Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Stepping Off The Assembly Line

If you have ever eaten out in Manhattan at 8:30pm on a Saturday night, then you know what it is like to eat dinner on an assembly line. How does it work? The instant you are seated, you are approached for a drink order, one of the only perks of assembly line dinning as fare as I’m concerned. Once your drinks arrive, the waiter takes your appetizer and entrée orders and within moments you are chomping on bread and your appetizer arrive. This is where the dinning experience turns into a strategic chess match between you the dinner and the wait staff. As you slowly pick at your appetizer, the buss person, who appears desperately to want your plate, continuously approaches you. If you tell them you are still eating and continue talking with your companion you are almost immediately approached by another waiter, ‘finished with that?” they ask helpfully. Finally, after a few more encounters, you place your fork and knife on the plate in an act of surrender and it is whisked away and instantly replaced with your entrée. Having been badgered into gulping down your appetizer, you are now not hungry enough to tear through your entrée. As you leisurely nibble at your food, you become aware that someone is watching your every move. Well, it isn’t a stalker watching you, it’s the host who apparently had plans for your very table fifteen minutes ago.

At this point in the meal you have a decision to make, you can go against the grain as many Saturday night diners determined to have an unhurried meal do and state your intentions. “I’m actually going to take my time with the entrée” you tell the horrified waiter who, hopefully, will carry your message back to the anxious host, ‘table nine isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.’ At this point the host will relinquish the table and make other plans for their unseated and also anxious party of two. Your other choice would be to yield to the busy pace of the restaurant and be ushered hastily through the rest of your meal until finally your dessert and coffee are delivered simultaneously with the bill and you are just about pushed out the door.
Adam Roberts of The Amateur Gourmet writes of a similar experience he had at Babbo in his A Blind Date at Babbo entry, "Almost instantly our plates were whisked away and our entrees arrived. It was 6:15. We'd only been sitting for 45 minutes. We were extraordinarily rushed.” This may seem harsh, and even rude, but clearly it is standard Saturday night service.

Now, by no means am I attempting to criticize Manhattan restaurants for their aggressive tactics; being in the restaurant industry myself I find it hard to point the finger. The waiters, bus-people, and hosts are not all conspiring to ruin your meal, it is only that they are required to accommodate everyone else in the city who is also trying to have an unhurried dining experience between the hours of 8pm and 10pm. Managing the floor on a fully booked night and seating reservations can be a delicate dance. Restaurant hosts are set up from the start to fulfill the almost impossible task of making certain what is infinitely unpredictable. For many busy New Yorkers what I have here described constitutes good service, and a meal in which you are allowed to catch your breathe between courses and are permitted to linger over your meal would be considered inattentive. It is for this reason that I suggest a third solution to Saturday night dining dash, have dinner in Brooklyn. If you are the type of diner that does not want to rush through your meal, go out to dinner in Brooklyn. There are an endless number of wonderful restaurants to choose from, and the pace is just about guaranteed to be more relaxed and enjoyable. Here are just a few places to think about:

  • Aliseo Osteria del Borgo, the quaint Italian restaurant on Vanderbilt Avenue is one of my most recent finds. It has received mixed reviews from City Searchers, but I can not find a single flaw in the two five hour, four course meals I have enjoyed there in the last six months.
  • Lou Lou, on Dekalb ave in Brooklyn is one of my longtime favorites. The classic French fair includes Steak Frites, Creamy Bouillabaisse, Mussels, a Coriander and Coffee rubbed Rib Eye, and an array of wonderful seafood dishes. The service is extremely friendly, unpretentious, and relaxed.
  • Chez Oscar, one of the older restaurants in the Forte Greene area, is more commonly complimented on its funky and inviting vibe than its cuisine. The outside tables are a wonderful spot to spend a few hours, a few courses, and a bottle of wine.
  • Po, I hear that the well-known Manhattan restaurant now has a twin sister on Smith Street. I have not been to the Brooklyn addition myself, yet.

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