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.


Introductions – The Good, The Bad, and The Fraudulent

8 October 2010

When I got to one of my favorite watering holes, the only seat at the small bar was next to two guys (deliberate use of the term.) Both were more than a couple of drinks into their evening – a red flag given the fact that it was barely after 6pm on a Thursday. They were annoying but affable. Their conversation was two notches louder than polite society dictates but they were discussing the relative merits of various Sinatra songs.

I was content to try and ignore them and work on my computer until they were consternating about the meaning of “I wanna wake up in a city that never sleeps.” The line from the classic and iconic song New York, NY didn’t make sense to either – “how can one wake in a city that rejects sleep” they kept asking the other. As a bit of a Sinatra Nerd and a man that has a problem with not answering questions when I know the answer, I finally interrupted to explain that “It’s metaphorical; he wants his life to begin – to wake up – in NYC.” After a couple of added and explanatory comments I returned to my computer and they returned to the loud, the singing, the annoying but affable.

Eventually the guy two stools to my left departed, and the one hard next to me asked for his tab. I was convinced that my evening was about to be free of them, until an attractive 30something blonde walked in and took the seat of the first of this duo to depart.

The next part of this story is as predictable as a sunrise – the remaining guy delayed his departure to try his best to find a reason to stay and talk with the pretty lady. He was still drunk and still annoying, but the lady was too polite to dismiss him. I kept an ear and eye on the evolution of their conversation (probably because I have a low grade savior complex when it comes to women in these kinds of situations.) When I heard the tell-tale sign of eroding civility, “we’ll have to agree to disagree,” I suspected that the interaction was nearing the tipping point. It took me another ten seconds to catch her gaze; at which point, she looked at me and gave him an eye-roll.

I took a deep pull from my beer, hoped that I correctly read the situation, and proceeded to intercede.

“Pardon me for interrupting; I saw you when you walked in but I wasn’t sure it was you from your pictures… I hope you’re here to meet me. I’m Refugee.”

She took just a beat too long (if the rouse was to fool a sober person, but fine for this moment) to recognize and respond to the play, but once she got it, she went with it.

“So nice to meet you; I kinda thought that was you too, I was just about to call you. I’m Hazel, so nice to finally meet you after all of the emails we traded… let me just wrap up this conversation and I’ll come over.”

The drunk dude left (but not before slurring gin too close to her one more time.) Hazel moved a seat over for appearances. “Thank you for helping me out there, I’m never any good at getting out of those situations… you said your name’s Refugee, right?”

“Yes, Refugee, and it’s nice to meet you.”

We chatted for a while after our introduction. I gave her some advice about avoiding the type of conversation that precipitated our meeting – little white lies are helpful. She gave me some advice about the date I had later – a woman would rather be captivating than engaging. We parted with a hug and good luck wishes all around.



Sometimes You Get Lucky After the Date

12 August 2010

My date with the Conservative Nutter lasted just under two hours and while her company wasn’t unpleasant, I am certain that at least some of that time (ok, just about all of that time) was spent in obligation. I felt obliged to give it every effort, give her every chance, and to be fully present despite our obvious disconnects. I might have been overcompensating just a bit, but the compulsory portion of the night had run its course.

I walked CN to her car, dodged an awkward moment when she tried to kiss me, and headed for the subway. Out of courtesy, I didn’t make post date plans, so I spent the subway ride texting for a drinking partner… that and hoping the bottle of benadryl I swallowed earlier would outlast my allergy to suburbs and wingnuts.

It was that tween part of the night – happy hour crowd mostly onto other things, post dinner crowds yet to arrive – and I found myself at one of my favorite bars/restaurants. I occupied one of two empty seats at the smallish bar while drinking a Santero and finishing my newspaper.

About ten minutes after my arrival I heard “Is this seat taken” asked by a well dressed 30something woman over my right shoulder.

Just by you” I replied moving my briefcase to the back of my barstool.

Just after she settled into her seat, Jimmy, the bartender and a friend of mine, said “Jessica, whatcha drinking, and what the hell are you doing back so soon?” His tone was a touch louder than required – but that’s just Jimmy; there was no intent to harm or embarrass but Jessica turned a bit red nonetheless. I tried to focus on my paper, not wishing to deepen her blush by changing my body language or otherwise providing visual acknowledgment of the obvious fact that I overheard what should have been a more private question.

