Sunday, December 21, 2008

Almost Totally Unrelated to Dining Out

Yahoo Answers is almost as worthless as Yelp and Chowhound in interweb realm of Populist Advice. Seemingly peopled with a concentrate of drooling morons, the threads that attempt to answer Yahoo users' questions -- subjects include diagnosing strange physical symptoms, ingredients in certain recipes, taking legal action against landlords, etc -- are riddled with grammatical errors, logical fallacies and off-subject rants. The best answers are blatantly copied and pasted from other websites. I once read a question about drug interactions whose three out of four answers were encyclopedia entries taken from The fourth was a sentence of shorthand drivel so incomprehensible I can't even repeat it here. None of the answers actually addressed the question at all.

Further, just like with equally unreliable websites Yelp and Chowhound, you can rate an answer's helpfulness on a scale of 5 stars. Ratings seem to attract a subset of internet users with too much free time who also require constant validation. I have tracked a few users who leave detailed (one might say superfluously detailed) answers on a wide range of issues from medical to philosophical to home and garden maintenance. They flitter like bees from question to question, dropping suspiciously well-researched answers and collecting 4-to-5-star ratings.

I like to imagine a manic midnight in a basement somewhere, 40-oz Mountain Dew sweating away on the table littered with opened encyclopedias as a lonely, frustrated person who commands no respect by daylight - perhaps a third-grade teacher? - furiously clicking away at facts and figures regarding scabies in pets, eco-safe termite extermination, and housing laws in the greater Milwaukee area, muttering Come on, five stars!

Just now, I Googled "getting rat urine smell out of oven" (for reasons completely unrelated to having rat urine smells in my oven. Swearsies.) and my first link was to a Yahoo Answers thread. The first answer was vaguely helpful, as the user suggested a solution of vinegar and water be placed near the smell to neutralize it, or an open carton of Arm & Hammer. Every response thereafter seemed to unravel farther from the question - a few alluding to pet odors; an apologetic sentiment that suggested the asker's rat problem came from a dead pet - until finally, the thread disintegrated utterly into an answer about training your pet rat to urinate in a litter box.

It's true that Wikipedia is tightly policed enough to ensure a higher rate of accuracy than many other reference sites on the internet. But even it is subject to the chaos of democracy. But if Wikipedia is a remarkably graceful attempt at egalitarian wisdom, Yahoo Answers reminds us that we are all equally incapable and in need of corked forks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The catastrophic postmodernist nightmare that is the discussion of the wine list

When was the last time communication was so bad between you and another person that it made your face actually come off, walk outside, and have a cigarette without you?

For me, it happens almost nightly.
Come on, how bad can it be?

Try this exchange, which really for super-cereal real happened, about a week ago (for the purposes of added insight, the female guest shall be known as Shiraz-Seeker):

Shiraz-Seeker: (perusing list with a distinct look of utter confusion because it has no Shiraz on it) I want a red wine but I don't like a real dry wine.

Me: When you say "dry", do you mean you don't want something that feels very tannic?

Shiraz-Seeker: No, I don't mind tannins....

Me: You just want there to be a lot of body and fruit with it.

Shiraz-Seeker: Well I don't want anything sweet.

Me: It wouldn't be sweet. We're just talking fruit - and it's kind of lush. It's a Priorat we have that's got a nice full mouth of red fruit and some pepper...

Shiraz-Seeker: Pepper? So is it real dry?

Me: (face detaching itself and walking outside while flipping the bird) Who knows.

I highlighted the words: dry, sweet, tannins, lush, body, fruit, because these are words most often bandied about in wine reviews and discussion. They, and several other extrinsically worthless words like "mid-palate" and "finish" make up what the mass populace thinks of as the Impenetrable Lexicon of Wine. These words will do nothing to help you understand wine if you don't already have some inkling of it - if you haven't thought about the way it feels and smells and tastes. The words only give some semblance of structure to this otherwise catastrophic postmodernist nightmare that is the discussion of the wine list.

