Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Eggs Benedict Arnold

I'm finally done with the restaurant guide and can begin to till the stinky soil of these posts with some more waitressing rants and stories. I am grateful for the opportunity to vent whenever, in the course of my work, I had to brush up against the rancid pus lake that is Yelp, and all of its unholy tributaries of meritless conjecture like CitySearch, Chowhound, and The Austin Chronicle. *wink!*

I will miss statements like "First of all, I don't know if I'm dining at the wrong places but the sushi in TX is not as fresh as in Chicago."

I'm working on an essay about the experience of being a waitress-restaurant critic (a real, paid one bound by ethical and professional standards). It's called "Turncoat: The Eggs Benedict Arnold Story."

I've been working a lot of brunches lately. Something I never thought I'd do after shacking up with a guy whose predilection towards eating brunch together over the Sunday NY Times is such that, when threatened by other plans - like a party or dim sum invitation with, shudder, other people; or being in a dusty West Texas town with no NY Times in it - he actually gets inside the laundry basket and cowers there, weeping.

Brunch can be really great. It's fast as hell, so time passes more quickly; and the turnover is high, so even if a table has really bad mojo ("I'll just have water;" or "I'm too hungover/tired/stuck up inside my own asshole to say 'please' and 'thank you.'"), they'll be out of your life in no time. The energy among the waitstaff is funny, too, as we all are cranked up on coffee, adrenaline, or that crack-in-a-cup 5-Hour Energy, plus the insistent willpower to not fall apart at the expo line when an order of French toast has taken 30 minutes in the middle of the rush.

If working the dining room on a Friday or Saturday night can feel for an hour like battle, brunch is three hours of a dirty, bloody, cheek-rending, hair-pulling South Carolina bar fight. Someone's definitely getting fucked against their will.

Worst of all, the ratio of uptight, middle-aged (I'm calling 55 and higher middle-aged, because, come on...45 is still pretty fucking happening) church-goers is noticeably higher, and so the tip percentage goes down to an average of 13-15% from the standard fine dining 20%. Evangelicals look for any reason to obliterate that tip, so Sunday brunch must be like heaven for them.

The justification for a lower brunch tip cannot be that brunch somehow requires less work - certainly not. We wake up at 7:30 am on a Sunday, while most of our peers are peacefully snoring or having morning sex, to come down here and pour cup after cup of coffee for you. By the time most of the city is awake and kayaking around the lake, walking their dogs in the park, or kicking back with some huevos rancheros on a sunny patio with friends, we are delivering our 50th eggs Benedict to some sneering hag who apparently requires a hose to constantly pour decaf down her miserable gullet.

But you know, we also get the industry people - tables of four waiters and waitresses with sunglasses on, the cracking voices of those who have partied hard and are enjoying their day off, who applaud joyfully when you bring them mimosas, who are happy to be alive and eating lots of good food and not serving the assholes at the table next to them.

I hereby decree that everyone work a Sunday brunch once a year, if only to appreciate how wonderful it is not to. I am happy to be back amongst you, diners and colleagues - antagonistic though you may sometimes be. Although I find criticism - in its classic form - to be useful and necessary, a constant reminder of the gold standard by those who are exquisitely qualified in contextual analysis, I find it a bit like butchery - best left to those with the stomach for it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

More Writing Commandments

Let's talk about lazy, sloppy food writing. The following words are hereforthwith unbearable and may result in traffic accidents while I try to drive while bleeding from multiple orifices on my face:

Offerings - food, menu items, wines, whatever. Stop calling them "offerings." It brings to mind loin-clothed natives kneeling and presenting various choices of bành mí or smoothies before a foodie god (see "Foodie," below).

Nestled - a Chinese hole in the wall doesn't "nestle" in the corner of a strip mall. Fawns nestle; Easter eggs nestle. Acceptable alternatives: squatting, lurking, and emitting off-putting smells.

Foodie - every time you say this, a butterfly gets eaten by Andrew Zimmern. Adding a cutesy "-ie" to the end of a word we all require to survive implies a ridiculously misplaced sense of superiority. Instead, why not "epicurean" or "gastronome"? Oh yeah, because it doesn't disarm those around you who might mistake you for someone smart and grown up. Scary-wary! To be fair, plenty of people for whom I have a great deal of respect have succumbed to this word usage, just like that one time my boyfriend got bit by the zombie and we had to cut off his head. That sucked almost as much.

Yummy/Nummers/Nom-nom/Nom - see what I did there? Read out loud, that shows the precise decay of the English language, once a very fine language (but before that, absolute garbage, an ungainly mishmash of Germanic and Romantic languages). It's like the whole Kristen/Kirsten/Kiersten/Karsten/Kastin/Smashmash/Glahgah thing. Our brains are sloshing around in our heads from all the high fructose corn syrup and this is how it manifests. If you say "nom nom" at a hospital cafeteria, I do believe they will rush you to the ER, mistaking you for a stroke victim. Or maybe it's no mistake.

It's really just laziness, which, when you troll the food blogs and free-for-all review sites, is blisteringly common -- no, most people are not writers, but now they can be read by just about anyone. The danger is that we are an impressionable species - already, I've seen apostrophes misused by even businesses who paid a great deal of money for professional signage.
"Saturday's and Sunday's!"
"Walk in's welcome!"

With our education system in ruins, don't you think kids are going to grow up thinking that's the correct usage? THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Never mind them, plenty of grown-ups are mimicking each other's lusterless, dull language.

Oh yes, which reminds me:

Lackluster - the use of "lackluster" to describe food, experiences, wines, whathaveyou is just silly, given that the word itself is lackluster. Again, it's lazy to point out what something isn't rather than having to think about what it is. (And I know lazy.) Except "mirthless"... "mirthless" rules.

Examples of better words than "lackluster": sullen, limpid, flaccid, puny, dull, blah (blah is okay - it's onomatopoeic, the sound of barfing; unlike "yummy," which is just insipid.)

Words best convey your feelings when they put an image in the reader's mind. Words with no image - you can tell them by their lack of poetry - are lazy words. And if you don't care, you're not really a writer, no matter how many "hits" or "cools" your posts get.

It's a brave new world, but time will sort you out.