It seems that restaurants will do anything to make their patrons happy.
When I was a cook at Jean Georges, a four-star restaurant in Manhattan, guests would not infrequently order a meal that wasn't on the menu. Although we would comply, I never understood why a customer would ask the kitchen to whip up a weiner schnitzel when he could enjoy the original creations of an exceptional chef.
It would be like going to the Four Seasons and asking housekeeping to pitch a tent for you.
Last weekend, I enjoyed dinner at
, a farm/restaurant an hour north of New York City. The restaurant provides two tasting menus; the diner's only choice is the number of courses they'd like. The menu lists the seasonal produce that may be included in your meal, but no further description of the meal is provided.
To me, that's a thrill.
is a gifted chef, and he's going to select the very best from his farm and put it on my plate.
Before each course, an enthusiastic woman would come to my table with a show-and-tell of an ingredient that would be appearing in the next course. For example: "When you think peas, you probably think spring, but since spring and fall weather are so similar, we tried a fall planting this year." And into my hands she placed the healthiest peas, leaves and vines this side of June.
Minutes later, the peas were on my plate, accompanied by seared wahoo and humanely raised foie gras. The peas stole the show. I was eating with my mind and thinking with my mouth; I was learning.
But unfortunately, the couple dining at the next table didn't see it that way. When they were seated, the captain asked if they had food proclivities or allergies. It's only fair; if the patron isn't given choices, a restaurant must give them the opportunity to claim a fatal nut allergy.
She was slinky and sparkly and he wore a suit. She began, "I do not drink alcohol, or ingest meat; I'm a pescatarian, and really prefer to avoid grains..." The monologue was impressive in both its length and breadth.
When she was finished, her date turned to the captain and said, "She's a tough one, huh?" and put an arm around her shoulder. "Think Dan can make it happen for us?" he asked, as if it were a challenge.
Their courses were served, and dissected more than enjoyed. When the final dish arrived; starring a plump pink shrimp, she frowned, pushed the plate to the center of the table and folded her arms.
The captain appeared immediately, and they explained that although the meal was perfect so far, they forgot to mention that she was kosher.
Perhaps next time they can bring a printed list? Or better yet, learn to enjoy the food, and not indulge the drama. When we go to the symphony, do we tell the musicians that we'd prefer not to hear the flute or the oboe tonight? Do we tell dancers we'd prefer the performance without their left arm?
Sadly, as chefs have made great strides to offer diners
in a sustainable and socially responsible way, diners are opting for self-imposed restrictions. The kitchen offers an original Jackson Pollack, and the diners are asking Jackie to redo that painting in red and pink, because they don't like blue, green or purple.
We know what Jackson Pollack would likely do with such a request.
And though some restaurants are beginning to show their inner
, those at the top of the food chain take great pride in the quality of their service. They act as ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentlemen, even though their patrons never signed the social contract.
When my dining neighbors left the restaurant, I was still midmeal, enjoying the last of my deep-fried crispy poached egg, and en route to venison leg, loin and heart. When the next deuce was seated and the captain asked of any food-proclivities, the woman sat up straight and beamed. "Well, I don't like beets, or turnips, or parsnips, or really anything that grows in the ground, and I don't like beef or..."
The captain removed a small pad from the inside of his jacket, and began to write. Years ago, a man in his position would write down what his guests would like to eat. But today, with a universe of options, he's writing down what they won't.
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