In other words: don't use borrowed words to to shop for anything. It's like when you try to parrot your knowledgeable brother-in-law when you are at your mechanic's so they will think you know what you are talking about and should, therefore, NOT be swindled out of a lot of money. I've been horribly guilty of this very thing. ("It's better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." -- somebody smarter than I)

"Dry" to one person means a lot of tannins, which give your mouth the feeling of being pulled on or filled with tiny strands of wood. Think black tea.
"Dry" to someone else might mean a high alcohol content.
"Dry" to yet another person might mean, in white wine, a high natural acidity, which actually makes your mouth water, so is it dry or just wet-waiting-to-happen?

So next time you are at one of my tables, lost in the wilderness of names and varietals and vintages and regions, don't use these words. Just tell me some wines you usually like to drink that we don't have - or better yet, what you plan to eat - and then let me go from there. You describing what you want will yield no better results than if I just hurled glasses of different selections at you and let you choose by licking them off your shirt.

The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted.
-- Kierkegaard

Oh, and here:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Warm Fuzzy Feelings!

This blog has been angry. Sure, it makes for entertaining reading, but it also gets a little tiresome. Like Lewis Black, if he weren't nearly as funny.

I'm going to make this blog less angry rants about dining out and more about puppies.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sweet wine won't hurt you

I throw up in my mouth whenever someone orders a chocolate dessert with candied orange peels and ginger crystals and then says "I'll have another merlot." That's the gustatory equivalent of going to the Metropolitan Opera with your ipod on. There's a reason the wine list has dessert wines on it. If they DO order a dessert wine, most people go right for the Port (because that's all they know), though it may not be the best pairing. For a transcendessimal experience, try some of the following next time you go out:

Vin Santo de Chianti - a roasted-chestnutty angel in a glass with the kind of exciting hot syrup texture you remember from sneaking your grandma's apricot brandy by the fire. Works especially well with desserts featuring cheese, nuts, stone fruits, pineapple.

Moscato d'Asti - can be "ish", as most things produced in great quantity are, but in the right hands, it is a fresh and lively red apple number sparkling away on your tongue with black pepper notes. Very versatile - try with sorbets and panna cottas, vanillas, berries, custards and rich desserts. The acidity and bubbles will help reign in all that cloy.

Sauternes, or any botrycized equivalent thereof - Botrytis is a fungus that, in optimum conditions, shrivels the grape and concentrates all its sugars for some sweet-ass, complex wine. Look also for: Trockenbeerenauslese (Riesling), Lupiac (Sauv Blanc and Semillon, like Sauternes), Selecion de Grand Noble (Alsace). In a year where the crop sees noble rot (the desirable form of Botrytis), Chile's unbeatable Errazuriz (comprised of Sauv Blanc, Sauv Gris, and Viognier) makes a nice alternative to the pricier Bordeaulaises of Sauternes and Lupiac. The slight bit of funk from the rotted grapes is heaven with a foie gras, cheese and nuts, pears. Incidentally, the most expensive wines in the world include Chateau Y'Quiem, a Sauternes producer. Not that price is always a good indication of the ethereal, but in this case, the aristocracy is onto something.

Reccioto del Valpolicella - Not to be confused with Valpolicella, which is a dry wine. In Reccioto, they leave the Valpolicella grapes (usually the doo-wop trio Rondinella, Corvina and Molinara) on the vine to get all sugary, then lay them out on mats to dry. If you are having chocolate and want to try a red other than Port, get on this. It's similar to Port in its raisiny, dried fig thing, but it's not fortified with additional alcohol. Instead, it gets its braces from a natural acidity, which is like warming yourself on a cold winter's night by the fire, not on it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

When I Love My Job

I do love my job, by the way. It may be hard to tell, the way I go on, but it's like being a Red Cross worker: they may want to rend the skin from their cheeks sometimes because of what they see, but they are ultimately fulfilled.

For those of you keeping score, I just compared myself - a waitress - with a Red Cross worker. Does the tyranny of hyperbole ever end?

Okay, ask any high school teacher: it's the small victories. Last night, I waited on a couple, about my age, dressed nicely. Dressed in the attitude of respect for dining out. He in a dinner jacket, she in a gauzy shawl. No desperate cleavage, no gaudy fashion statements (though I'm a fan of both, for entertainment's sake).

