Friday, February 15, 2008

PITA, Restaurant Style

It has been suggested, quite frequently in fact, by those close to my heart and to my wallet, that I am a lousy restaurant partner. My body sends off Fearmones that infuse all of my fellow dining guests with the uncomfortable feeling that we will be having a lousy meal. Well, let me confine that to the scenario that I will be the one having the lousy meal. Somehow, forking over money for a meal only means I get to taste the prepared food; the moolah does not, in the view of my fellow diners, allow me to comment, above a whisper, as to the quality and quantity of the food. It seems that I have been wrong in concluding that paying for a meal also means I own that meal. Well, I mean owning it as long as natural processes allow for my person to maintain possession thereof. I am a grown man who, unless I'm dining alone, has been took 'n told that I should just sit 'n eat. My food-related commentaries have fallen on unappreciative ears. That's me sitting in the corner of Chez Swank, with my back to you, mumbling, grumbling, and chewing.
Succintly, as far as a restaurant guest, I'm your basic PITA. And I'm not talking about capitalized Greek bread.

I admit there is a crumb, perhaps a whole loaf, of truth to that perceived reputation. I've gone to restaurants that I've enjoyed in the past and have been tragically disappointed on a repeat visit. My Ever-Loving Wife once extracted a reluctant opinion out of me of a new restaurant we'd just supped at.

"Actually, it was quite good. Attentive service, without the need to exchange names. Arrival of our meals while we were still enjoying our first bottle of fine wine. Bread baskets re-filled without our need to take up the begging position. No hovering; no "And how is your meal now's". Yes, it was a solid evening."

She looked at me, one eyebrow slowly rising in momentary surprise.

"Well", she exhaled, "that'll be the only good meal you have there...."

Sadly, she was probably right. I can't remember if we've been back to that fine establishment that I've enjoyed as much as our initial visit.

In this NYT article, the writer Jeff Bell, a self-described OCD-er, details some of the agonies associated with folks living within this distressing state of affairs when within the confines of a restaurant. Though beseiged with a plethora of maladies, I can honestly state that I do not have OCD. I have, however, wined and dined with folks of that persuasion and can vouch for Mr. Bell's observations. The one point that he never mentions in his article, however, is the topic of personal choice and menus. My social skills at restaurants have evolved from the premise that the main reason, perhaps the only reason, for my being at a restaurant is to eat food prepared by someone other than me or my immediate family.

The steps from the arrival to the departure of a restaurant experience always seemed simple to me.
1) The menu is handed out.
2) There are choices to be made.
3) One makes choices.
4) One orders said choices.
5) One awaits the inevitable heartbreak of a good meal gone bad.

Witty repartee can be interspersed between steps # 4 and #5. However, from step #1 through #4, I tend toward the behaviour of monks who've committed their lives to silence. A menu is not a pamphlet from the door-to-door religious prosletizers to be ignored or put down on the table to catch bread crumbs. It is a treaty to be perused and then agreed to, in a timely manner. While I find your company enjoyable to the point of squealling, I find a table bereft of filled plates a tragedy of massive proportions. The menu is not a legal document that you must carefully study for clauses that will trip you up half way through your meal. It is what our tax laws should be. Direct connection between a promise of a reward, say an appetizer of Gnocchi with Stewed Portobello Mushrooms in a Sherry-reduced sauce, with the cost of said reward. Yes? No? It's that easy. Please!! Don't ask if the trees shading the Portobellos were oak or walnut! Complications and eating; they don't mix.
Decision-making in a dining environment should not exceed the time it takes to enjoy your first glass of wine, say 15 minutes.
Any time ticking past that will not make for pleasant table manners for your fellow trenchermen.
Gnawing on your arms will be almost permissible; table-side drooling will definitley be o.k.

( be continued)

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