Hello, is this thing still on?

19 December 2010

While dining in a well regarded Manhattan eatery last week, I was stunned by the multitude of avoidable errors that this place made. Sure the food was good, maybe even very good, but there were so many decorative and service missteps that I had a difficult time focusing on my meal and the potential employers sitting across from me (yes, there is a chance that I may be moving to NYC; and no, I cannot discuss it here though I wish I could.)

As much as I hate giving away advice that I would normally be compensated to provide, the experience at that place prompted me to share:

Ten Common and Avoidable Misteaks Restauranteurs Make

  1. Cheap toilet tissue in expensive restaurants is incongruous but surprisingly common; it personifies the phrase “penny wise, pound foolish.”
  2. No one looks good under harsh lighting, please stop using it.
  3. If your restaurant lacks a mission statement, you’re doing it wrong.
  4. Seriously? You’ve heard about this for about a decade; how can you still not have hooks under the bar?
  5. Coco Chanel once said “that in order to be irreplaceable, one must be different.” The same thing applies to restaurants.
  6. The irreplaceable Ms. Chanel also suggested that a lady should always get dressed and then remove one thing before leaving the house. With the proliferation of overly constructed cuisine, the same should be said of every dish before it leaves the kitchen.
  7. Superlative service costs the exact same as mediocre service, why must so many places countenance the latter rather than seeking the former?
  8. Brag through your food, not on the printed menu. When menus are written boastfully, they make everyone more inclined to seek flaws in equal measure to flavor.
  9. Call your own restaurants frequently and from outside lines, you would be surprised by the dearth of telephone civility.
  10. No music on the website, use a minimal amount of flash, ensure that the hours, address & phone number are on every page, and answer your email.

p.s. Yes, I really did think that “misteaks” part was funny.


Cooking for Those Racing to the Bottom

1 September 2010

I got the call way too early for my taste [ed. note – the way my insomnia manifests varies, but lately it has me finally finding sleep just after sunrise. So calls before 9am are highly unpleasant.] Her voice was way too perky for pre-caffeinated discussion. However, she quickly identified herself as a new client, so I rallied my attentions to have a good conversation. We coverec her planned date (last Saturday,) how she came to contact me (referral from this client,) the number of guests, style of food, and then I heard the two words that stir concern in the heart of any service industry professional:

Bachelorette Party

I have long considered the pre-marriage descent into bacchanalian excess to be to be in the same category as tequila shots, dates with ex’s, and Kevin Costner films*. That is to say: things that have the patina of a good idea but whose shine quickly fades leaving nothing but the dull hue of impending regrets.

Against better judgment, and all prior experience, I took the gig anyway. Mostly because it was a referral from a good client, but also because August is too slow of a month to turn down business. I did have a couple of conditions:

  • I will not be making anything in the shape of a penis.
  • I will not use any cheesy double-entendres in the names of any dish, cocktail, or wine.
  • Should there be any strippers involved in the evening, they may not appear until after the dessert course had been cleared.

…and I still knew that it was a bad idea.

The second indication that I should have rejected this gig, was the host preference that I not hire an assistant for service and prep (six guests are not too much for me to handle solo, but the evening goes so much more smoothly with another set of hands.) I certainly should have expressed more concern when the wine order included double the booze that I would have stocked for my hard-drinking friends.

The host, the bride-to-be, and two bridesmaids were already there when I arrived four hours before the cocktail hour. The first hour of prep proceeded without a hitch… then they all came into the kitchen. I don’t mind questions while I cook but after the second bottle of champagne was popped, their queries took a decidedly more lurid tone. It was the laziness and insincerity of the flirtations that bothered me most. None of them were truly directed at me as much as they were intended for an objectified me – I was simple a placeholder representing any man in their proximity. The pack dynamic was fully displayed with each of these woman trying to one-up the others. It was unseemly.

By the time I served the Prosecco Poached Berries with Hazelnut Whipped Cream I had endured a handful of inappropriate touches, too many flaccid innuendos to count, and overheard a baker’s dozen of suggestions about ways to use “any sauce [I] had left over.”

[ed. note: I am not suggesting – even for the split second it takes to over-poach an egg – that my experience is in any way comparable to what too many women endure in the presence of undignified men.]

As I was cleaning, the host and the maid of honor came into the kitchen to thank me for my efforts, and to “apologize if the girls got a little too rowdy.” The host, followed that by placing a handful of bills in the back pocket of my jeans as a tip.

I was almost done packing my things when she came into the kitchen once more.

Refugee, everything really was lovely, I’m never cooking for a dinner party again. Are you available the first Saturday of October for another dinner of about the same size?”

No, I’m not” I replied with a full stop that I hoped would prevent further inquiry.

Oh, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re booked that far in advance” the host said with a slight slur.

I should have left things there, but my lessor demons shouted down the better angles so I responded “I didn’t say I was booked, just that I’m not available.”

*exceptions made for The Untouchables & Bull Durham… and maybe Dances with Wolves too


Reader Question: What to Think When a Night Goes Sideways

25 May 2010

I recently received an email from a reader who wondered if I had seen a New York Times blog post about a sticky situation at a restaurant.