They looked at me when I introduced myself. Do you know how rare that is?
As I went over the menu with them, they ooh'd and aah'd in the right places. They excitedly accepted my offer for an aperitif.

America! Drink your aperitifs! It loosens you up - which, believe me, you need.

Then the guy said something to me that will forever endear him to me. He said, "My experience is with California wines; I know little about the ones on your list. Can you help me?"

Such a simple thing.

I'd love to, I said, and asked him what California wines they like, then I found him old world wines that would be a different experience, but up their alley.
I gave them a taste of a Corbieres we have by the glass - a stinky heavyweight boxer with a one-two jab of blackberry jam and horse sweat. They liked it but weren't quite sold, so I told them we had a Bandol that would make the night memorable. The Corbieres, I told them, is Hugh Grant - a decent actor, nice to look at, and entertaining enough; the Bandol is Sir John Gielgud.
They ordered the Bandol, bottle and all, without asking for a taste first (which would have been impossible anyway).

They loved it, keeping their noses in the glasses and lighting up with recognition at certain smells, memories. When they got their food, they were silent as they took their first few bites. Reverent. Feeling it, weighing it, knowing they were, right then, being changed just a little bit. They extended their hands across the table to each other with a bite of their own dish in each, and shared. These are people who live, you know? They don't grimace and conjecture and dissect the experience and scribble it on a $7.99 memo pad they purchased at Target when they joined Yelp. These are people who think and feel and consider, you can tell.

The world has made easy choices of war, and has become comfortable with poverty and despair. Awareness, without contempt, is hard. It is rare. I envy it; every moment of my life I struggle for it. It is not what makes up the majority and it is not whose voices are heard and it is not the bright green light of televised victory when leaders choose to send missiles to schoolyards and villages - it is instead the warm glow of thought and consideration. That this cynical old girl can still find it - in a restaurant! - even just once every few nights, means the world to me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

On Tipping

Tipping For Imbeciles (and there are a surprising number of you out there - if not you, the people you are dining with. Please share this information with them next time you go out to eat):

  • 18% is the universally-understood industry standard for service you really can't kvell about, but that certainly didn't detract from your experience. 18. Not 15. 15 is universally understood as cheap and ignorant, in finer dining places. Why should the type of restaurant make you tip more? We'll get to that.
  • 20% is soooooo easy to figure out, it's painful. Move the decimal back one place and double it. Let's try a few practice runs:
$180 --> $36

$42 --> $8 (don't worry about small change)

$13 --> is this you and your fucking high school theater friends sharing a plate of cheese fries and some coffee for two and a half hours while singing show tunes and popping creamers open on your face like zits? Leave 100% Sometimes I think crappy tips are my comeuppance for my nightlife between the ages 15 & 17.

  • Verbal tippers will share a ring of hell with TV evangelists, CEOs of pharmaceutical companies, and orderlies who abuse their patients. Seriously, there is no more fundamentally malicious joke on earth like you going on and on about what a great server I was and asking for my name again and patting my manager on the back on the way out going "She was fantastic!" and then leaving me 15%. I appreciate the warm fuzzies and all, but I'll appreciate them even more in front of a warm radiator this winter, assface.
  • Okay, for those of you wondering why you should tip a server 20% or more - those holdouts from the Reagan years going, It's not my fault this dipshit chose to be a waiter - mainstream servers are generally divided into three strata:
Kids, stoners and slackers who just need enough money to travel to India in the Spring and smoke hash. They don't know shit about your food and they don't care. They work in vegetarian joints, chain restaurants, anyplace with happy hour advertisements in the back of your weekly paper. Fuck em. Tip em whatever you want, if the food doesn't kill you before the bill comes.

Students and young parents, trying to eke out a living while pursuing something that will better sustain them and their families. They may have found themselves in a difficult situation and are diligently working their way out of it in a job that affords them scheduling flexibility and the opportunity to control their income with picking up extra shifts or getting lucky. This is where you come in. They may not have terrific command of the spoken word, make you feel all terrific about your choice of the pork chop over the chicken, or be able to tell you where your chardonnay came from, but they care about their jobs and your experience. This is a basic service and should be rewarded justly. Everyone is trying to make it out there, these people gave you something with kindness and efficiency. In this day and age, that's rarer than you think.

