Sunday, March 30, 2008

Random Thoughts on Fine Dining

Agnes and I decided to eat out last night after our dance coaching session, and enjoyed a marvelous dinner at a great, modestly-priced Indian restaurant in Bethesda, MD - Haandi. Strongly recommended if you are in the area. But it also got me to thinking about the dining experience...

I was reading a collection of Sniglets (words that aren't in the dictionary, but ought to be) over at Verbicidal Tendencies the other day, and one of the words included was my old favorite, Peppier. The Peppier is the floating waiter in restaurants whose sole job seems to be circulating with a pepper mill, offering to grind fresh pepper onto whatever happens to be on your plate. I find this a little annoying, partly because I prefer to grind my own pepper, and partly because a whole subculture has grown up in restaurants around pepper mills and the drones that wander around operating them. One of the best I've seen was a restaurant that had a pepper mill with a built-in flashlight (no kidding) so that the Peppier could accurately grind in the low-light conditions prevalent in the establishment. I have also noted a trend toward ever-larger pepper won't be long before you'll have three guys marching up to your table with a pepper mill the size of a utility pole: one to aim, one to grind, and one in the middle to help hold it up. One of my Army friends once said the next thing would be the "crew-served pepper mill," and I think he was pretty close.

Waiters in most fine restaurants cultivate that aura of hauteur that tells you you're going to have a coronary when you see the bill. At more moderate restaurants, they're a bit more laid back - "Hi! I'm Wendy, and I'll be taking care of you this evening!" I sometimes reply, "Hi, we're Bilbo and Agnes, and we'll be your customers today!" This is where Agnes always hides her face behind the menu.

Next comes the Ritual of the Announcement of the Specials, in which the waiter reels off a list of the day's specials at high speed in a single breath: "Todaywehavethepureeofoctopuswithfenugreeksauceoverpastaforeighteenfifty." I can't listen that fast, particularly with the usual restaurant background noise, and so I always end up looking like a doofus by asking them to repeat a few times.

Why does every passing waiter need to stop and ask whether everything is satisfactory? It's extra annoying because they all learn at Waiters' School to carefully observe you so that they can properly time their approach and ask the question when your mouth is full:

Waiter: "Is everything delicious, sir?"

Bilbo: "Ummph glog hrumm!"

Waiter: "Great! Enjoy your dinner!"

Then there's that magic moment when the bill is presented. In the distant past, the waiter would automatically hand the bill to the man, on the expectation that he was treating the lady. Now, of course, many modern women would be gravely insulted to think that they were dependent on a lowly man to provide for their sustenence, and so the waiter carefully positions the bill on the table at a neutral spot midway between man and lady. And then the man pays it, anyhow. At least, in my experience. Maybe I need to go out with richer women.

And don't you just love it when the waiter sets the bill down and says something like, "I'll take care of this whenever you're ready." I always want to say, "Wow, that's really generous of you - thanks!", or, "Okay, come back in 2014."

But somehow, I don't think they'd appreciate the humor as much as I do.

Tonight, I'm fixing dinner. Unless I can talk Agnes into doing it. Enjoy your own dinner, whether you make it, order it, or go somewhere to have it. And see if my observations aren't right on the money.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



sally said...

I've never heard of a Peppier. Interesting word and site.

Over here in Palembang, I've found the waiters to be attentive without hovering too much. All except for the one we met at lunch last week. He seemed to day dream for each of the 2 seconds in between the orders I was telling him.

craziequeen said...

We had to laugh when we saw a Peppermill Holster on a waiter's belt - he was enjoying using it far too much, imho!
The skill of waiting for a mouth full before asking about the enjoyment of the meal is international - and most annoying!

In answer to your questions, my friend....I could tell you my number, but I would have to shoot you........ :-)
Oh, and my emergency care is all 21C [big grin]!


Mike said...

Next time if you get the question with your mouth full, just shake your head no and keep chewing.