Short version of the story: Chef/Owner of an upscale Italian place in NYC’s TriBeCa neighborhood twice dressed-down an employee.  In full view of an awkward dining room, the chef’s volume was so high and tirade so vituperative and long that one guest, the author of the blog post, eventually went into the open kitchen to tell the chef that the yelling was ruining his experience.  Shortly thereafter, the chef went to guest’s table to apologize and explain that the yelling was in service of “maintaining quality.”  The guest dismissed this excuse because it was still “ruining [his] dinner.”  The party of four is asked/told to leave the restaurant.

The author of the blog post, Ron Lieber, went on to discuss the way he wished that he had handled the situation, the chef’s response when contacted for comment – no further apology was forthcoming – and asked about who was right, and how the readers would have behaved in either party’s shoes.

I’d really like to be unequivocally on Mr. Lieber’s side, but neither man has any claim to moral high ground.   The author stood up to a bully but only because that bully’s behavior had an impact on the author’s ability to enjoy a meal.  Yes, Mr. Lieber does belatedly acknowledge that the affair “conjured up the particular type of nausea that results from watching people yank their misbehaving kids around on the subway” but he does so almost as an aside to the repeated references to the fact that he “was paying to eat there” and that the abusive behavior was “ruining [his] dinner.”  Chef Forgione, for his part, was primarily angry because he felt disrespected in the presence of his employees.

When the essence of the debate pits “Please stop being emotionally abusive to your staff, it’s fucking with the taste of my fois gras” against “How dare you challenge my ability to emotionally abuse someone who depends upon me for his livelihood?” both parties share blame in the erosion of moral framework of restaurants in particular and society in general.

If we, as a society, cannot agree that this is emotional abuse and therefore categorically wrong* then my faith in our world is fundamentally misplaced.  When will we cease giving a pass to certain people because of their talent in culinary arts, or coaching football, or producing prodigious amounts of money?

Emotional terrorism is a poor excuse for leadership, ignoring it is to condone it, and celebrating it is nothing short of profane.  Abusive chefs aren’t charming, their tirades and assaults are not reasonable prices to be paid for their “genius,” and applauding or rewarding that behavior with more fame, more restaurants simply makes us all complicit in the whole sordid mess.

* potentially a reasonable case might be made for the intellectual and emotional manipulation in the armed services but I do not believe that it consistently rises to the point of abusive.


Sunday Morning Mashup

23 May 2010

I ran into the worst clients and most awful couple ever the other day.

I was taking advantage of a lovely afternoon and spent a few hours on the patio of one of my favorite swanky hotels.  My only table companions were a cigar, an open bottle of champagne, and Todd Kliman’s new book The Wild Vine.  Sam and Toni breezed by me on the way to their own table on the opposite side of the courtyard.  My first thoughts of gratitude for having gone unnoticed were soon eclipsed by dread when I saw them waving at me and beckoning me to come join them.

I knew I should have just ignored them, but I try to be civil even with people this obnoxious when they used to be clients.  There was mindless chitchat that lasted about two excruciatingly long minutes.  There was a request for me to check my schedule for availability to do a dinner party for them.  There was general obfuscating on my part.  Just after we were said our perfunctory and worthless goodbyes but before I had actually turned my body to walk away, Sam said “Say Refugee, Toni has allergy problems, you mind putting out your cigar.”

It was all statement, there was no trace of request or favor, and it was said through that smug and entitled smile.

I had no pithy comeback, no well timed soliloquy on their pernicious sense of privilege, I just stood for a pregnant moment, returned the entitled smile and said “Absofuckinglutely I would mind, have a good day.”

******

Artie Shaw would be celebrating his 100th birthday today.  He was a brilliant player of several reed instruments, a prolific composer and big band leader, and by just about every historical account, a really stand-up guy.  He also happened to be the first musician to put a black singer, Billie Holiday, in front of a white band… and toured the South no less.

His most famous recording is Begin the Beguine and is considered by anyone worth their dancing shoes to be among the greatest big band songs ever.  Go ahead and listen… I dare ya not to bop your head.


Random Friday, Random Housekeeping, Is It Happy Hour Yet?

2 April 2010

I thank all of you for your good wishes on my announcement yesterday. As I emailed more than a few of you who left comments, the proper etiquette, however, requires “Best Wishes” to the prospective bride, and “Congratulations” to the guy who just executed an outstanding April Fools Day Prank.  I’m Gonna Break Your Heart and I will be together forever, but as the great friends we have been since the day we met but there will be no marriage.

******

I recently saw some who was the worst kind of cliché – one that is dangerous is both the literal and metaphorical sense.  From the elevated perch of my Metrobus window seat, I watched some self-centered millennial asshole driving his BMW with his knees while having two hands on his crackberry.  Never have I wanted to throttle someone more than at that moment.  For the love of Bacon and all things Holy, put the bloody phone down and drive!