The professional.Otherwise known as "lifers," this group is composed not entirely of people who have fallen hopelessly in love with the restaurant world, with great food and wine, with the rigors and excitement of throwing a party night after night, for strangers, and watching some of those strangers become regulars and friends. Some of these people may act like they don't love their job - may in fact be plotting their escape into rock stardom, film, journalism or stand-up comedy - but don't be fooled: they're hooked. They read the Wednesday edition of the Times, know who Ruth Reichl is, and care about how the food looks when the kitchen puts it on the expo line. They'll lovingly rub a wet cloth around the rim of your plate, they'll explain their favorite dishes on the menu to you as if you were their own mother and father out to eat with them, they'll insist you try a new wine because it's a revelation with the rabbit! These people try (and sometimes manage to) not just to serve you food, but enlighten you. They are forged over countless evenings with the ability to "read" you right away, and know if they should silently support whatever experience you wish to have, or show you a good time. These are people who do it for the love and pride - many have degrees, even advanced degrees, but they chose to be with you and your miserable ass tonight, and they might have even made you feel better. That is priceless. That is worth 30% and more. Still feeling fussy about that? Imagine a world in which the only servers - no matter how upscale, chef-driven and exciting the restaurant - are type #1, because no one else will stay in this profession if you all tipped negligently.

  • If you are going to tip poorly, dont take my pen. If you do take my pen, don't leave your shittier Kinko's-produced bic advertising your services as a real estate agent. If you think a waitress you just tipped 12% is in the market to buy or sell a house, I wouldn't trust you to find me an empty dumpster to sleep in, you dumb bitch. And another thing: I now know your work number. Your receptionist will be receiving a call with the results of your STD test sometime next week.
  • If you tip shitty because it's the holidays and you think your money is tight, go to Jack in the Box. Word has it, they don't expect tips, and therefore don't build their lives on them, so that 15% will really make their day, whereas I am just an unappreciative asshole who has people waiting for your table that know how to budget for a meal out in a nice restaurant. Face!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sitting at the bar one night

How you know you're sitting next to a couple on a first date:

She tells him, "I really only drink maybe 2, 3 glasses when I'm out with friends and even that's not very often. I'm a believer in moderation. After this, I'm going to work out, from about 9-10."
"After your mother's? Wow, that's commitment."
"I'm not afraid of commitment."
She’s saying, I’ve been hurt before. She's going to take it out on the next guy, whoever he happens to be.

Later, he is telling her, "Life insurance is an investment, really."

They ask for the check and the woman asks me if I enjoyed my soup.
"Oh yes," I say, "It was watercress and andouille sausage. Awesome."
"You looked like you were enjoying it."
I dab at my mouth with the side of my hand, just to be safe.

I tell her I think I recognize her.
"Do you go to U___?" I ask, referring to my late place of employment, a very trendy restaurant. Her long, middle-aged face is so familiar, despite the heavy black eyeliner she is wearing tonight. I know her horsey nose, her lantern jaw.
"I live in the neighborhood," she says, without answering my question. "Did you ride your bike?"
I nod, wondering if she watched me pull up, what she was thinking of me that made her need to come talk to me with her date present. In the world of women, this is a disarmament of sorts. You looked like you were enjoying it.

She introduces herself and her date.
"I own a company," she offers, "I go to people's houses and organize."
There's a weird beat.
"Well, God bless you!" I say, more to him than to her. They both laugh, but not so much she.
I do not see a second date. Maybe, but not a third.

Then the coworkers come. I surmise that the girl at the far end is British because the alpha-male, on the end closest to me, keeps shouting "Oi! Oi!" to her when she isn't paying attention. And he's definitely not British.
One of the girls asks, "Kevin, how's your love life?"
They've had too much to drink. This will either bond them or make things weird at work on Monday.
"I'm an Aquarian," he says. "Impossible to date."
The girl next to the Brit squeals. "I'm a Leo! We're supposed to be perfect together!"

