Saturday, April 28, 2007

Free Water!

If you've ever watched NY1, you've probably come across one of the cheezy Nino's commercials. One promoting their "FREE WATER" and the other featuring the owner, Nino, as the chef, waiter, maitre d', and bus boy with the genius tagline "Nino can't be everywhere. Or can he?" Neither of these commercials have ever made me want to go to one of his restaurants. Something about public access television and badly produced commercials just doesn't sit well. But the "Free Water" line kind of became an ongoing joke between me and my sister. We had lived 4 blocks from Nino's positano for 2 years and had never stepped foot in the establishment. One rainy Sunday night, we finally decided to give it a try. When we walked in a man in a full suit sat us at our table. The entire place was pretty empty though. The same man in the suit gave us our menu and asked us for our drink order. I almost felt like it was straight out of the Nino can't be everywhere commercial. When he asked us what type of water we wanted. My sister quickly answered, "Ice water is fine." As he left to go tell a busboy, I said to my sis, "Don't you remember from the commercial--water is free!" As the busboy poured our water, I looked at the glass and the slogan was written directly on the glass.

I almost died laughing. Wow, who was marketing for them? It's funny to try to be classy but yet come of as well...corny.
While the atmosphere was a ilttle quiet- no music to mask the awkward silence of the place...we found many enticing items on the menu. We ended up starting with the grilled calamari and special shrimp salad. Both were really great epecially the shrimp salad that was served with the ripest tomatoes and fresh beefy asparagus. We both decided on the Rigatoni with egglplant, tomatoes, and ricotta salata. The entree was simple and really well done and made us forget that we were in a place that advertises on local tv or that our waiter was this weirdly intense guy in a suit. Maybe it was the prenotions that we came in with, or that we ate there at 830pm on a rainy Sunday night but the food completely made up for it all. It was nothing inventive or very interesting but it was good traditional Southern Italian Fare and for that and the proximity to my apartment, I would go back. But if it's not in your hood and the advertisements don't completely entice you then I don't think it's worth the trek...even if they do serve FREE WATER.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Dinner Compromise

I go to dinner with A.Duh, Doogs, and Wild Ginger quite often and I love enjoying a night of food, wine and chatter with my girls--but it's always quite hard to find a restaurant that everyone is happy with. Either the location is off for some or the food is too expensive for others or they don't take reservations or A.Duh is allergic to almost everything on the menu (not her fault Obviously! but def a consideration). Somehow something so simple becomes something extremely complex. Thus, cut to the day a couple weeks ago where Doogs and I were on the phone for an hour and a half going through restaurants online via reviews and menus trying to find a good spot for the approaching night. It would be easy to go to a staple restaurant but it's always so much fun to try something new. By the time, Doogs called the fifth spot, she was about to give up. Finally though--a mirage a the end of the desert.

When we arrived at Alias in LES we expected little. The outside of this restaurant definitely speaks little for what the inside looks like or how the food tastes. On a Saturday night, the entire restaurant was packed to the max for our 10PM reservations. As we walked inside, I heard the host tell a walk-in, it would be an hour till he had a table for them. We sat at a four top in the corner and immediately ordered a sangria. The sangria was really good- a tad bit different than other sangrias I've tasted before almost like a cinnamon stick had been marinating in the pitcher for awhile. Wild Ginger had opted not to drink that night. Yes,bizzare...we all know. As we decided what to order, we noticed many of the menu items were infused with nuts: pignoli nuts in the pesto sauce or sesame oil in the hummus dip that was offered with the bread at the table (which was a nice surprise). This hindered A.Duh from some apps and entrees but she still managed to get adventurous and try the Duck confit appetizer split with wild ging and the shrimp tacos. Doogs and I split the parmesan gnocci served in a pesto sauce with broccoli rabe sprinkled with parm cheese as well. This was awesome esp the veggies. For mains, I got the cod--which was a tiny bit salty (which means it was really salty cause I LOVE salt). Doogs got half shrimp/half duck tacos. The Duck tacos were awesome--kind of sweet and a very interesting twist on classic mexican cuisine. Wild ginger got the vegetable plate in which our waiter persuaded her to try kale as one of three side dishes. As much as Kale is not a popular veggie, it was actually really good. By the end of the meal, all of us were full, a lil buzzed (except for Ging), and happy when the bill came. I think we paid around 40 bucks a piece.