******

Filed under: How Could I not Know About This, yesterday was the birthday of my severe blog crush, Rachel Maddow.  As I have admitted my horrid ability to remember even the most significant of birthdays, that memory omission doesn’t shock me or anyone who’s know me for more than a calendar year.  The part that annoys me is that Maddow fans on Twitter determined that they would send enough tweets with the hash tag Maddow to get her on the global front page of trends. Never mind that I barely know enough to write or understand that last sentence, but how did I miss that?

******

Some Free Advice to Restaurateurs from Someone who Gets Paid to Give It: I know that everyone is telling you that you have be involved in new media and social networking to be successful.  While there is some truth there, the bigger issue is that you should resist the urge to fuck with things you don’t understand.  If you don’t know the etiquettes and charms and general ways of these tools they can only be more dangerous than productive.

The following is an excerpt from a DC Blogs Round-Up I had put together.  It centered around a soon to open restauranteur who threatened a blogger with litigation over a mostly innocuous but critical comment left on her blog.  For editorial reasons, it got cut before publishing.  I share it with you all here because I still think it entertaining and enlightening.

In a stunning example of “the solution is worse than the problem,” U Street Girl received a complaint from a business owner about a comment left on her blog.  The request threatened legal action and caught the attention of more than a few other bloggers.

Original Post from U Street Girl

Removal Post from U Street Girl

Reaction from 14th and You

Reaction from dcist (and a flood of comments)

Reaction from We Love DC

Reaction from Sophistpundit


Riding That Train… Germaphobe Jones Better Watch Her Speed

31 March 2010

February was a long, travel filled, slightly angst ridden month for me.  One particular late winter day had been longer than most – a wake before dawn to catch a flight back to DC, work all day and finally take a breath round 8pm kinda long day.  Boarding the Metro train early evening, I was disappointed in not getting a seat for my four stop ride.  At least the train wasn’t sardine crowded, I thought.   My hand was one of the three deliberately anonymous hands wrapped around a pole for stability.

At the second station a bespectacled brunette boarded at the same end of the train.  As we moved from stop to speed, this woman widened her stance in an effort to balance against the sometimes herky-jerky train movements.  The woman to my left shifted slightly to make even more room for the new woman to enter our little circle and reach the pole.  She gave a friendly smile as she did.  The solo stander held firm in her outsider position even if she was wobbly on her feet.

As we left the third station, the woman to my right leaned forward and said “You don’t have to Metro Surf; there’s room here for you.”

“Excuse me” the train surfer said… as she wobbled a bit more.

“You don’t need to stand on your own, there’s plenty of space here.”

The train surfer suddenly uncapped a rant about disease, and how she’d rather risk falling than “touch that germy thing especially this year with all of the different strains of influenza.”  The mini diatribe lasted about a minute.

Maybe it was the patently ridiculous notion that we are somehow more fragile than our forbearers, or the general hilarity of someone so insanely germaphobic that she seems like an SNL character, or maybe it was the selfishness in her willingness to risk the safety of the other people on the train as she was far more likely to fall into someone else than she was to catch anything that hand washing couldn’t prevent, but for whatever reason this inflamed my sensibilities.

I went against my usual find-away-to-confront-discomfort tendencies but my response wasn’t calculated… just the instinctual reaction of a fatigue addled brain.  As the train stopped, I gave her a good look, removed my hand from the pole and made a big showy lick of my palm.

As I exited the train, I glanced at my pole mates. They could barely contain their laughter…

…and then I went to buy some Listerine for a quick gargle*.

* no need to tell me that the mouthwash wasn’t going to do much, and no, I didn’t get sick.

By the by, I received an email update from Afraid of Unrequited.  She took some of my advice, some of LiLu’s advice, and stepped in a couple of the traps about which we both warned her.  Full details coming soon.


How to Lose a Client in 10 Sentences or Less

12 March 2010

The Players in the Room:

Steve – Big shot attorney who is also an investor in a couple of restaurants, the man who writes the big checks to make things happen, insisted on my participation in the deal as a consultant before he wrote one of those really big checks, doesn’t mind people who lose money doing the right things, but detests wasting it.

Damian – professional dilettante turned interior design consultant, happens to be the nephew of Steve’s wife, and has been largely tasked with identifying the space, thinks that he is capable of doing my job, and is technically my client too.

Chef – the relatively young, relatively bright culinary mind who knows enough to know that he is ready for his own place, but also knows enough to listen to people who know more than he in their areas of expertise.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Restaurant Refugee – professional restaurant consultant who’s spent more time in Chicago than DC the past several weeks, is also getting a little impatient with the process at the moment.

Angela – Commercial Real Estate Agent with a permanently painted smile, a mix of “I-want-this-deal” happiness and some flinty Chicago toughness which is betraying a bit of that happiness with the frustration of showing so many places to the same client group.

The Room: yet another empty commercial space that doesn’t really work as a restaurant for reasons that people who know the restaurant business from the inside can understand.

This is our third building of the day.  I didn’t quite judge it from the cover, but as we approached I was silently hoping that this wasn’t it.  After 30 dusty seconds inside, Damian exclaimed “I love the lines in this place; Refugee, doesn’t it have great bones?”