Kevin begins to talk about being attracted to girls who are projects and the girls holler in harmony. "I know about projects!"
All women think they know about projects. This implies all men are projects. The truth is, all of us are projects. Some projects build our muscles and some tear them down. You have to know who you are to know which project to pick. I almost tell them this, but there's too much estrogen in the group as it is. We'll give Kevin a break.

The Brit, from the far end, asserts that she has found the man she is going to marry and Kevin waves his hands about, "Hello…!?! What?? That's awesome… I had no idea." He is too eager to hear about it. He is disappointed the Brit is in love, you can tell. "Tell me about this guy!"

He wants to hear the guy is just like him. Or worse than him. That way, he has a shot. Not just at her, but someone like her. He needs to know that someone like him would have a shot at someone like her.

She circumvents the rest of the girls at the bar to talk to him beside his chair, standing up. A girl will do this to talk to another person about the man she loves. Kevin does not vacate his own comfortable seat to go ask the Brit more closely about her man, this man she has found. He simply remains, waiting for nothing, not expecting her to come over and tell him, not even thinking about it, his strident demand of her is beyond answer, his look faraway even as she speaks right into his face about love.

Let go of high school and drink this motherfucking rosé

Is it sweet?

She wrinkles her face. Her whole face. Like she’s really asking if it came out of a dog’s asshole. Is it sweeeet? The last word drawn out like a flat note on a horn, or a fart.

The wine being unduly subject to this girl’s ignorance, is Bellefon Salmon, a lovely pink Champagne. From, you know, Champagne. In France. Most people still refer to anything bubbling in their glass as Champagne, even if it didn’t come from anywhere near Champagne.

Since the Treaty of Madrid in 1891, wines could only be legally labeled "Champagne" if they came from there, and this was globally reaffirmed after WWI in the Treaty of Versailles. But because the U.S. Senate never ratified the Treaty (Wilson signed it, though), it claims it doesn't have to abide by these laws. To prevent a global tussle, the U.S. allowed that only certain California producers making sparkling wine before 2006 could label their wines "California Champagne."

America, fuck yeah.

Despite wanting to shoot her into outer space, I smile at the clueless girl and say, No, Darlin, it’s not sweet in the slightest.

Darlin is what I call people when my head has named them worse things. Sweetie, Honey, Sugar. If you hear me say it, it means I think you’re scum. The kind of reprehensible beast I blame for global warming, Robert Parker, ugly fashion trends and most of the music that came out of the 90s. Your inability to learn or think makes you an obedient drone of marketing execs and feeds their endless lust for kinky sex with the filthiest whores they can scrape up on craigslist.

No, Darlin, that Shiraz that I overheard you screeching about earlier with the big “94” printed on the tag is sweeter than this rosé.

She frowns and lets me pour her a taste. She sips it like it’s hemlock and I know what she’s going to say and I brace myself but it shreds me up anyway, makes all the blood run to my forearms, my hands, ready to throttle her to death.

Wow! That’s not sweet at all!

What she is thinking of is that Freshman Rape In A Bottle, Arbor Mist. Boone’s Farm's Strawberry Hill. This stuff is no more wine than I’m a ferret. It’s carbonated sugar – Fanta with 7.5% alcohol. The only thing it has in common with Champagne’s beautiful, strawberry and pebble-kissed dry dry Bellefon Salmon, is the color. And even that isn't similar enough to warrant suspicion. Rosés vary wildly in hue, from deep neon red to palest peach. The color comes from the brief contact the juice has with its red grape skins, and the longer the contact, the more tannins you can usually expect. A fleshy, savory fresh blood-colored ciliegiolo from Liguria can feel bigger in the mouth than a wispy, refreshing Provencal salmon number, but both find their flavors in the red berry spectrum: strawberries, raspberries and cherries. In better rosés, the mineral aspects give it structure - a sparkling brininess at the finish maybe, a chalky, pebbly weight as you drink. This is what keeps it from being just silly, stupid fruit drink.

