The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
Sam had never been to an opening before. As she was seated she was handed an envelope. Inside she found seventy five dollars in play money, a piece of paper with some menu items on it, an evaluation form and instructions. Upon reading the instructions she learned that the menu items were what she was to order, the money was to pay with and leave a tip and the evaluation form was to be filled out before she left.
Her order was Oysters with pine nuts and capers, a Mediterranean Salad and a Grilled Tuna "Sofrito", for dessert she would be having the Chocolate Napoleon. "Sounds good to me," Sam said as Jimmy read his menu.
Just then the waiter appeared, "Welcome folks, I'm Francis I'll be your server this evening. Can I answer any questions about the menu or tonights' agenda for you?"
"No, I think we understand the procedure," Sam said with a smile.
"Well then I'll take your order...," Francis pulled his waiters pad out from the back of his apron and with pen ready Sam began.
"Can you tell me about the Oysters?", Sam asked playfully.
"Oh they are delightful, we had a menu tasting yesterday. The oyster themselves are plump and juicy, they are breaded with a blend of bread crumbs mixed with ground pine nuts and fresh thyme. Then they are sautéed and served with a caper-lemon aioli." Francis replied, with touch of pride in his voice that he knew the answer.
"Well I think I'll have that for an appetizer, the Mediterranean salad, and the Grilled Tuna 'Sofrito' for my entree. and would save me one of those Chocolate Napoleons for dessert, that sounds wonderful." Sam was enjoying this.
"OK, I'll see what I can do," Francis said with a grin. "And you sir?"
Jimmy gave his order, they both ordered Iced Tea, and Francis went off to enter the order on the computer.
A few minutes later the first course was served. "Here we go folks, The lady gets the oysters and sir you ordered the shrimp cocktail." The food runner said as she served the dishes.
The plates looked spectacular. The oysters were arranged in a circle over paper thin circles of lemon with the aioli striped across them. The plate was garnished with a tiny pile of exotic baby lettuce tossed in a light vinaigrette. The shrimp cocktail consisted of four huge shrimp perfectly colored over the edge of an over-sized cocktail glass with a light green colored dipping sauce in the center topped with tiny diced of tomato and cilantro and a wheel of lemon.
"Beautiful", Sam said as she picked up her fork. She lifted one of the oysters to her lips and noted the wonderful fresh thyme aroma as she bit into to oyster. "WOW" she thought to herself. "This is plump and juicy but man, to much salt. I don't even think I can eat the sauce." She told Jimmy.
"Mine is delightful." Jimmy said as he finished his second shrimp. "The sauce is smooth and herbaceous, and a think a taste a bit of Tequila, very nice. Would you like to trade?" Jimmy asked.
"Sure, these oysters are great but the sauce is way to salty." Sam answered.
They switched, Jim agreed with Sam's' evaluation. He did his best to scrape the sauce off and just eat the oysters. They filled out the evaluation forms for the first course. They graded the dish on taste, portion, presentation and what they thought it should cost. Then wrote their comments..."TOO SALTY—the oyster were great but the sauce inedible!" Sam wrote.
With that, Sam noticed that they hadn't been served their drinks. She also noticed that the waiter was nowhere to be found. She washed the salt flavor out of her mouth with water as the next course was served. She asked the runner for the Iced Tea, she looked puzzled but went off to find the waiter.
The salad course consisted of smaller plates with beautifully fresh mixed lettuce topped with Greek olives, goat cheese, red onion and crostini topped with diced tomatoes. The dressing looked like straight oil though. Sam took a fork-full.
"Nice and fresh," she said. "But too much oil. Boy, I'm just unlucky tonight. Am I being too picky?", she asked Jimmy.
"No, I agree again. The dressing has a nice flavor, I just think there's too much and its a little separated. But the lettuce is nice and fresh." Jim said.
They ate what they could, and pushed the plates aside. Sam looked around for "Francis" but couldn't find him. "Boy, I still want that Iced Tea." She said. Dinner isn't so great she thought. But she was still smiling. The restaurant was beautiful and the mood of the room was great. Just then the waiter appeared with her Iced Tea.
"I'm sorry, I'm a little nervous tonight." Francis apologized. "Your entrees are on their way." He said as he cleared the salad plates.
Sam and Jimmy wrote their notes on the salad course as the entrees were served. Once again the plates were beautiful.
"Now this is wonderful!" Sam decreed as she sliced off her second bite of tuna. The "Sofrito" sauce was a light vinaigrette with all sorts of herbs and a pale yellow hue. The tuna itself was cut thick and seared to a perfect medium rare.
Jimmy was served a thick cut sirloin steak topped with grilled shrimp. "This is beautiful," he said "unfortunately I ordered the salmon with pistachio and rosemary."
Sam giggled. "Well if we could find a waiter you could send it back." She snickered.
Jimmy waited a few minutes, feeling a little uncomfortable, and then took a nice big slice of the medium rare sirloin steak. "Delicious" he said. Scott, the owner, approached their table.
"How is everything?" he said in his most professional manner.
"Well, there are some areas for improvement." Sam conceded.
"Oh, problems?" Scott asked with a concerned look on his face.
"Yeah, nothing too serious but we wrote them all down," Sam said pointing to their evaluation forms.
Just then the food runner appeared with a plate of salmon pistachio. "I'm sorry, I served you the wrong thing," She said as she grabbed the plate out from under Jimmy and replaced it with the salmon.
Even Scott was a little upset with the briskness of that encounter. Wow, we have some work to do here!
It looks like they need a little work. What do you think the issue is, recipes, attention to detail, training, or just incompetance. How would you react to this type of meal?
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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