A Few Open Letters

23 February 2011

Dear Pretty Pretty Princess, P3 for short*,

You asked me why I lose my poker face and can’t hide my disdain when I am around your bloviating boyfriend or his name is mentioned in discussion. First, we’ve known each other for more than a couple of years, so you know that I know from bloviation. Second, it is not his useless rhetoric or constant need to insert himself and his perceived trump card into any unoccupied corner of a conversation. Third, you have to know that it has nothing to do with your unfounded suspicion that I still want to be in your bed.

No, P3 , my allergic reaction to him has everything to do with the fact that he is about as secure as a puppy that marks every part of his territory at every opportunity. It has to do with the fact that any man who has compulsive need to have a hand on his partner’s ass for the entirety of an evening is small, petty, and ungentlemanly. It has everything to do with the fact that you not only accept this unacceptably possessive, and unseemly behavior, but you seem to embrace it like a woman who thinks she can do no better. My problem with him is the P3 that you’ve become with him. You cannot expect your friends to watch you dissolve yourself into him and then want to drink the weak tea that results.

Sincerely,

A Man Missing a Friend

*****

Dear Bartender at the Ebbit,

When a guest asks you for a “Basil Hayden Manhattan, 75-25, extra-cold and skip the cherry and the bitters unless you have some Orange Bitters around” the proper response is something in the affirmative. You may also be inclined to think that the orderer might know a thing or two about cocktails, might even be Industry. The absolutely improper response would be to, wrongly, insist that Manhattan’s don’t contain bitters. You really should not belabor the point – especially because your lack of preparation is showing – thrice more.

Who did you bang to get that job?

Sincerely,

The Industry Guy Who Went to Another Bar after that Cocktail

*****

Dear Family,

Life is complicated. I get that. You know that I get that better than most. Please stop taking me for granted; I am not your foregone conclusion.

Sincerely,

The Emotionally Exhausted Son, Sibling, Uncle, and Cousin

*****

Dear Woman Who Would Prefer Not to be Named,

That suede kitchen apron might be the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me… up there with the book of Neruda Love Poems from another woman who would rather not be named. It means the world to me – you will forever be my lesbian soulmate.

Sincerely,

A Man Who Ain’t Easy to Shop for

*Charmed reference for those of you who don’t think I have ever consumed absent minded pop culture,


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.



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.


In Which I Maybe Should Have Gotten Punched for Saying the Wrong Thing

19 May 2010


If you get four wine people together and ask them one question, you’re likely to get at least seven different answers.  That’s half the fun of wine discussions – the nuance, the context, the arguments – I love it all.  The gratis wine and food certainly don’t hurt either.  Thus when I get invited to speak on panels or judge competitions, it takes very little to convince me to attend.

That is unless a particular pretend-journalist is also an invitee.  Teddy and I have known each other since we were both low level restaurant managers meeting after shifts to bitch about our tyrannical owners.  I got Teddy into my wine tasting group – his talent was experiential rather than academic but he had a natural facility with descriptions.

Eventually he parlayed that ability into starting his own website. His small but loyal following grew when he got a mention from a mid-major publication.  It was a “for fun project” that Teddy decided to make a for profit escape from restaurant life… he never really loved restaurants.  A few sponsors came and then he made the decision to get in bed with a consortium of wineries.

He began taking monies from questionable sources and giving great press to those sources… and making a living and a name for himself in the process.

It was a souring experience for me, Teddy knew it, and it functionally ended our acquaintanceship.  We would still see each other when he would occasional post at the late night places.  I may not have been the most cordial to him.

A couple of years ago we found ourselves on the same panel discussion about something obscure that might only matter to 0.2 people who read this.  It didn’t take long before the other people on the dais were just kind of watching us ping-pong increasingly personal points of disagreement.  At one point, I might have accused him of “possessing analysis that has all of the depth of a hair-root.”

Teddy may have retorted something along the lines of “At least people know who I am and what I stand for unlike you and your shaky credibility and flighty career moves.”

I am fairly certain that I responded with “Yes, Teddy, we all know exactly what you are; the only debate is about the price.”

Surprisingly, there were no punches thrown.  Not surprisingly, we have never appeared together since.


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.


Dating Advice from Me and LiLu

8 March 2010

My Dear Restaurant Refugee,

I am that cliché, long time reader but first time commenter (or emailer is more accurate) and I was wondering if you’d give me your opinion on something.

I work with a guy that seems to be a lot like you – smart, good looking, well dressed, and pretty comfortable around women.  I wanted to use International Crush Day to tell him that I’ve been crushing on him for a while, but he was out sick that day.  I’ve kind of lost my nerve since then.  What’s the best way to approach him?  Our office goes out sometimes for happy hour and such but I would never make a move in front of other people.  I’m pretty sure that he’s single and straight but don’t know what to do next.  Help me.

