Last night I went to a new restaurant. I was alone but had high expectations because I’d just read about the place in a write up by a prominent food writer.
I sat at the bar as is my wont. It was early and the place wasn’t very busy. I liked the room and was greeted by a staff member with one of those smiles that makes you smile back and keeps you smiling till you feel like an idiot and have to force yourself to stop.
The bartender greets me warmly. He has too many creepy tattoos but I overlook that. ”Would you like anything to drink?” he asks
“I’ll start with water,” I say. “Something fizzy.”
“We have Q Water,” he says.
“Does it have bubbles,” I ask.
“Oh, maybe you don’t know what Q Water is,” he says. But I do know. In fact I hate that company but it has nothing to do with the product. When I was building my restaurant they called me to see if I’d meet with their rep to discuss installing their water system. I agreed. They called back to ask if I understood that P Water systems start at $5000 and did I think I could afford that. ”You know what,” I said. “My business clearly isn’t of interest to you. Let’s forget the whole thing.” From time to time they call me to set up an appointment but I politely decline.
I interrupt his description of the P Water system to ask a question. “Does it have bubbles,” I say, a little annoyed now.
“Yes and it costs $2.50 for all you can drink,” he says.
“Let’s have some then,” I say wanting to be sarcastic or sardonic but just wanting something wet in my mouth to wash away the dust of a hard day in the deli.
“Ever been here before,” he asks.
“First time,” I say.
“Do you live nearby,” he asks.
“I do,” I said. “Right around the corner.” I’m looking at the drinks list now. Some really nice beers.
“What do you normally drink,” he asks.
“Depends what I’m eating,” I say.
“Good answer,” he says. Now I’m feeling like we’re not friends, never will be friends and maybe I even hate him a little. He describes the various beers and I order the one that I think will go well with the steak I’ve identified as my date for the evening. Here you order sides separately and as I’m looking he suggests the one with the thing in it that I hate.
“I think I’ll order this other one,” I say.
“That other one is my favourite,” he says. Now I’m plain angry at him. I don’t change my order. A few minutes later my steak comes. Its a nice piece of meat and cooked perfectly but not seasoned at all. I ask the walking ink blot for salt and pepper.
He brings a pepper mill and a little dish of salt. I remark to myself that I’m disappointed that they don’t use fancy salt like sel gris or Maldon Salt or at least Kosher salt. This stuff has the granularity of table salt. I sprinkle some liberally but it doesn’t seem to affect the flavour. I wonder to myself if my salt sensitivity is off because I’m used to saltier foods. I sprinkle more on. Not salty at all. I lick my finger and poke it in the dish.
“Excuse me,” I say. “This is sugar.” The bartender reacts with revulsion and sincere apology. He goes and gets a dish of salt. Upon his return with the Maldon Salt (I know, right?) he tells me that my next beer is on him. I salt my food but can’t eat another bite ‘cuz its too fucking sweet.
“Are you ready for that beer,” he asks.
“No, I’m going to call it a day,” I said. ”Just the bill please.” When it comes he took care of the beer and the P Water but I didn’t think this was right. Earlier this evening I told a friend about what happened and she agreed they should have given me another steak. While I know they should have and if I’d have said something I’m sure they would have but I didn’t want to be THAT guy (even if I clearly am THAT guy).
And here’s why I wrote that header on this post: I said nothing because the place is new. Starting a restaurant is really hard. People make mistakes. Dude knows he fucked up. Should I write to his boss and demand a free meal? Should I get him fired? Of course not. That would expose me as the asshole that few people know I really am (I’m really not an asshole. I thought I was, but I was mistaken)
In writing this I’ve taken great pains to make the place unidentifiable because it must not be judged on bullshit like this. I’ve always said that you have to love a place to venture in within the first 3 months of it’s opening because stuff like this always happens. They’ll work out the kinks. They’ll season the steaks better. They’ll know when to offer suggestions and when not to.
It is so easy to criticize. To pick apart someone else’s mistakes and hold them up to ridicule. Can you believe that asshole didn’t know the difference between salt and sugar? Yeah, I can believe it because he’s new and he’s just been told 6,582 new things. He’s trying his best.
That being said, something tells me the dude with the ink won’t be there when I return. However, that girl and her unforgettable smile better be.