It was a deep-breath-before-responding moment and I took one.  “It does have lovely lines,” I began; “for a ground floor condo space or high-end retail shop, but pros can tell you that there are unmanageable choke-points there, there, there, and there.”  I knew that my tone was about half a degree sharper than I consciously intended – can’t speak for my subconscious.

Damian turned his attention from the windows to me and asked “are you inferring that I’m somehow not a professional?”

I wasn’t sure if this was a line in the sand moment, but I thought it best that we have the conversation internally.  “Angela, would you mind giving us the room so we can walk around and talk about it freely,” I mostly declared.  She and I have had a few off-line conversations about this so she knew the situation.

“Damian, I am just suggesting that there are problems with the space that people who’ve spent a lot of time in restaurants can see but you might be missing.”

“You know, Refugee, I think that’s the second time you inferred that I don’t know what I am doing… and I’m a little tired of you being so fucking smug, you do know that you work for me right?!?!”

Steve may have wanted to enter this fray to mediate, but I had reached my limit and spoke a little too quickly.  The look on Chef’s face indicated that he wanted no part of this.

“Damian, I am not inferring, I am implying; and since it seems that the implication is too opaque, let me be fully clear – your suggestions and ideas indicate that you are thoroughly, completely, and unquestionably out of your depth.  You look at this room and see all of these lovely angles and attractive lines.  I look at it and see all of these load bearing columns which mean that you couldn’t possibly construct a kitchen large enough to accommodate a dining room of this size.  I see impossible corners and walls that can’t be moved.  Damian, you’re tired of me being smug, huh? I find that pretty damn laughable because for the last few weeks, I’ve been going out of my way to include you in conversations, to twist my mind into pretzel-like contortions to find something, anything, nice to say about your ideas and opinions.  All of that was made even more difficult because I generally think your contributions have been about as valuable as a warm bucket of spit.”

There was a stunned silence in the room as I took a breath and… well, I guess I reloaded.

“Other than some sort of random genetic good fortune, I have no idea why you’re here, because you looked at this room and thought it could be a restaurant.  I looked at this room, just like any pro would look at this room, and thought it a waste of time… and I look at you and see a feckless automatron who’s wasted enough of my time and other people’s money.”

More stunned silence, but this was a moment when reloading would have been cruel, so I just left.  Half a block away, I lit a cigar for the calming effect.  That and I was pretty sure that unleashing a verbal barrage on my largest client’s nephew qualifies as a “smoke a cigar moment.”  I walked around the city for a bit, finishing my cigar, contemplating the shithole I had just dug, wondering if I wanted a rope.

When I got back to my hotel room (one more cigar, and a couple of cocktails later) there was a bucket of champagne on the credenza.  The note read:

Refugee, if you could say all of that to a client, I suppose I can have a difficult conversation with my wife.  That was a lot of fun to watch.  See ya next week.

-Steve

p.s. the feckless automatron won’t be joining us.


Recent Recaps from Your Friendly Restaurant Refugee

3 March 2010

Congratulations to all of the local nominees for the James Beard Awards.  There is no greater honor than to be recognized in this august group. It is my hope that each of the finalists enjoys this time.

******

Café Soleil isn’t on the radar of most members of the DC epicurean scene.  I am not about to suggest that anyone needs to rush to get there, but it is a place that is worthy of some attention.

The menu itself reads just like that of any French bistro… well anywhere.  Roast Chicken, Steak Frites, Onion Soup, Short Ribs, standard salads, and a burger would not be confused with cutting edge anywhere.  However, the food is solid… if unremarkable.  The gracious service and generous happy hour are worth noting.  Five dollar glasses of pleasant wine, house cocktails, and three dollar beers make this smallish, comfortably elegant bar a rather pleasant place to wait out a Metro delay, have a quick not-overly-committal first date,  or just spend a couple of hours boozing with friends after work.  If you get hungry while you’re there, the food may not inspire, but it surely won’t disappoint.

******

Eatonville* was not my idea for a low-key birthday dinner with a group of five friends.  However, when invited for a celebratory repast, one accepts or declines and does so graciously.  The menu at Eatonville is very reasonably priced and reads like the offerings of a really good diner.  When our food arrived, it was solid, perhaps even good when measured against their wallet friendly pricing.  Unfortunately the service was comically bad.  From the time we were seated to encountering our server and ordering our drinks, felt like ten minutes.  I hadn’t checked my watch so I cannot be sure, but it was long enough for me to note the time of our order – two beers and a bottle of wine.  Drinks took 16 minutes.  At this point it became a bit of a game to me.  40 minutes before ordering our food. Over an hour from the time we sat at the table to the appetizers emerging.  Of the ten total plates, only three arrived at their correct location.  15 minutes after everyone completed their first course before plates where cleared.

