This month I wanted to pass on a few of the pet peeves I’ve developed over a lifetime of going to restaurants. This is all in good fun, and I never lose sight of how fortunate it is to be so well-fed. That being said, the following five “horrors” will, at best, deflate me at my table like a leaky balloon, or at worst, make me run screaming from the restaurant. Here’s the countdown…
5. The Pile-Up
I swear this phenomenon has become worse in recent years: the complete disregard that some servers have for pacing a meal. God help you if you order soup, a crab cake and chicken Marsala without giving detailed instructions on when to bring each course, otherwise there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll be eating them all at once. The calm before this storm usually lasts awhile: nothing comes to your table, and you can find neither hide nor hair of your server. This usually means it’s time to buckle up for … The Pile-Up.
Watch in disbelief as “runners” approach you laden with an alarming number of plates. One sweeps the candle and condiments to the side as the other attempts to fit everything you ordered for the evening’s meal onto your table. You are left to gape like a decanted goldfish as you watch them flee into the darkness, leaving you with the dining equivalent of Sophie’s choice. Maybe it was an honest mistake, but most likely the server just wants you out of his hair and his 15 percent. Whatever the reason, it’s a sign that you’re in a bad restaurant.
4. Cold Butter
The evening is already off to a rocky start when a server slaps a plastic basket of plain white bread onto your table. But hold on, things are undoubtedly about to get worse. Fish through the basket and you will find the dreaded, pre-wrapped pats of rock-hard butter. You can either dive right in, shredding your bread into a weird, lumpy mess, or, you can test your command of nonchalance as you decide in what warm crevice of your body you’ll store the pats until they achieve spreadable consistency. Très elegant!
3. Not Taking Breakfast Reservations
Really? When we need reservations the most? When we’re tired and hung over? Nowadays, one can tell which restaurants are known for their breakfasts in West Hollywood by simply driving past these queues where bleary eyed rabble loiter near the gutter for their pancake-flipping overlords. So the waffles have peanut butter and chocolate on them. It’s still just breakfast, people.
If the food isn’t as good as Salt’s Cure or if the staff isn’t as sweet as the folks at Kitchen 24 then there’s no chance I’m flirting with heat stroke to make it convenient for a restaurant owner. What’s next? Bottle service to secure a table for a Denver omelet? Let us have our dignity back.
Enough. We get it: it tastes bitter so it must be for sophisticated palates. There are far too many Italian restaurants that spritz this awful weed with atomized olive oil, mound it on a plate, and call it a salad. Perhaps I’m jeopardizing my bona fides by admitting this, but all of my favorite salads in the Los Angeles area are bibb, spinach or iceberg based.
If you want a salad that actually tastes good try the spinning salad that comes with your meal at Lawry’s, or the chiffonade salad at Musso and Frank in Hollywood. And for the love of all things holy, stop putting arugula on pizza. That should be punishable by prison time.
1. Fine Dining Babies
I call them “birds of prey” and you can zero in on them the moment you enter a restaurant. Just listen for the ear-piercing screeches. Unless the establishment you’re in has an aviary attached, you are in the presence of babies who have no business being in an upscale restaurant.
I distinctly remember spending A LOT of time with babysitters when I was a toddler in the 1970’s. And that was just and right, because I had no table manners. I would drool a lot (and hardly in a complimentary way), and I would scream periodically for no reason. My parents would never have let me set foot in a restaurant that had candlelight.
God knows, there are some in L.A. who elevate lack of shame to Olympian standards. But there’s a problem inherent in deeming every restaurant “family friendly” for the sake of convenience: there is no turning back. If you are one of those who have driven binkies into the heart of every special occasion restaurant in town, then get ready to share your 25th wedding anniversary dinner with someone else’s “bird of prey” screeching at the next table. Check please.