If a server or bartender suggests “rosé” and you think they are talking about Arbor Mist, you have your head in your ass, which is right where the good folks at Fox News want it. No one – and let me repeat this with the greatest emphasis – no one in the wine or food industry will ever refer to Arbor Mist as a rosé. If they do, stand up and walk out right away. This is a kitchen that intentionally puts cockroaches in their food. They have rabies and sleep under a bridge and wipe their asses with their hands. They alternate which one, so you can't avoid it when you shake.

And heaven help you if you ask me if this is "blush."

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Week in Wankers

Best quotes of the week:

"I'll have a pee-no griggy-oh"

"So duck egg creme caramel.... is that, like, a Cadbury creme egg?"

"Duck egg? DUCK egg? Like from a real live duck?"

"Where do you get duck eggs?" (My response of course: a duck. His wife then explained to him that ducks also lay eggs)

"I like salt on my fries." (This was how she asked me for some salt, after tasting her pommes frites)

(When asked if they wanted help finding something on the wine list) "I don't think so. I know these wines. Last time I was here I had a Chateau something. It was French. It was red."

"So is that like, a cab sauv?" (After I described the Chateauneuf du Pape)

"We're big foodies, so we don't need help. Can you heat up this iced tea?"

(Upon informing a mean old lady who insisted she was twice my age "and then some" that she's not that much older than I, according to her driver's license) "Oh, you can read."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How To Dine Out Like a Complete Wanker

A good number of my guests mistakenly assume that not knowing absolutely everything about food and wine makes them look like unsophisticated trash, so they get defensive and make ridiculous proclamations from their pride and vanity. This is what will make you intolerable, not your inexperience. Of course not that. A good number of us actually love hosting you through the gates - so quit shoving back, for chrissakes.

Examples of food fear:

I’m not a cab franc person/I don’t like cab franc
Sweeping proclamations are a dead giveaway. Any person who has spent the bulk of their adult lives serving, making, eating and drinking and studying food and wine knows that there are as many variations of each as there are people making them and the places in which they do it. I’ve had a cab franc from Italy that tasted like three kinds of pepper punching you in the face, and I’ve had cab franc from Napa that tasted like Dr. Pepper syrup with rubbing alcohol mixed in. But mostly, I’ve had red bell pepper nose-orgy, chocolate-covered raspberry velvety yum yum lamb tartar-loving beauties from the Loire Valley. Being that most people I serve are more familiar with the bastardized Franken-wine versions of varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, what I hear when they say I do or don’t like [X varietal] is: I don’t like the California versions of [X varietal]. Goody. Neither do I. Now shut up and drink this Cab Franc from Bourgueil that I am recommending. It will pop the top on that sad little box you have put yourself in, letting some much-needed air and sunlight back into your world.

You can go ahead and pour
I hear this one when I have just poured the tasting for the person who ordered the wine. About a third of the time, they flutter their hand at me like a foppish king and yawn go ahead and pour, I’m sure it’s fine.
I think, Awww. You don’t have the slightest idea what to do here, do you? and then I graciously (depending on the night) try to give you a clue on the sly. I might say something like “1 in 20 odds don’t scare you, Sir - you live life dangerously!” and as I pour the other guests at the table (some of whom know what was supposed to have happened) I might offer, “If you find a flaw in the wine, please let me know and I will happily replace it.”
At this point, not you, but someone else at the table might ask what kind of flaws. Look, I don’t expect you all to know this stuff – of course I don’t. Jesus, what kind of asshole do you think I am? But I do expect that when you are, say, flying along at 38,000 feet and the stewardess tells you to fasten your seat belt, you ought to because she knows something you don’t; that 1 in 20 bottles of wines (except for screw caps and synthetic corks, of course) suffer from TCA, the flaw responsible for making your wine smell like wet cardboard and taste flat or otherwise strange. I know you don’t know a good wine from a bad because I’ve drunk the last ounce of whatever is left in your bottle after you’ve left, and lemme tell you, guests have enjoyed oxidized, cooked and corked wines all night long without telling me something was off. Because they didn’t want to look dumb. And they will forever think they didn’t like it because of the varietal, which is like saying you don’t like driving Saabs because the one you rented in Maine last fall had a flat tire. They will be the people who often say I don’t like Cabernet Francs.