Afraid of Unrequited

p.s. I also wrote to Carolyn Hax, but I am pretty sure I have a better shot at getting a response from you.  If she responds too, I am probably going to ditch your advice in favor of hers.

Dear Afraid of Unrequited,

First, I thank you for reading and taking the time to write me this email and for your very kind words (ed. note: I did ask AU’s permission before using this as a blog post.) I am always flattered and humbled by the notion that people would ask my advice on anything.  As always, it should be noted that free advice is frequently worth exactly what you pay for it.

You don’t indicate how directly you work with this gentleman and that matters a great deal.  You also don’t indicate how big your organization is.  I am going to assume that this chap is neither your direct boss nor one of your reports – sexual harassment is never sexy.  If he is either, you need to put the crush down and back away… quickly.  The same thing applies if you two work in a really small organization or small office of a larger organization.

Your fear and hesitation is rooted in an aversion to rejection.  Everyone has it, men have just gotten more accustomed to dealing with it than women because of societal mores that have men deluded into believing that we almost always make the first move*.  The larger and more realistic question is what are you afraid of?  If you invite someone for drinks and they say no, what’s the big deal?  They have done their worst and said no, but what does that no really mean?

If the worst case scenario is a poor reaction followed by gossiping to coworkers, is that a guy that you would want to date?  From what you wrote, that seems an unlikely outcome, but if it did occur I would consider it a dodged bullet.

Some might consider a public and messy break-up that creates an untenable work environment the worst case.  I consider that situation the cautionary consideration to other questions: should I have sex with him, should I get serious with him, as those are two questions that can not occur without a first date.

My advice:

  • As with any dating issue, consider the potential risks and rewards.  The risk here is relatively low, so just ask him already.
  • Choose an activity of mutual interest (gallery opening, new bar, billiards, whatever) and issue the invitation.  More than a week in advance can lead to heightened expectations, over-thinking and the like; two days or less can seriously reduce the likelihood of his availability.  Four days feels juuuusst right.
  • If he says no, don’t over-analyze** his answer.  Do pay attention to what he does.  You’ve made it clear that you’d like to socialize with him outside of the office.  Even if he is among the breed of men who needs to be bashed about the head with a flirtatious club before he understands that someone is interested, you extended an invitation.  If he wishes to see you in a non-working context but cannot on this date, he will reciprocate the offer.  Whether or not he reciprocates your affections, is another question.
  • Do not allow or initiate any physical contact (kissing counts) until you have an all-caps NEED for it, until you cannot imagine the earth rotating even one more degree without it.  It is throwing your cap over the wall in an office environment and you better NEED it before you go flinging it.
  • Don’t create an evidence trail.  Email might be an easier way to ask but resist that urge.  If you do make plans / start dating / get serious / whatever, do not send flirty emails via the office network.  This applies to office cell phones, voicemail too.  You must erect an emotional firewall between your professional interaction and your personal.

However you choose to proceed, please let us know what happens.

Best of luck to you,

-rr

* 96.34% of the times a man “makes the first move” it’s a reaction to something subtle and deliberate that a woman has done to give us permission to make the nominally inaccurate but perceived first move.

** notice a pattern developing here?

For a woman’s perspective on this question, I turned to my dear friend, LiLu for her thoughts…

Dear Afraid of Unrequited:

I must admit, my first response is NO, BACK AWAY FROM THE COWORKER, DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200.

This reaction may or may not come from personal experience. *cough*

That said, it sounds like you want to go through with this, one way or another. So, (sigh), let’s figure out the best way to do it.

Eons ago, back when I occasionally exercised my own feminine wiles, my Plan of Action probably would have looked a little something like this.

Let’s call it…

The “SCORE” System, a la LiLu.

Step 1: “S” is for Stalk.

Stalk the hell out of him. Facebook, Twitter, Google- do what you have to to find out that he is IN FACT straight ‘n single. (A little research never hurt the cause, neither.) There is nothing worse than batting your eyelashes at the Christmas party only to have his less-than-approving girlfriend- or boyfriend, for that matter- take his arm and proceed to kill you dead with eye lasers.

Trust me. They burn.

Step 2: “C” is for Corner.

Corner him at an office happy hour. Get some alone time! Wait until he goes up to the bar, and “remember” that your own drink is empty, too. (After you down it. Duh.) Finagle the seating so you’re both on the end of the table, affording you some privacy. Last ditch move: arrange for some friends to be at a bar next door, and casually suggest he come with you for “one more” when the office group breaks up. Do what it takes, my friend. Get Creative. (Oh, look! Another “C”!)

Step 3: “O” is for Obvious.

