Friday, January 30, 2009

A Tuscan Parable

Once upon a time in Tuscany, a winemaker learned that a large number of his wines were being sold in a peculiar, much overlooked part of the United States. The middle of Texas, of all places! Intrigued by this far away land and its people - who so obviously enjoyed his wines - he set off for a visit.
With two compatriots, he visited the restaurant in Texas that was responsible for the bulk of his sales. They sat in a quiet booth in the back and sampled some other bottles on the wine list from reputable Tuscan producers. They feasted, and racked up a bill over $400.

The winemaker paid. He left $40 as a tip for his server.

Just under 10%. For excellent service.

The winemaker didn't seem to realize that the reason his wine was selling so well was not because of the importer who brought it to the States, nor the distributor who picked it up, nor the sales rep who brought it to the restaurant's wine buyer, nor the wine buyer for putting it on the list.

The wine sold as well as it did because the servers liked it, thought it was a great deal for such a well-made wine, and emphasized it to their guests. The people largely responsible for his success were the very people he had slighted. The servers, thereafter, boycotted his wine and the winemaker saw a dramatic dip in his sales. Had he never left Italy to investigate, this might never have happened.

The moral of the story is: Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Oh, no wait.... it's LEARN TO TIP, PAISAN!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sulfites: The New Carbs

Every so often, a "medical fact" rides in on a wave of paranoia and shoddy research. It reaches a screaming crescendo that one can measure by how many bestsellers are trotted out on the subject, and then, after a few years of no real change in anyone's quality of life, the wave rolls back out to the sea of misinformation where it will swell again with a new generation that doesn't realize we've all been there, done that and it failed miserably.

Atkins comes to mind. So does invading a foreign country.

Now this! The rampant self-diagnosed "allergy to sulfites". Correction: not self-diagnosed. Someone on the internet told you their mother has it, too, so it's a communal diagnosis.

I'm not saying there aren't many people out there who have bizarre (and varying) reactions to different alcoholic beverages.

I'm not saying you haven't figured out what makes you feel worse and what makes you feel better, and therefore created a rational list of Things to Avoid.

I'm saying lots and lots of people are still grasping at straws. And I want to help you narrow it down.

Next time you ask me if any of our wines don't have sulfites cause you're allergic to them, I would ask you if you've eaten any dried fruit lately. Or deli meat. Or nuts. Or anything that has been packaged. Sulfites are a preservative found in EVERYTHING. You wouldn't want to drink a wine without sulfites. It would be a bunch of rotted, moldy grape juice.

To diagnose your unique problem, don't ask anyone on the internet if they have similar symptoms. The internet is a wasteland of screaming ignorance. (Irony alert!)

But here's a recap of the Scientific Method we all learned in high school:

1. Observation through experience: Consider the problem and try to make sense of it. Look for previous explanations (i.e. are you throwing up and headachy? you might have drunk too much, or have a problem metabolizing alcohol. If you are having symptoms you've had before with things you are allergic to, you are, naturally, allergic to this as well.).
If this is a new problem to you, then move to step 2.
2. Form a Hypothesis: Try to state an explanation ("When I drink red wine I feel rotten in ways I haven't felt otherwise or before; therefore I must have some weird reaction to something in red wine.").

3. Conclude Something: If you assume 2 is true, what consequences follow? ("Red wine contains sulfites, therefore I might be reacting to sulfites")

4. Test Conclusion: Look for the opposite of each consequence in order to disprove 2. (Drink white wine, sparkling wine, beer; eat fruits with sulfites in them - if you still feel rotten, 3 may be correct; if not, forget the sulfites thing and think about what else goes into red wine that white wine doesn't share. Contact with grape skins. Skins contain tannins. So revise 3 as "I might be reacting to tannins." Now test by drinking tea, coffee, grape juice. And so on.)
Many of mankind's troubles stem from trying to PROVE our theories rather than disprove them. Religion, paranoia, conspiracy theory - anything that eschews science, the devotion to truth via the process of elimination - relies on proving what you already believe to be true. It is about as far from truth, then, as one can get.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where WERE You?

I envisioned a night of pouring champagne all over myself and my guests and serving up a billion Hope sandwiches, but the only people who came to dine tonight were a few poopy pantses who didn't mention President Oh-hell-yes once!


I had two tables.

The terrorists won tonight.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Missed Connections

Dear Blow-Hard at 61, Saturday night:

Your guests would certainly rather order a drink from me than listen to you recount endless tales of your investment property woes, but since you won't shut up every time I'm near the table, even if I linger uncomfortably for several seconds, they can't. Bet this is why you "never see them anymore." Can't wait to see who you bring in next time to bore to a sober death!

Dear Guy at Large Party, All of Whom Ordered Coffee:

Half caf, half decaf?
.... Really?

Dear Dumb Girl With Her Rich Parents,

When I opened your white wine and did that little banter about it being too cold right now but with a little warming up, it would be beautiful and have all these crazy aromas, and then you immediately asked for ice as if you hadn't heard a word I'd said, it made me realize why your first three husbands will leave you. Miss yer guts!