At one point during the evening, I excused my self – ostensibly to use the wash closet, but really to find a manager to explain my dissatisfaction with our perpetually empty glasses, delayed and not quite hot food, and general unhappiness.  The host couldn’t be bothered to find a manager for me.  By the time we were ready for our check – because we were late for a show for which we should have been incredibly early – we just paid and left.

The part of this that galls me most is that I swore off Eatonville after a similar experience many months earlier. I sent an email to the owner, general manager, and a couple other people.  It went unanswered.  So, fool me twice, and I feel like the worst kind of fool.

******

In some ways the people who opened Cedar Crossing Café** and Wine Bar no more than ten yards from the end of the Takoma Metro station, had a pathetically low bar to hurdle on their path to success.  In an area that has plenty of cash (in that zip code, median home value is well north of $500K and well north of the city average,) there is a conspicuous absence of actual restaurants.  The ones that do exist are largely a place for sustenance rather than cuisine, and the bars… well that’s a wholly pathetic subject unto itself.

A wine bar and café really just had to not trip over their own prep list and they would be moved to the top of the heap.

Since they opened a couple of months ago, and I have been in a few times, I have been impressed by the fact that they actually take their wine program seriously AND still manage to keep their price per glass under $10 on average.  In a city filled with wine bars where a c-note is the usual price of a first date, a well sourced and reasonably priced winelist is a significant accomplishment in itself.

Despite the positives about the wine list, I wish that I had more than tepid feelings about this place.  The very solid winelist, more than respectable stemware, and mostly impressive beer program, do not entirely mitigate the concerns.  As soon as you enter, you will be stung by the impact of their poor ventilation – upon leaving, place all of your clothes in the dry cleaning pile.  The menus and wine lists are printed on crappy paper that isn’t as sturdy as the carry-out next door uses – it just feels cheap.  While the food is also reasonably priced, it is inconsistently prepared at best.  A well seasoned sandwich might be teamed with a green salad drowning in oil but absent salt.  The same soup might be lovely one night and barely recognizable the next.

They’re still new and Cedar Crossing is staying on my list and I remain optimistic about their success.  Rough around the edges in an area where people are starved for anything better than places with barbed wire for edges is still a tactical advantage.  Besides that, the winelist is pretty damn good… so’s the beer… and the Manhattan too.  Maybe I can live with the dry cleaning bill and eat beforehand?

******

* I will not link out of pure spite and for the collective awfulness endured

** No link available… which concerns me on their behalf


How High the Moon

1 March 2010

It’s Friday night and I had a familiar perch for such an evening, a bar stool.  This barstool however, was in Chicago where I was summoned for an urgent meeting with a new client.  Two stacks of paper and my shiny new netbook, whose name is Ava, are open in front of me.  I tucked into this Lincoln Park bar mostly because there seemed to be plenty of space to lay out my work, and the bartender had an easy smile about her.

Just about the time that I finished my Manhattan a couple of women, who would have gotten noticed even if they were not two of only a few people in the place and a gust of cold air had followed them in the door, entered the bar and took residence a few feet from me.  Their interaction with the bartender suggested that they were regulars if not friends with her.  Without ordering, two glasses of wine appeared on the bar.

I’m mostly ignoring my beer while scribbling notes, clicking keys, and reading reports when one of the women looks in my direction and said “It’s Friday night, why are you still working?”

I took a pausing breath before responding, “Well, I’m in town for work, and there’s still work to be done… being here is better than the service bar in my hotel.”

“Didn’t think you were from here – Chicago guys don’t work on a Friday night.”

A few more random lines were bandied to and fro but they went back to their wine, and I went back to my work after a minute or so.

Just after 8pm my Crackberry buzzed.  I was dumbstruck by the message.  I must have read it four or five times before I exclaimed “Wow” far louder than intended.

“Care to share?” the woman sitting closest to me asked.

This was one of those moments when you have to tell somebody so I just told these two women I was certain I would never see again*.  “So, I write this anonymous blog… well mostly anonymous as I have met a few people through it, but that’s not really germane.  Through the blog, I invented a holiday last week, International Crush Day, dedicated to declaring crushes.  I wrote a blog post declaring a few of my crushes.  I wrote that I crush on Katty Kay because ‘smart with a British accent just sounds better.’”

“You mean Katty Kay from NPR?” one of the women asked.

“From NPR, and the BBC and newspapers, and the Meet the Press, and bunch of other stuff too” I replied.

“Yeah, she is pretty hot” the ladies concurred.

“Well she, Katty Kay for the love of bacon, just left a comment on my blog, and frankly, I’m a little school-girl giddy about it.”

Andi and Monica spent the next hour or so peppering me with questions about the blog.  We spent the next four hours drinking, eating, letting the place fill around us, and talking about whatever, but I was still floating on the notion that one of my famous crushes bothered to send me a message.

* I’ve seen them both again… and just might see them a bit more, but I’ll tell that story tomorrow.


An Idea, A Notion, Some Inspiration, A Contest, and Dinner?

8 January 2010

If I can’t use this blog to do something for others, then what is the point of having it?  That was the question, the notion that was in my head when I was having a beer and a burger with the irrepressibly funny LiLu and her boyfriend B.