Look. Dudes are dumb. I’ve said it, Refugee’s said it… while we have to consider the possibility that this may be a case of He’sJustNotThatIntoYou-itis, because the workplace is involved, there’s no way to know for sure. He could be reluctant to date a coworker; he could be your average dude who is completely effing clueless that you’re interested. So, once you’ve cornered him, make your affections obvious… while leaving him a “Get Out of Jail Free” card all the while. That way, you can both pretend it never happened.

You know, after those first five or so awkward meetings at the copier.

Step 4: “R” is for Read.

Read his response. For the love, try to be objective. Do keep in mind that you are trying to save yourself from having to suffer through eight hours of utter humiliation EVERY. DAMN. DAY. Look for encouragement, watch for disinterest. Pay attention to whether he asks about and listens toyou, or whether he talks about work or {insert other purely platonic subject here} the whole time. Huge, red flag signs of interest are the following:

  • Any on-purpose touching. At all. This clearly crosses a boundary between coworkers. You win. (Well, halfway. He at least wants to get in your pants.)
  • Insisting on paying for your drinks. This is an easy way for him to show interest/make your interaction more date-y, especially without alerting other coworkers.
  • Inviting you to a future anything. See phrases like: “This was fun, we should do it again.” “Have you ever been to XYZ Bar? We should go sometime.” “Want to go to a Pants Party next Friday?”

Just kidding on that last one. Don’t answer that.

Step 5: “E” is for Execute.

Now, depending on how Step 4 goes, you might be “executing” your future forever Entanglement as lovers… or making an entirely mortifying tail-between-the-legs Escape.

I warned you.

Good luck!

~LiLu

ood luck!

~LiLu


Missing My Mentor, Drinking to My Mentor

7 March 2010
I’ve never done any research on this, but I suspect that anyone who bothers to keep a journal could lose an entire afternoon reading through a randomly found old one.
X
Earlier today I was perusing an old OpenTable database looking for the aliases a prominent food critic to pass them to a friend who is about to open a restaurant.  All of the notes that we recorded about our guests read like the well worn pages of a journal chronicling a particularly lovely, enthralling, and more than occasionally difficult part of my life.
X
My jaw landed on the table when I reached the note about one of my wine mentors who happened to be a regular.  The grief I felt the day I learned of his death two years ago came rushing back.  Then I began to think of his incredible generosity  - with his time, knowledge, experience, and, yes, his wine too.
X
TJ would call me the mornings of his reservations and in an almost conspiratorial tone, he would tell me about some spectacular bottle with an impossible to find combination of vintage and winery.  He would drop it off before the opera and give me precise instructions on its opening – “OK, Refugee, crack it about 3; at 5, give it a taste and decant it if you think it’s ready; you’re gonna wanna taste it again ’round 8 and maybe double-decant it then but probably no later than 9:30 or so.”
X
He would arrive about 10:30 adorned with a smile as big as a Pagliacci grin… but real.  “Did ya like that wine, Refugee” he would ask despite knowing that it was nothing short of sublime; and we would talk wine in the bar for a few minutes before taking him to a table.  I always learned more during his 90 minute meal than I did in any 90 minutes of my sommelier courses and that was only from the random two minute bursts of conversation peppered with wine talk.
X
One night he walked into the restaurant – solo and without reservation as he often did during the week – and placed a winicorn* bottle on the bar.
X
“Refugee, it’s been a really shitty day, you know what we do on really great or really crappy days right” he asked with his usual ebullience  - it was classic MT; he loved life so much that even bad days were reason to be happy.
X
I replied with the philosophy learned from him, “Exceptional wines are for days that are exceptionally good or exceptionally shitty.”
X
“Damn right! Get a coupla glasses and have a drink with an old man.”
X
We were about halfway through our glasses when TJ rhetorically asked “Do you know why I come here, why we do this?”
X
Knowing him well enough to know that he would answer his own question, I just took another sip to fill the beat before he continued.
X
“There’s enough crappy sommeliers ‘round here with enough hoity-toity pretentious bullshit to fill every Tastevin** in the world.  You’re not like that, your staff’s isn’t like that, and I figure if I can help a young somm be better, and have some fun in the process, well… well, that just makes the wine world a better place.”
X
With that, he drained the rest of his glass and said “I gotta run, a few more bartenders*** to say hello to tonight; share the rest with your guys at the end of the night.”
X
The night TJ died I went to one of my favorite restaurants with one of the best bottles in my cellar.  I had a glass with my friend, the manager; I told him about MT.  I asked him to share the rest of the bottle with his staff.
X
I am pretty sure that someone bartender will be hearing a few TJ stories this evening… and drinking really well later.
X
X
X
* refers to some impossible to find bottle, usually very small production and about as much cash as a mortgage payment.
X
** refers to the ceremonial cup awarded to people who have been admitted to the International Court of Sommeliers
X
*** in TJ vernacular, “every time a great bartender becomes a manager a little piece of [his] soul dies.”  There is no higher compliment that he gave to managers than to call him/her a bartender.

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