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.
Jan opened the envelope from "Tuttopronto". She scanned the letter and then saw the gift certificate attached to the back of it. She was pleased with the letter and the fact that they picked up the entire tab for dinner. A few days had passed and she wasn't really as upset as she thought she was. This gift certificate well surpassed her expectations.
Tom was reading the newspaper, and muttered a hello to Jan. She told him about the letter. They both didn't really know how to act. They were happy with the outcome of the telephone call. The comped dinner was more than they expected in the first place. They were overwhelmed at the generosity of the restaurant and weren't sure if they deserved this kind of attention.
"They either make a lot of money and don't have to worry about a hundred and twenty five dollar gift certificate, or they are really sorry about the experience. Maybe they really don't make that many mistakes." Jan thought aloud.
Tom smiled at the thought of having another dinner out. They didn't get out much, and now they had an excuse to get a baby-sitter. "Too bad they didn't include some cash for a baby-sitter!" he said jokingly. "Shall we make a reservation for next weekend?"
Jan considered it, but declined. "You know, I told Phoebe about the terrible time we had. I feel a little guilty now. She changed her plans based on what I told her. Maybe we should use the gift certificate to take her and Joe for dinner. We never get to treat anyone for dinner. It might be fun. I'll tell her the whole story. Then we can decide together what to think of the place."
Tom agreed with Jan's idea. Jan decided to call Phoebe later that day and try to make plans for that coming Friday night.
Phoebe answered on the first ring. Jan told her the story. Phoebe was sorry she had changed her reservation. She had a story of her own to tell. She had wound up going to Chez Bientemps, "Chez Big Bucks," as she called it, and it turned out that their guest was on a very restrictive diet. He couldn't eat any fat. No cream, butter, oil, or meat. The restaurant was "Prix fix" at $75.00 per person, and there wasn't anything he could eat on the menu. When he informed the waiter of his dilemma, very apologetically she assured, the waiter "copped an attitude."
After disappearing into the kitchen for a few minutes, he returned with an even worse attitude. Evidently the chef did not like special orders. He had agreed to make a "Vegetable Cassoulet" for the entree; but would only serve the rest of the courses without the offensive ingredients.
Joe's Client, Mr. Legume, agreed to the proposition. However, when the first course was served, Mr. Legume received a bowl with only a pinch of lobster and fresh yellow corn tossed in lemon juice. The rest of the party received the same bowl, but with a delicious creamy-buttery shellfish broth to finish the soup. The pasta course wasn't so bad. Everyone else at the table received baby vegetables tossed in white truffle oil with fresh lemon and black pepper Penne pasta. He received the vegetables steamed and a little stewed tomato for sauce.
Phoebe went on to describe the salad course as a delightful mix of wild lettuces. Different from the typical "Mesclun" that most restaurants use. It had everything from baby magenta spinach and fresh chervil to frizze and baby arugala. It was dressed with a light lemon—saffron infused olive oil, and topped with chives and confit of duck. Mr. Legume's salad was dry, with a little balsamic vinegar on the side. The entree course was acceptable but not exciting. It was basically just all the vegetables that were in all of the previous dishes stewed in a vegetable stock.
Needless to say the meal was less than exciting and the service was less than compassionate. To top it off, the meal did not help to impress the client. Joe didn't stand much of a chance at landing the account. The chef or the meal did not "create friendliness and cordiality among men", as Jacques Pepin puts it in his book "La Technique". Pepin was Phoebe's favorite food writer and chef.
Jan was sorry that she had suggested that Phoebe not go to Tuttopronto. If nothing else, the service at Tuttopronto was at least compassionate. They didn't seem competent at the time; but at least cared about the guest. Marcel surely would not have treated the special order with the contempt shown at Chez Big bucks (and the price would have been less).
They agreed on dinner Friday night. They decided on an early dinner and to pool a baby-sitter. Jan called and got a baby-sitter for all the kids. Tom made the reservation for 6:00 Friday night. The hostess at the restaurant acknowledged the time and date, reminded Tom that Tuttopronto was a "No Smoking" establishment and ended the call with a "Thank You".
They all looked forward to a night out with friends.
What do you think of Chateau Bientemps? How do you react to special orders? Are you afraid to make a special request at a restaurant? How do you think dinner will go at Tuttopronto?
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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