I told them of a rough idea I had about offering my private chef service to a couple who couldn’t ordinarily afford to hire me.  Valentine’s Day weekend is a very busy and profitable period for me and I explained that I was feeling this desire to reserve that Friday night, 12 February, for some teacher, or social worker, or Hill Staffer, or really anyone who has a heart of gold but not the bank account to match.  I just didn’t know the best way to find that person.

B gave me the perfect idea: have people nominate someone besides themselves and then do it as a raffle.

And with that, the RR Valentines Personal Chef Raffle begins.

The Rules:

  • You cannot nominate yourself.
  • You can nominate as many people as you want.
  • Nominations can be made via a comment in this post, or by sending me an email (restaurantrefugee at gmail dot com.)
  • All nominees must reside in the DC metropolitan area.
  • Nominations must include your email, a brief description of why your nominee should be included (i.e. My friend John is a really terrific teacher who would never do this for himself but really deserves it.)  You should also feel free to be as verbose as you deem necessary to fully elucidate your reasoning.
  • Nominees should not be fully identified to protect their privacy.
  • Nominees do not need to be a couple in the romantic sense (i.e. if you have two good friends who are meritorious and they don’t have plans for Valentines Day.)
  • Due to other commitments, the date is largely inflexible, but some reasonable accommodations can be made.
  • You may nominate vegetarians – you may not nominate vegans.
  • I may reject any nominee if the reason for nomination trips my bullshit sensor or seems otherwise insufficient.
  • Each nominee will be assigned a number.  All numbers will be placed in a bowl and one will be pulled at random by a third party – someone with a webcam and a penchant for making videos (LiLu, thanks for volunteering) and will be posted on the web.
  • Nominations will be accepted until 26 January.  The drawing will take place within 48 hours of the close of the nominating process.

p.s. in case you’re wondering what type of dinners I prepare for my clients (and don’t have the inclination to sift through the archives to find them,) the following menus are my favorites of the past year:

A Summer Anniversary Dinner for Six:

Canapés

  • Big Eye Tuna Tartar in corn tortilla cups
  • Caprese Salad Skewers drizzled with 10 year aged Balsamic
  • Mini Grilled Cheese: gorgonzola, prosciutto, and tomato on grilled baguette

Amuse Bouche: Sweet Corn Velute with olive oil poached lobster and Parmesan Beignet

First Course: Pork Cigars

Slow cooked pork and mascarpone cheese in a tissue paper potato shell with a spiced apple cream sauce and petite arugula and micro green salad

Soup Course: Shrimp Bisque

North Atlantic Prawns in a tomato based bisque with a six hour roux

Third Course: Beef and Potatoes

Braised Beef Short Ribs with a spinach and artichoke cassoulet, truffled French fries, and reduction of braising jus

Sweet Course: Apple Slapple Sweet

Cinnamon and sugar glazed apples in a deep fried spring roll with cognac & caramel sauce.

Cheese Course: Cheese and Accoutrements

Selection of Cowgirl Creamery Cheese with slivered almonds, wildberry compote, and truffled honey.

Cajun Themed Holiday Dinner for Ten:

Amuse Bouche: Shot of Guacamole Soup with essence of Black Forest Bacon

Canapés

  • Cajun Sushi Roll with Andouille Sausage, Pimento Cheese and Anaheim Peppers
  • Blue Cheese Gourgeres
  • Shrimp and Jalapeño Hush Puppies

First Course

Seafood Gumbo Or Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Entrée Course

Tagliatelle Pasta with Jambalaya style Sauce Or Red Snapper with Heirloom Tomato and Basil Sauce

Dessert Course

Mint Chocolate Mouse topped with frozen and crumbled Peppermint Patty Pieces

Fall Dinner for Four*

Salad of Asparagus “Linguini” with Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta and Poached Quail Egg

Pumpkin and Roasted Pine Nut Bisque with Garlic and Truffle Au Jus

Lamb Tenderloin Medallions with Lamb Shank Confit Spring Rolls and Spinach & Artichoke Cassoulet

Cheese Course: Cheese and Accoutrements

* they didn’t get an amuse bouche because it was this couple


And the R-Cubies Go To…

29 December 2009

Shameless Solipsism and a Couple of Wet Kisses have arrived in the form of the first annual (probably never do this again, but whatever) Restaurant Refugee Rewards or R-Cubes for short.  They are a collection of some of the posts of the last twelve months that had particular meaning to me, or got me in trouble, or simply had subjects that lent themselves to making another joke.  There are also a few other people’s work receiving awards today – though not nearly as many people as should get them so there maybe another installment of this tomorrow.

And the R-Cubies go to…

The Carrie Prejean Award for Pretty but Vapid Restaurants goes to Bar Dupont.

The What Would Happen If Dr. Ruth Looked Like Ginger Award for Sexpert Advice in the blogosphere goes to City Girl Blogs.

The Hallmark Award for Best Invention of a Holiday goes to National Crush Day

The Carl Lewis Sings the National Anthem Award for Shoulda Stuck to What you Know goes to All of my Attempts to Write Memes – Except this one which I thought was really good.