To Jessica’s immense credit, she channeled her blush into a subtle chide toward Jimmy and a conversation starter with me. “Dontcha just hate it when people ask you questions when the answer is obvious?” Jessica snarkasiticly querried with a slap to my right arm. She continued – in my direction but clearly intended for us both – “Jimmy knows full well that I left here ’bout an hour ago for a date and that if I’m back this quickly it must have sucked donkey balls.”

I’ve long found the well-timed and sparingly but properly used profanity to be particularly charming from a woman’s lips.

So I guess we’re gonna start with a shot before I pour you a glass of wine?” Jimmy asked with just the slightest hint of sheepishness.

Uh-huhhh” Jessica nodded as we all shared a half-laugh that didn’t fully indicate the levity of the moment.

Jimmy gave me a look, pointed a cocktail shaker in my direction, and asked “Refugee, you in on this?”

I almost have to be since my date, though not quite hitting the inauspicious benchmark of sucking donkey testicles, wasn’t much better than Jessica’s.”

Do you always use too many words like Cornell West, or is that just an affectation to impress a pretty girl?” Jessica asked in what was becoming clear was her favorite color of speech – a pale shade of snarkasm.

I thought you had a disdain for the obvious questions” I replied as we shared the first of many flirtatious smiles. I changed the subject and inquired “So what was so what was so bad about your date, did he not get your particular brand of humor?”

And why would you ask that?” Jessica responded in a thoughtfully suspicious tone that made me instantly think she was a barrister by academic training if not profession.

Well, I get the sense, more from the tonality of your dialogue than its actual substance, that yours is a particular type of humor that is contraindicated for those lacking in appreciation of sarcasm and snark or as I like to say snarkasm.”

Good god, you do love your 25-cent phrases, even when a nickle would do” Jessica replied as she cupped her hand to her forehead. “Are you a lawyer?”

No, I’m not a lawyer, but I was just wondering the same thing about you… your tendency to answer questions with queries and all.”

Jimmy interrupted our sparring by placing three shot glasses on the bar and pouring a brownish liquid into each.

Shall we drink to nights that don’t suck donkey gonads?” I offered. All agreed, we toasted, Jimmy & I tapped the bar with our shot glasses*, and all were upended.”

Perhaps sensing the problem-solving look on my face, Jimmy proudly declared “I call that Looziana Swamp Whater” in an exaggeration of the cajun accent he used to have and now mostly turns of and on whenever it suits him.

So-Co… Lime Vodka, splash of sour, wait, no… Lime Vodka, splash of OJ, splash of coke?” I stated as more of a question than it should have been.

Fuck you and the super-tasting palate you rode in, Refugee… I’ll get you one of these days” Jimmy replied with a melange of frustration and pride.

So you wanna tell me why your date was… can we say ‘licking the donkey nuts’ if not sucking them?” Jessica said by way of returning us to a prior unfinished point of conversation.

Well, Counselor, the short version is that I met my date through some online dating site. I wrote her a message, she replied and accepted my invitation to have a drink. However, in her acceptance, she gave me her email address and some internet stalking led me to her blog which seemed to indicate that she was a bit of conservative/libertarian nutter… like, is a birther and compares Glenn Beck to Edward R. Murrow kinda nutter. And for the record, of the two things, I am not sure which I consider the greater offense. But I met her for drinks because I had already extended the invitation, and I thought she was hot. Turns out, her pictures are old as hell – and the ensuing miles were city miles not highway miles, and 30 pounds out-of-date too. That’s the elevator version of the story, but I’m not saying another word until you answer one of my questions; why was your date so bad?”

Jessica took a deep breath, a mildly dramatic sigh, and did that look-down-look-up-look-down-pause-look-up maneuver, and finally said “You guessed that he didn’t get my humor and you’re slightly right… he spent most of the evening trying to impress me with his ‘Harh-varhd’ degrees and success. It was bullshit. He talked for 50 minutes and the only real question I got in, he didn’t get the question, and really flubbed the answer. It wasn’t just that he didn’t get me, it’s that it didn’t matter to him if he did. I could’ve been any woman sitting there… Ya know most people like to jack-off to something but this guy likes to do it to himself, so all I was doing was sitting there holding the mirror.”