Sniffing the cork
Believe it or not, some people actually do this. They usually reside in a red state and our restaurant is the first outside of Applebee’s they visited in a long while. They are usually in town visiting a more “sophist-imicated” sibling or in-laws. They tend to despise the fact that they are there in the first place, and they are frightened of any waiter not wearing suspenders and buttons. They sniff the cork and then tell me I can pour. The other guests blush slightly. They will sometimes mouth sorry. Please don’t apologize. That’s just silly. You’re the one who has to spend Thanksgiving with him, not I.
The cork will not tell you much. If it has TCA, the wine in your glass will tell you. If the wine had any other flaw, you won’t know from the cork. Also, corks smell kind of … corky. So sniffing it really doesn’t give you the most accurate information. But most cork-sniffers watch Fox News, so they’re used to this.

We’re Foodies
Where to begin. The word ‘foodie’ has been created and commandeered by the same people who are convinced they could diagnose an obscure illness by watching “House.” It came into popularity because, comparatively, Americans have a lame sense of national identity, propped up by pop culture and platitudes about freedom. Ashamed and frightened by the Bush administration, we have disowned our culture, which is really just a bedsore of rampant, amoral capitalism. We have fast food joints, diet pills, television, Taylor Swift and are one of the worst polluters in the world. We bowed out of the Kyoto Accords and we torture suspected terrorists. Clinging to any subset of interests that separates us from the embarrassing oil-igarchy is only natural. It’s like walking six feet away from your parents when you’re a teenager. Food is now a more critical matter in determining one's taste than fashion even is. But this novel fervor has created a dreadfully overrated sense of importance. You may not have read Nabokov, but heaven help you if you don’t know what foie gras is.
So when they tell me we’re foodies, what they mean is we are somebody. The foodie merely wants to be recognized as someone who is intelligent, informed and aware. They want me to know they had nothing to do with where we are now – that they are genteel and refined and offended by our plastic and soulless culture. I try to be gentle with the foodie. They just want to be loved. But never forget that they are imposters. Real lovers of food don't have a cute name for themselves, and are identifiable by a number of signs, including:
• A passion for offal. If they say, “Oooh, lamb’s liver with rabbit kidney-onion salad!” my heart leaps a little.
• Asking their server, the liaison between kitchen and guest, what they recommend. This is the act of a real pro. They don’t even have to take the recommendation.
• Animated discussion over the table. Food of any kind fills the cells of the true food lover until they brim over with emotion and enthusiasm. A foodie, on the other hand, is usually awkward and self-conscious, glaring around them and even, oh god help us all!, taking notes on scraps of paper for their blogs. They look miserable, because they think this will get them taken seriously. We will ask how everything is and they will grimace slightly and say “it’s okay.” In their heads, the apt critic is a caricature of an Ambien-sotted George Plimpton. They mistakenly equate ennui with experience. Servers! When this happens, don’t probe, don’t ask if you can get anything else for them. They will only try to make you feel inferior or threaten your job. Just smile and say “and for dessert, I have something I think you, especially, will dig.” They will perk up immeasurably, even though you were imagining them eating a plate of garbage from the dishroom.

I sincerely hope this helps. Someone had to tell you.

Still to come: The Fifth Ring of Hell is Reserved for Yelpers

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Opening Night

I am a server.
A waitperson.
A waitress.
I do not have a preferred nomenclature. A preferred nomenclature is for people who are affected by others' perceptions of them. Listen, you don't wait tables for ten years without developing a thick skin. Besides, we are a crucial part of the pecking order - we are the Greek chorus.
We are the eyes and ears. We observe human behavior in the dark crannies sociologists will never be privy to.

I work in finer dining. I think it's critical to distinguish this from, say, coffeeshops and gaudy chain restaurants, because the expectations and behavior of the guests varies wildly. Compared to the heavy- hitting fine dining of celebrity chef hoo-haw places, mine is pretty casual. Thus the finer dining.

I am working on a graphic novel about waitressing with my friend Chantal Defelice. She is amazing. This is a place for me to organize waitressing stories and rant. Enjoy.