We all spoke about how we all enjoyed our meals and how we would totally come back. It seemed to fit everyone's criteria for location, expense and taste--the only problem is still A.Duh's nut allergy. Girl, we need to get you an epi pen!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Serving Assumptions

As an ex-server, I often sympathize with waiters. I understand what they are going through when they are busy, or when someone orders a million modifiers, or when they fuck up. I understand what it's like to deal with pain-in-the-ass customers; the type who have a problem with everything or who are just outright rude. I understand how it makes your day when you have a really pleasant table who you can joke with or when a customer gives you a compliment. But what I really understand is good service vs. bad service or even better yet, stupid service.

The entire goal of a server is to communicate. A server is supposed to communicate what the kitchen has to offer and what the customer's wants and needs are. They are the liason between the client and the bar and kitchen. So, when a person is not a good communicator and listener this poses a problem. This weekend I had an issue at two different places due to the lack of listening and communicating skills of the servers. Fortunately, the way things were handled after we voiced our concerns was done so in a positive way and really reflected the client service of these two establishments.

Last nite the first place me and and A.Duh went to was Divine Bar, as we were looking for a low key night to just chit chat and have a couple glasses of wine. Maybe it was my stupidity for not realizing the wine costed $20 a glass and not $20 for a bottle or half bottle--but there were no labels in the dessert wine section. However, when we asked for this particular wine, I clearly said, "Can we have this..." I think rarely do two girls in their 20's share a glass of wine in a grapa glass. So when he brought out 1 glass of wine and set it in the middle of the table, I stared back at the waiter blankly. "Umm, uh...we didn't realize this was just a glass...we thought it was bottle or half bottle...?" "Yeah," he uttered back, "this is some of the expensive stuff." I mean c'mon, how can one make that sort of assumption? Do you assume a customer wants their burger rare? Can you actually assume that when two people sit down at a table at a wine bar that they are sharing ONE glass of wine, especially when there is a TWO drink minimum. WOW. It's really simple to just ask or clearly state what something is just in case a customer isn't aware. Anyways, he was cute and nice about it so no harm no foul. I guess it's not his fault that he didn't have much common sense. It's ok...he had one thing going for him; at least he was pretty.

The second communication problem of the weekend happened today. A.Duh and I had just walked 10 miles in the MS Walk and wanted to sit down, relax, and get some beer and grub. We went to Heartland Brewery which A.Duh gravitated towards for the popcorn shrimp. Needless to say they were busy-- they had overflow from all the walk participants, not to mention their regular tourists in the South Street Seaport. So when our waiter came over to shmooze with us and take our order, he got halfway through our order and started to help another customer. He managed to ring in 1 salad and two beers. Not quite what we intended to order. When he came back we said to add another salad to the order. Because he was so all over the place we decided not to confuse him with the popcorn shrimp (a big letdown by the way). But then 5 minutes later one salad came out that hardly looked like the Taco salad that had been ordered. And 20 minutes later, we still hadn't recieved the second salad. When we finally got the second salad--again it was merely lettuce and chicken. None of the ingredients listed on the menu were part of the salad. Our waiter came over to ask us how our food was and we were frank. "Well, its not really what it said it was on the menu--there's no pico de gallo, corn, avocado or tortillas. Is this what the taco salad is?" Our waiter blinked his eyes. I think he seriously had no idea what anything was. "Yeah, that's it. " And walked away. He clearly didn't know what to do. I don't think he's used to people being honest about their food. A manager came over to see if we got our food okay as she saw us waiting for a while. Again, we were honest. As I replied, "It's fine. It is what it is." She said, "No it's not okay. You're missing all the good stuff." And she trecked into the kitchen to go get what was missing. When she arrived back with the rest of our salads she apologized and was very nice about it. It was the right thing to do. Our waiter soon followed suit, stating that the kitchen must've read the dressing on the side and assumed not to put in those ingredients either (what?). Umm ok, that's the most retarded thing I've ever heard. Then he tried to redeem himself by telling us he would give us our 2nd beers on him. We opted not to get another round. Our salads still weren't that good and we just needed to get out of that place, but when our check came he left our original beers on there, which totally defeated the purpose of his attempted gesture. Whatever --he had already lost the battle with us especially when we watched him take back our check with our credit card and do a shot with other staff members before he swiped our cards.