I get that, mostly because of my general understand of and disdain for Harh-varhd Men, but also and more specifically, because that behavior doesn’t surprise me from any man… but what question did you ask?

He said something which prompted me to ask what he saw as the difference between foolish and romantic. He didn’t even understand the question.”

And that was the moment, either the question or the shared look afterward, but most likely the combination of the two. That was the moment when the potential became possible.

p.s. There is more to the story, but this post was getting a bit long. See ya tomorrow.


I Asked, You Answered, I Dated, and I…

10 August 2010

I was looking forward to my date with the Conservative Nutter in the way that I anticipate an ultra deep tissue massage – you know it’s gonna hurt like hell but the results (a good blog post at worst) are worth it.

I prefer to arrive at first dates (especially online dates) early. Call it a function of my anal-retentive punctuality, or a tactical decision to get the seat with the best vantage points, either way twenty minutes before the appointed hour, I was seated on the courtyard patio of one of my favorite winebars.

CN was on time but underwhelming. From fifteen yards away, I could tell that her pictures were 30 pounds out of date. Five yards out, I could tell the pictures were 5 years old too. It’s not that she was suddenly unattractive or that she was outside of the rather broad range of women I find appealing, rather it’s the feeling of being duped. Bait-and-Switch is not a phrase that should apply to dating and I’m also not thrilled about the self-image issues associated with clearly deceptive images. The thoughts bounced through my head but weren’t given display on my face or in deed.

We seemed to have a certain instant comfort – there was no awkward “is that really you” moment, no hug-oops-handshake-oops-hug – and we jumped quickly into typical first-date conversations.

I wish I could you write that there were some particularly blog-juicy moments, or some grand manifestation of our political differences, but they just weren’t there. CN was about as conservative as she seemed but she wasn’t really a nutter as much as she was grossly uniformed. While there wasn’t overt flirting (at least from my side of the table) there was some casual curiosity if not a very low flame of chemistry. But that was it. No great stories to be told, or lines to be relived.

The woman I met at the bar after I left my brief date, yeah, about her there are stories to be told and a night to be relived… and I’ll tell that story tomorrow.


Insomnia Friday – Thoroughly Random Thoughts

2 July 2010

Insomnia’s been intermittently kicking my ass for the better part of the last 20 years. I cannot recall a stretch that has been as bad as the last few months.

…in other news, Netflix on Demand has been a friendly and faithful companion lately.

…in still other news, the movie TAPS somehow has endured the years quite well.

_______

My Week in Bars…

To the lovely barmaid with the pixie cut who kept me in good beer at Fat Heads in Pittsburgh, you’re the kind of restaurant professional who makes me wish that I still ran a restaurant just so I could hire you.

To the blowhards sitting next to me at The Uptown in Chicago, I appreciate the very strong feelings you so loudly expressed about illegal immigration. By the by, I wonder who picked the avocados for that five dollar guacamole you were eating?

_______

So here’s a question for you all…

Recently I found myself in the company of a woman whose professional acquaintance I had just formally made after several email exchanges. After the business portion of the evening, she invited me to join her and several others for cocktails. The preponderance of the others were men, and it was evident that most of them had a more substantive social relationship with her than I, and I also suspect that most of them were quietly interested in her. At a certain point in the evening, this woman began to be less than delicate in concealing her knickers given the length of her skirt. I presume that the booze was the primary factor.

How does one discreetly tell a woman that she is being less than discreet?

How does one discreetly tell a woman he does not know well that it might be time for her to go home… especially given that she is surrounded by closet suitors who have known her longer?

_______

Get well soon, Tracee Hamilton. You are my favorite WaPo sports columnist these days, and I will miss your voice.

_______

The One Question Meme: if you could create a version of Netflix that would enable you to have short term rentals of something on a revolving basis, what would it be?

_______

Something you should know about drinks…

If you’ve ever had a Bellini, chances are you’ve not had a good one. The Bellini is perhaps the simplest of all classic cocktails with only two ingredients, prosecco and white peach puree. It is also one of the most commonly mishandled where people substitute fresh peach puree with something from a can or even worse – fucking wretched Peach Schnapps. Invented by Giuseppi Cipriani in 1948 at Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy, the Bellini, when made with fresh and honest ingredients and poured into a proper champagne flute, immediately evokes elegance and sophistication.

