Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fine Food Folly

This is a cautionary tale for those not in the restaurant business. Those who share my profession will understand; those who do not will do well to learn from the following story with accompanying screed. The lesson is simple. Do not order food "to go" from a fine dining restaurant.

While this does indeed require a bit of discrimination on the part of the diner, it ought not be difficult to tell the difference. Really. Wingstop and Domino's are definitely on the list of acceptable places from which one may legitimately expect food of a certain caliber--can you say fresh and hot?--whereas some place--a 'real' restaurant'--that serves food that relies not simply on the hot sauce that the wings are dipped in for flavor, but which instead calls on a whole host of sensory inputs--eye, nose, tongue and even ear--to produce the finished product; the food from these places should simply never be consumed out of an aluminum 'to-go' tin. This seems almost obvious, but in fact, people still do not get it.

Last night, at 8 o'clock--in other words during the rush--I took a 'to-go' order over the phone and had a waiter turn it in to the kitchen. Normally I am not happy to take these orders, even on a slow night, for the reasons I've outlined above, but it s always annoying to turn in a to go order at the peak of a rush on a busy night. The chefs don't like it and we have to pack it all up and label it as it comes off the line, so it takes up time and room in the crowded tray area. Nonetheless, we did it, and had it ready to go as promised, by 8:30.

They didn't show up till 8:50, at least, and it was only at about 9:15 or so that I got the follow-up call. She asked to speak to the manager. Not a good sign. Then she began to complain. The food, for which--I had to agree--they had indeed just paid nearly three hundred dollars, was "crammed into the to-go tins with no care", she began. "The steak was on top of the potatoes, and the sauce had run everywhere. This", she said, was "not acceptable". She wanted to know what I would do about it.

Before I could even begin, I really had no choice, of course, but I countered at least with some defense. In fact, I pointed out, the steak she was referring to is actually served on top of the potatoes, and the sauce goes on top of that. Though I didn't say this, it is also served on a proper Bernadaud china plate, mind you, with a linen napkin, Cristoffle cutlery and fine wine glasses that are hopefully partially full. For the to-go order in question, however, some sauces, which are served separately at the table, were placed in special side containers. I don't like it especially, but in general, it's fair to say that the presentation we are used to offering at table simply is not possible in the confines of a ten-inch round metal tin. What I don't like about it is that we do it at all, but I would never say that, even to the owner, alas. My weak defense notwithstanding, she was adamant that we should have done a better job, so there was no point in arguing.

The bottom line was that I was obliged to 'comp'--that is gave away--the entire meal. Note that they complained only about the entrees; the desserts were just free, apparently not unpleasant even to look at let alone taste. I daresay, the steak and potatoes probably tasted pretty good once they were free of the bitter taste of the expense.

So what I wanted to say, but didn't was: Well what did you expect? Ironically, this applies to me too.

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