The James Lipton Award for Seemingly Simple but Terrifically Textured Questions goes to Megabrooke of Skrinkering Hearts who asked me “How Much is Too Much” in that interview meme that was going around at the beginning of the year.

The Infield Fly Rule Award for things you Should Know but Maybe Didn’t goes to Advice for Black Tie Galas and Capitol Hill Style’s Ball Tips and Tricks for Ladies that inspired it.

The Cowbell Award for Things I Need More of goes to Jimmy & Sophia.

The Urban Dictionary Award for Teaching me my Favorite New Phrase, Skin-Hungry, goes to I’m Gonna Break Your Heart.

The Oscar Wilde Award for Booze as Creative Lubricant goes to My Weekend as Three Rounds of Jeopardy.

The Max Roach Award for Consistently Leaving Comments Better than the Post that Inspired Them goes to my friend Brad.

The Joe Isuzu Award for Forcing Me to Be Creative with Truth goes to the Unnamed Woman Who Inspired This Post.

The Sarah Silverman Award for my Favorite New Funny and Irreverent Blogger goes to –The Fooler Initiative–.

The Don Imus Award for Unintentionally Causing Controversy goes to The Open Letter to a Few Women and the Subsequent Follow-Up.

The Snuggie Award for Ideas that Seemed Fun Conceptually but in Reality Not So Much… goes to Blog Reader Bingo.

The If Dr. Phil Wasn’t Such a Tool Award for Good Advice Given goes to A Guide to Fighting Fairly.

The Jennifer Tilly Award for Fiction Inspired by both Women and Poker goes to Playing Poker with an Old Foe.

The Donald & Ivanka Trump Award for Being Married to Each Other and Not Inflicting Themselves on Anyone Else goes to Sam & Toni.


Like This Will Shock Anyone

13 November 2009

Late Wednesday afternoon I ventured into the wilds of the suburbs for a skull-crushingly dull meeting.  Afterwards  I parked myself on a barstool because I find bourbon to be an excellent disinfection for the contamination of moronic thinking.

Midway though the A-section of the newspaper a couple of Domers sat next to me.

Domer – noun – a reference to University of Norte Dame students, alums, and fans; it can be alternately dismissive or flattering depending upon the speaker and inflection.  Common characteristics include a flexible adherence to biblical teachings (prolific fornicators that they are) and belief that College Football National Championships are a birthright (despite the fact that their last one came during the Reagan Administration.)

As is typical of any time two or more Domers are within audible range, it took half a heartbeat for conversation to turn to football.  Most of their ire was inwardly directed until they began discussing their last game, a loss to the Naval Academy.

Despite the volume of the Domers’ conversation, I largely ignored their general football ignorance.  After one too many exhortations of “I can’t believe we lost to Navy, fucking Navy,” “Navy sucks, how could we lose to them,” and finally “We couldn’t beat sorry ass Navy – they’ve got no tradition” I could no longer keep my powder dry.

“Hey, fellas, not for nothing, but Navy has a rich football history.  They were routinely in the chase for the national title, have a couple of Heisman winners, are functionally an Ivy League school, compete against and frequently beat the most talented football programs in the country, and when they’re done they go fight wars.  And, oh yeah, it’s Veteran’s Day, so maybe we could change the tone of the conversation.”

I had waded into another party’s conversation.  I shouldn’t have and I knew it.  I expected some backlash but instead one of the Domers just said “You’re right.”  He raised a glass and continued “To Veteran’s.”

The Domers moved to a table and I went back to my newspaper.  A few moments later the bartender put an unrequested bourbon in front of me.  Before I could say anything, she just said “my dad went to the Academy.”


No Statute of Limitations

6 November 2009

My second to last high school football game was the single best half of football I played in my high school or college career.  We were playing one of our more heated rivals on their field.

As a defensive back, one of my favorite plays called for a corner blitz – we ran it three times.  Two quarterback sacks, and a tackle for a loss left our rivals in a pretty deep hole.  Of the eight passes the QB was able to throw, I intercepted two and my teammates grabbed two more.  On his way to the locker room for halftime, he blew a kiss to his girlfriend… I’m pretty sure we picked that off too.

The starters sat most of the second half.  We didn’t blitz on defense, or pass the ball on offense, but the final score was still 57 – 6.  Did I mention that it was their Homecoming Weekend? Yeah, it was a pretty severe beatdown.

I hadn’t thought about that day or that quarterback in a very long time.  When I walked into what I hoped would be the last meeting to ink a potential client, I still hadn’t thought about that day.  When I was introduced to their attorney, neither his name nor face rang any bells for me.

I went through my entire presentation, explained the myriad ways that I could help them launch a more successful restaurant.  As the attorney asked what my hometown was, I assumed it was just a question about my local ties to the restaurant community.  When he asked about my high school, I assumed that our paths must have crossed somewhere.

