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March 7, 2011

Restaurants vs. Customers - Frog and the Peach revisited

A new skirmish in the ceaseless War of Restaurant vs. Customers 

This New York Times article, Have It Your Way? Purist Chefs Won’t Have It, popped up on Friday but I thought I'd save it for today, when more people would see it.

Guess which one of these four hardcore examples I find the most defensible:

One restaurant in New York refuses its customers ketchup; a cafe won't give its customers espresso to go; Murray's Bagels refuses to toast its bagels; your cheese option on a Spotted Pig cheeseburger -- Roquefort or no cheese at all.

And then you hear a story like this; it happened this past weekend in an upscale Baltimore restaurant. A customer insisted that his shrimp be cooked without any salt or spice and then complained that it was bland and refused to pay for it.

Customers can be a trial, even when dinner's finished -- like the four young women who squatted at their table, on a busy Saturday in another white-tablecloth Baltimore restaurant, playing some kind of game with each other on their smartphones, for at least a half hour after their table had been cleared.



Posted by Richard Gorelick at 6:00 AM | | Comments (16)


Thanks for recalling the exhilerating Moore/Cook teamwork. Now on to a pet peeve -- restaurants that have no salt or pepper shakers on the table and look at you askance (at least their servers do) if you ask for them. When a chef feels that his palate is so pure that to tamper with it is hersey, thank you but I'll sup somewhere else next time.

Couldn't get the link to work. I googled it though- definitely an interesting read.

I fall for the Gorelick Missling Link everytime. When will I learn?!

The NYT link is here:

so like, the best example local example I know of this is Golden West. Yes, they use butter to cook their food, and no, you can't have the chile sauce on the side.

What I don't get are chefs that won't accommodate reasonable health concerns. One of the restaurants featured in the NYT article won't serve decaf? There are lots of people who really like coffee but their doctors make them stick to the unleaded variety.

Then again, I think I read on this very blog that after a certain hour, restaurants just stop brewing decaf anyway. So, who knows what you'll be getting in your cup anyway ...

aarggh -- link fixed

When I was a server in Little Italy (and elsewhere), on busy nights we only brewed decaf. When we were that busy, the servers felt we couldn't trust ourselves 100 percent not to mix up caff and decaf -- a mistake that could be seriously dangerous for people with heart conditions or high blood pressure. Plus, brewing enough caff and decaf for a 20-top is way too time-consuming, and tables get cranky when it takes forever to get their coffee (even if you explain you're brewing it fresh -- they still expect it within three minutes of ordering).

Learning that restaurants sometimes only serve decaf goes a long way in explaining why I often dislike the coffee served. Next time I get a sub-par cup I'll have to ask if they have any "real" stuff!

In the spirit of disclosure, I am a professional chef in the area. I helm a restaurant that could be best defined as "eclectic" and possibly (God help me) a gastro pub. (I hate that term.)
Before I get into it, if you have a bona fide food sensitivity, I will go out of my way to go to your table if possible and discuss it personally if I am able. I take your sensitivity gravely serious. I will accommodate you as best as I can, because you can’t help it, and I’m okay with that. I’m sorry you can’t enjoy breads or nuts. I’ll work with you every step of the way.
I don’t mean to go off on a rant, but…
You, the dining public, come to my establishment because perhaps you have heard that the food was food here.
You come in, you pick apart my well-thought out menu, my carefully placed ingredients and flavor profiles, dump ketchup on my Monkfish Osso Bucco (it happened. I became mildly homicidal). After all, the customer is ALWAYS right, right?
With all due respect to you, I am a professional. Understand that I pour my heart, my soul, and my very physical well being into my dishes. Understand that my career is the culmination of years of no sleep, burns, cuts, ruined relationships, insurmountable stress, ulcers, migraines, heat, and pressure you will never understand. My performance is on your plate. My swan song is your perfectly caramelized crème brule. Critique it AFTER you’ve tried what I’m offering, don’t dare deconstruct it before I have an opportunity to show my skill.
I appreciate that you, the customer, comes into my dining room to sample my food every night. But understand that I don’t particularly care for your opinion when it comes to my dishes before you’ve tasted them.
Marco Pierre White put it best (and I paraphrase): “I don’t go to your home for a dinner party and tell you how to cook, critique your tableware, your curtains, the painting on the wall. I expect the same from the people coming into Harveys.”
Every yahoo out there with Food Network thinks they are the next Ruth Reichl or Craig Claiborne. Trust me, they are further from that than they could ever know.
If you think you know better than me, then please, open up a restaurant and realize just how hard this business is, and why I take it personally when you attempt to modify my dishes. Maybe walking a mile in my Dansko’s will change your mind.

Anon seems to be the chef at Meli. Hint: if you want to be anonymous don't mention unique signature dishes like monkfish osso bucco.

Hey I picked up Monk Fish Osso Bucco back in the days in Oceana working the middle station. Anyway, completely agree w/ David. Remember when Momofuku almost went belly up when it first opened? Trying to accommodate the vegetarians & all those special request NYer's luv to demand. He then decided to go all in & serve food the way he think he should as the chef/owner of a business. The rest is history. We are in the hospitality industry & must be hospitable. But where is the line crossed? As Anonymous states, we are professionals in our field. Have a little confidence in our culinary acumen. If you hate the dish, then you're in luck. We live in a blogging generation where your vents will go viral instantly. Bon appetite.

Owl Meat Gremolata--

Nope, I am not the chef there. Monk Osso is not mutually exclusive to Meli. And even you can admit that Ketchup (or is it Catsup?) doesn't belong anywhere near Osso Bucco, be it the cud chewing or bottom feeding variety...

-Chef Anonymous

I took a shot. Blame it on my faith in Google. This is the first time I've heard of monkfish osso bucco.

Anon2, how does vegetarian fall under "special request"? It's not that special, probably about 3% of Americans, and likely about to be a lot more during Lent.

I picked up Monk Fish Osso Bucco back in the days in Oceana working the middle station

On your way to Mordor?

LOL... no not middle earth, back in the days on w. 59th or was it 56th?? Worked there when RIck Moonen manned the kitchen. Sauron had nothing on Rick!

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner blog.
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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