"After my friends and I get a table and place our order, one of our servers volunteers, in a jubilant voice, that Mr. Robuchon thinks we’ve made excellent decisions. I survey the path between my table and the door. Is it long and broad enough for cartwheels?"
Frank Bruni, "You May Kiss the Chef’s Napkin Ring," New York Times, January 24, 2007 (about a dinner at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon)
It is a familiar scene: After ordering fillet mignon at a pretentious restaurant, your server promptly responds, "An excellent choice sir."
But I am always suspicious. Is it really an excellent choice? Or does the waiter think everything on the menu is excellent? Or did he just say that to make me feel good about myself?
This type of comment is repeated so often it is becoming a meaningless cliche. For instance, yesterday at Dry Creek Cafe, I ordered tap water, and the server responded, "very good." Well, I know Houston tap water and, while ok, it is hardly "very good."
These compliments would be a lot more credible if, just once in a while, a waiter would wrinkle his nose and say:
•"You know, the arctic char is a little fishy tonight."
• Or, "You should know that the terrine is a French preparation and Chef’s real specialty is Italian."
• Or, "Honestly, the truffled pasta here is a little over priced."
• Or, "Of all the choices you might make, the baked chicken has to be the worst."
To be fair, I have heard some more honest comments from servers in salt-of-the-earth type restaurants. For instance, back when Nit Noi was a single hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Village, an old Thai waitress grimaced when I ordered a spicy, cold noodle dish called The Angel Lady. She said, "Maybe you not like that. You try Pad Thai?"
Oh, if only we could get such honesty from servers at Tony’s.