When he asked me if I played football, I was still unclear about where the conversation was headed.  He finally told me about that day, told me that we “beat [them] like a drum.” When he concluded with “we’ll call you,” I was pretty sure that call would be incomplete.


Can’t Buy Class, a Soul, or Good Manners

4 November 2009

As promised, and I’ll leave it to you to debate whether they were worse than the V-Day dinner

I knew Sam and Toni would be a problem when they cancelled and rescheduled.  Twice.  In 48 hours.   I would have blown them off, kept the deposit as my contract allows, but, like most of my clients, these two were referrals – specifically from Jimmy & Sophia.  Thus, I try to avoid unnecessarily salting relationships.

I was about to walk into Sam & Toni’s condo building when I got the phone call asking if they could “push the start time an hour.”  I agreed but only because I happened to know a bar around the corner where I knew the owner and knew he would let me stash my perishables in his walk-in refrigerator.

“Just call me when you’re ready, but understand that I still need three hours of prep before the first course.”

Two hours later, I finally got started with my prep.  The first hour was uneventful filled with Sinatra, slicing and simmering, though I was actively ignoring the clamor coming from the other room.

Round about the time that I was setting the Pumpkin and Pine Nut Bisque to simmer, Toni whirled into the kitchen and announced “Refugee, we’re only going to be two this evening, I don’t want to inflict us on any one else tonight.”

Glad to know that I am not really a person to you.

“That’s fine, Toni; changes are inevitable” I said cheerily, knowing that the evening will go a little faster now.

“Open this champagne for me, will you dear” Toni demanded, ignoring my completely full hands; before continuing “and don’t worry you’re still going to get paid for four people even though we’re only going to be two.”

I put down my immersion blender and opened a bottle of vintage Krug.  More than half a dozen bottles were stacked shoulder to shoulder – the collective value of which was greater than that of the SubZero unit in which they sat.

Toni downed the glass, handed me the bottle and said “Feel free to cook with the rest of this.”

That bit of obnoxiousness just lost them a lovely Amuse Bouche of Lobster Claw and Shallot Confit.

About an hour later Sam came into the kitchen.  I was moving at my usual twenty minutes to service pace – like my hair was on fire and I couldn’t find water – when he announced “So Refugee, have you had a chance to go through the wine cellar to pull bottles for the night? I’m excited to know what we’re gonna drink.”

My patience had just reached its Hubert Peak.  I took a deep breath but continued to stir the bisque in an effort to mask my frustration before turning to Sam and saying “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding but our contract was only for the chef services, Toni indicated that she didn’t want sommelier services as part of the package…”

“Yeah, I know that” Sam interrupted, “but I figured that since we’re paying for four but we’re only two you would just throw that in.” His words were soaked with both privilege and entitlement.

I took another deep breath and couldn’t help the smile curling my mouth as I tried to explain the issue.  “Sam, the cost differential of cooking for two versus four is related to food not time, and I arrived with all of the food.  I would be happy to take a spin through your cellar and pull a few bottles – it won’t be the same as the sommelier service and it will delay the first course by a few minutes – but I’m happy to do it.”

“Door’s over there and we’ll just make up the difference in your tip, ok champ.”

I fucking hate being called “champ” – that just cost you the Dark Chocolate & Truffle Petit Fours

Three hours later, I had completed the contractually promised courses:

Salad of Asparagus “Linguini” with Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta and Poached Quail Egg

Pumpkin and Roasted Pine Nut Bisque with Garlic and Truffle Au Jus

Lamb Tenderloin Medallions with Lamb Shank Confit Spring Rolls and Spinach & Artichoke Cassoulet

The Refugee Cheese Board with non-traditional & traditional Accoutrements

The big “get under my skin” moment of the dinner came when Toni inquired about the absent amuse bouche.  As I cleared the salad, she said “Refugee, that salad was divine, but isn’t it traditional to serve the Ah-Mu-Say before the first course?”

“Toni, the Amuse Bouche is gift from the kitchen but it’s kind of an optional thing and the first that gets cut when time is tight.  When I had to go through the cellar at the last minute I just had to cut it; but I certainly understand why you would expect that gift.”

Not only am I ok with not serving you an undeserved gift, I am totally fine with lying to you about the reason it got cut.

As I was cleaning and they were on the the cheese course, Sam came into the kitchen to give me final payment.  “That was just terrific, Refugee” he said while scribbling in his checkbook, “like I promised, there’s a little something extra in there for ya, champ.”

Fuck you, your obnoxious wife, your pretentious habits, sense of entitlement, the horse you two assholes rode in, and what I know is a less than ten percent tip.

“Thank you, Sam; I’m glad you enjoyed it,” I said rather than my usual “It was my pleasure” because I’m trying to avoid lying.

“Say, I know you came in through the front door, but you mind leaving through the service exit?  Thanks, champ.”

Whatever gets me away from you fastest, you more-money-than-good-sense fucktard.

With my knife roll over one shoulder and my cooking bag on the other, I walked out weary, and a little bent but far from broken.  Curiosity got the better of me and I removed the check from my pocket…

My estimate was too generous – 3% tip.

 


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