Dear "Food Writer" for Free Local Magazine Your Daddy Gave You Money to Start,

Every time you begin a paragraph with subject-verb disagreement, it makes me smile. Good thing it's every single fucking time! I also really enjoy your 2nd grade command of words, such as ...pastas paired with expertise sauces. Whee! Journalism is fun! Maybe next you can be president.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

When I Love This 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 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, humility.

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 in equal proportion, 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 small and silent glow of consideration. That this cynical girl can still find it - in a restaurant! - even just once every few nights, means the world to me.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Week in Wankers

There was this couple griping in German about the hostess; their server happened to speak and understand German. She held her tongue until they'd ordered, received their meal and were halfway through it, then asked - in perfect German - if it was good.

Ah, sweet Demütigung!

A nice old lady asked me for a bottle of "the Tuscan Chardonnay", a roasted chestnutty little thing by Felsina, one of the most respected producers in Tuscany. Then she asked me "Is it DRYYYYY?" (See Catastrophic Post-Modernist Nightmare) I asked her what she usually likes to drink. She said, "I hate to admit it, but Yellowtail."
"Trust me. You'll love this. It's infinitely more interesting, layered and subtle than that butterball."
"Fine," she said. "And could you bring a glass of ice with it?"

Later, her trashy little granddaughter showed up, in fake tan and stiletto boots, all of 21, 22. She loudly proclaimed to her grandmother that she ought to try one of her mussels. The grandmother said, "What are they like?"
"They're just like oysters," the girl replied loudly, obviously pleased with herself. "They taste like slimy fish."
Wrong three different ways in one breath. Most impressive.

A late table came in, about five minutes before closing. She was already drunk. He was enabling. She announced, with a boredom that still managed to sound zealous, that she used to run a wine bar. Then she slurred, "I don't like sweet. Nothing sweet."
(See For the Love of GAWD, people, stop saying you hate sweet wine cause you don't and you shouldn't anyway but it doesn't matter cause you DON'T...)
I described a Salice Salentino to her as a lush and juicy blueberry with peppery wood tannins and nice acidity to balance the fruit, and she said "Hellloo? I told you I don't like 'sweet'."
It took me a second to realize she meant the reference to blueberries.
"It's not a Jolly Rancher," I said. "But it is made from fruit, so..."

Ran a wine bar, my ass. More like ran BY a wine bar.
In Borneo.

"What does brown butter ice cream taste like?"
"And the creme fraiche?"

My favorite exchange of the week, though, was courtesy of my coworker, C___, whose deadpan deliveries are the kind of genetic superpower I might have had if I weren't conceived on hallucinogens.
After scanning the very short dessert menu for some time, a lady looked up at C____ and said,
"I like chocolate ice cream, what do you suggest?"
"Amy's," he answered, referring to our local ice cream chain.

Guess you had to be there.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Something stinks around here...

And it isn't the food.

It's Patchouli. Sandalwood. Estee Lauder. Dior.
It's any number of the perfumes being peddled by Britney Spears, Beyoncee, Mariah Carey. It's cheap Bath and Body Works Pear Body Spray.

Guys, when you pay $60 for a Brunello, but all you smell is your date's Red Door by Arden, doesn't it make you the slightest bit ... resentful?
Friends of these women, when a dish of pork braised for five hours in sage, tomatoes and cinnamon is completely obliterated by your elbowmate's Fantasia (and girlfriend pours it on, doesn't she?), aren't you thinking you might as well have saved $50 and gone to Taco Bell instead?

And let's not forget the three tables in a twenty-foot radius whose wine glasses are filling with the spirits of Saks Fifth Avenue! It's an olfactory epidemic!

You could certainly drop a hint in a way that won't get you into trouble - may even get you laid - and will allow you and your fellow diners to enjoy the food you got all dressed up and paid for:

"Baby, I love your natural smell. It makes me crazy! The only thing that makes me want you more than your freshly showered smell, is a nose full of Brunello and garlic. Let us go, unadorned as we are now, to dine!"

For the love of all that is holy, women, don't wear perfume to restaurants. We want to smell the food and the wine, not you. I guarantee that your man, unless an oblivous oaf, feels the same way, and he is working up a way to either tell you or cheat on you with someone who smells less like an Avon lady.

P.S. A shout out to my little sistas under 25: When you do wear perfume, spritz once into the air and step through the delicate shower lingering there. Subtle is Sexy. Where are your mothers? It's like an Aesthetic Lord of the Flies, twenty-somethings running around with identical loose dresses and 11" heels, drenching yourselves in perfume that smells 100x stronger to us than it does to you. Take the conch and spread the word!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Positive affirmation

Each shift I work is a new opportunity to practice patience with my guests; to provide stellar service that is both personal and professional; to describe food and wine in sensual and visceral ways, even to a table of drooling birdbrains; and to enjoy watching people embarrass themselves in ways I will later relay to this journal.

Happy 2009, Person Who Reads This Blog!