  • 3 white peaches peeled and diced
  • 1 bottle of champagne
  • In a blender, puree the peaches. (If you’re like me and sensitive to pulp then run the peach puree through cheese cloth after blending.) Pour 1 ounce of pureed peach into a flute and top with 4 ounces of champagne.

I have also made variations on the Bellini with pears, green apples, and mangoes. The most import thing is to get good and in-season fruit.

______

This post is tacit acknowledgement that there is a small chance that I am going to participate in NaBloPoMo for July… I gotta do something to get myself above my non-writing / non-blogging rut.


Second Blogiversary – Welcome to the Virtual Party Part II

1 June 2010

In celebration of the 2 year blogiversary, I decided to open the phone lines for all questions… apparently I also decided to start writing like a talk-radio host.  I wish to thank everyone for their kind wishes and thoughtful questions.  The answers, which have been split into two posts for better readability (part I is here,) follow.

  1. From Carla of Whip My Assets: What is one question nobody asked that you wish somebody had? It’s really funny that you should ask me that question because I have long used that question as the last query when I am interviewing.  I think it is a terrific question to really get inside someone’s head.  I would have loved for someone to have asked “what happens when the immovable object meets the irresistible force?”
  2. From another reader without a blog: What food would you cook for a non foodie father for father’s day? The trick to cooking for non foodie people is to do something that combines classical flavors with techniques and ingredients that will keep you interested.  Braised Short Ribs with Truffled French Fries satisfies those needs to my way of thinking.
  3. From my favorite Bah-stan Blogg-ahr, Megabrooke of Skrinkering Hearts: Here’s kind of a silly one, because my head is a bit in the clouds this week.  What TV shows do you regularly tune in to? The only appointment television I watch, via the internet machine and generally the following day, is The Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Show, Friday Night Lights, Weeds, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Southland.  I am also a big fan of, but won’t be terribly disappointed if I miss, the following: Modern Family, Burn Notice, and In Plain Sight.
  4. From a reader who has a blog but never leaves the link in her comments so I will omit it here in an abundance of caution: At what point in a dating relationship do you throw caution into the wind? I think that on some level the mere act of dating, in the face of all contrary evidence, is an exercise in optimism that throws caution to the wind just by inviting and accepting.  That was a more philosophical answer; the pragmatic version is probably “too often, too early, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.”
  5. From a Florida blogger you should be reading, Planet Dan-E: Simple, but kind of dumb, question: What is it exactly that you do? Restaurant consultant? Private chef? Event planner? Some combination of the above? Yes.
  6. The lovely Rahree has a couple of questions: what’s your summer go-to home dinner, when you want something tasty but with little effort? And The meaning of life? Clue me in, please? If it’s just me, I am happy to slice a couple of the tomatoes I always keep in the house during the summer, pair them with some mozzarella and basil and call it a day… after drizzles of olive oil balsamic, and sprinkles of sea salt and fresh black pepper.  If I have guest(s), I am going to the grill with whatever proteins I have around.

All of the following questions are from email and shall be anonymous

  1. What was the weirdest thing you did in high school? It’s a jump ball.  I once didn’t wash the socks I wore for an entire football season because we were going undefeated and I didn’t want to change the karma/luck associated with them.  In my freshman year, all students had to take a typing class in which we would select various periodicals to use as text to type.  Everyone tried to get there early to grab a Sports Illustrated; I was happy with the New Yorker. On dress-down Fridays and during the warm weather months, I would frequently wear a pair of shockingly yellow linen trousers because my senior big brother often did.
  2. How many cigars do you smoke a day, a week? I usually smoke about a cigar a day, though sometimes I will go days without, and other times I have smoked several in day.  A week usually averages 8 give or take a couple.
  3. What do you suck at doing but wish that you could do well? I cannot carry a note with the help of a forklift.  I do pretty well at self-diagnosis, but I suck at self repairs.  I cannot for the life of me consistently make a good pot of rice.  I am a terrible shortstop.  Though I think I give good email, I am frequently terrible at the prompt reply.  Given that last sentence, I am not so good at discussing my faults without couching them in a more favorable context.
  4. What is your biggest pet peeve in restaurants? If you force me to narrow it down to one, it is bad management – all bad outcomes in the front of the house extend from bad management.
  5. Who would play you in a movie about your life? Larenz Tate, a younger Andre Brougher, Don Cheadle if I am really lucky.

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.


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