Monday, March 16, 2009
Confessions of a Fine Diner
Although in my mind I imagine myself as a perfectly poised lady peeling her gloves off one finger at a time for the restaurant coat check to guard while I eat-in reality I know I am a dining oaf at times. I used to worry-who am I kidding-I still worry about my appearance in restaurants. Are my bites too big? Are there too many crumbs around my plate? Should I shuffle this food around to look like I ate it? How much to tip!? My mind races with questions and answers all through the meal. I've learned now to enjoy the experience, but that isn't to say that I don't worry if I'm doing things "right".
Luckily today, fine dining has taken a much more casual route. Fewer restaurants require the men to wear jackets. Mario Batali plays rock music in many of his establishments. Jeans have become formal wear-when rocked with heels and a blouse. But these confessions you're about to read are criminal acts in any restaurant.
Let the confessions begin.
My first fine dining experience was at Daniel in NYC. Daniel still holds to the traditions of fine dining, jackets required, soothing music in the background, and a ballet of servers that dance around you while you eat. If you know Daniel, or any 4 star establishment, you know I was thrown into this industry like an understudy on opening night. At this time, Erik was already working for Jean-Georges at the flagship, but had never eaten anywhere as nice as Daniel. Well, we ordered the full tasting as well as a wine pairing. And needless to say our judgement was impaired when we left a $20 tip on a $550+ meal. It also didn't help that Erik's roommate was cooking there at the time. Later that weekend we made amends by hand-delivering an appropriate tip. Lesson learned: Always tip well-no matter how much wine they serve. OR Drink less.
For a couple months between culinary school and Jean-Georges, Erik worked in LA at Water Grill. One night, Erik and I went to dinner there with a fellow cook and his wife. Again, we ordered the tasting menu with wine pairings. The meal was tasty, the company was friendly and I almost made it through the entire experience without lousing it up. Just as the check arrived at the table while the server was standing right next to me, I took a drink from a wine glass and within an instant, there was a wine explosion. I must have bitten the glass and it shattered in my mouth spilling wine all over my clothes and the table. I must have looked like a wreck! Lesson learned: Clearly I didn't learn enough from Daniel about drinking too much. But I did learn never to bite down on a wine glass. (Who has to learn that the hard way anyways?)
Eventually I did learn my limits with food and alcohol. I never, repeat never drink liquor and I have a 2 drink maximum-all the time. But then comes the situation when someone buys you a drink that you just can't drink. I was at P.J. Clark's not too long ago and a nice chap bought my friend and I a shot. Well I wasn't about the drink it. So when he flipped his head back to down the tequila-I flipped my head back too-only I dumped my shot on the floor. (Sorry P.J. Clarks) But I had to! I had no where to put it and I told him I wouldn't drink it. The poor guy wasn't any the wiser. Lesson finally learned: Drink what you can drink.
I've written these stories in chronological order so at this point we are coming to the present day, give or take a few months. Erik and I went to David Chang's Ko in the East Village. Let me first say, that I am a fan of David's and I appreciate what he is doing with food. However, I am not the most adventurous eater in the world and textures can freak me out. I know everyone loves his shaved fois gras with lychee, Riesling jelly and pine nuts- (click for picture)but I couldn't get through one bite. So, I spit the foie gras in my napkin. Sorry David Chang. I only spit out one bite when the chefs weren't looking. Erik ate the rest. Since then, Erik has been back to Ko, sans the wife. Lesson learned: Bring a more adventurous eater/large napkin if you're going to chicken-out on some food.
This final confession is only a minor offense to the restaurants I eat at. The smallest of food misdemeanours. I steal petit fours. I can't help it! By the time the pretty little pastries come out I look pregnant with a tasting menu baby. But I can't resist the tempting treats so I drop them into my purse and eat them during lunch the next day. It's not really stealing since they served it too me, but it's certainly not good etiquette. And really, it is a good idea because the next day all I need is a sweat, small reminder of the delicious experience I had only hours previous. Lesson learned: None. I'm going to keep doing this, until I get caught/extremely embarrassed.
Now I know I can't be the only one who has done embarrassing things in restaurants. Although I doubt anyone can top my wine glass bite. But why not share with us and try!