to get off this ride.
But, because you know how much we love dessert, we tried to stop at Golden Cow on the way home, but they were closed because it was freaking 10 o'clock at night. Wahhh.
As I said above, we all had waters. Daniela and Jonathan were doing a cleanse month, and Jason and I just like to stay hydrated. The water was very good, and we enjoyed drinking it whenever our cups were not empty (which did not happen often, unfortunately).
Uh, I am not going to lie. A horror show of over-the-top decor. The slow burn of a Tennessee Williams play dubbed into a Jackie Chan movie. Seppuku on the bayou. Am I beating a dead Asian-Cajun horse?
Confused Fusion Hospitality:
Uh. See above.
FYI to Wu's: Seafood is one word, not two; Frankie considers himself very patient as he worked many hard years in the service industry, but unacceptable is unacceptable, and that's right from the pug's mouth; I am not going to lie, Daniela's story of dropping food on a baby made me feel a lot better about the time I dropped lemonade on a pregnant lady at her baby shower; That's a textbook example of schadenfreude; Shoutout to Cincinnati's Bonbonnerie Tea Room and the honest-to-god favorite job I've ever held, minus the lemonade incident of Aught Four; We want to take our waitress out for a drink, because she deserves it after the night she had--girl, it's not your fault!