Again, I loved my days as a server and understand the entire experience and trust me, I did my share of shot taking and having fun with my co workers--but if a table was already having issues and I was being a major dumbass I wouldn't stand in front of their table taking a shot while I held their check in my hand and they waited impatiently. Not only did he make bad assumptions and have problems communicating clearly but he had problems fixing his mistakes. His manager was his saving grace.

I think waiting tables is an extremely hard job. You have to wear a smile even when you're not happy, appease customers even when they are assholes, and fufill needs even when too many people need fufilling--BUT if you don't know how to communicate maybe you should consider another career or at least be smart enough to never assume and ask twice.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Making Friends

This post has nothing to do with food at all--it's just a cautionary tale. Note: No matter how drunk you are, or how good of an idea you think it is to make friends with a fellow tenant in the elevator at 4am after a night of drinking, it's probably not in your best interest. In your fuzzy head you think "What's another drink amongst friends?" You only realize what a bad idea this is later. Being drunk and naive, you slowly begin to realize that this guy doesn't want to just be your friend, and after innocently hanging out a couple times you also realize he's kind of an asshole, kind of a tool, and you should probably stop anything before it begins. Sorry dude, it's not attractive to make sexual comments in front of a girl you're trying to mack on--it's really not going to get you far and you look pretty sleazy. So you chalk it all up to experience (meaning, that wasn't fun and don't ever do it again) and move on and forget that anything happened.

All is forgotten, until six months later (ie. today) as you're coming home from the gym looking really hot (I mean in temperature and kinda sweaty too...seriously). An event you knew would happen eventually, though you hoped you would be lucky enough to avoid...the time has come when you have to share an uncomfortable elevator ride with him AND two of his friends. Awkward doesn't even describe it. It's crazy enough that you've managed not to bump into him since the summer, but now the day has finally arrived when you are face to face with this person you've so desperately tried to avoid and are slumped into a 2x2 elevator pretending not to know him. You can only stare at the elevator numbers for so long as they slowly move from the first to the second floor and so on. God, I shouldn't be allowed to drink sometimes...

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Crumby Passover

For those who aren’t forced to eat unleavened bread as a holiday tradition, Matzoh can be somewhat tasty and interesting. For those chosen people, who for over a week reluctantly eat the stale flat crispy pieces, the novelty has definitely worn off. Welcome to Passover: the carbohydrate lover’s worst nightmare. Problem is the holiday doesn’t just stop at bread. For those people who observe it (and are not of Safardic decent), the tradition also includes: rice, pasta, corn, vinegar, corn syrup, corn oil, and anything with grain (recently pot was added to the list too as it contains hemp seed- I mean c’mon!). When I moved out of my house, however, I drew the line at pretty much rice pasta and bread. You don’t realize how many foods contain vinegar and corn syrup until you are unable to partake in them (Think anything from Ketchup and salad dressing to beer to Jelly beans and gum!).

There are some foods that come out during the holiday time, however, that I really enjoy. A little Jewish Food 101: Take the food called Matzah Farfel. It’s basically sautéed matzoh dipped in egg with onions and salt. But I guess anything that fried would taste good. On the healthier side is matzoh ball soup. Although specifically for the holidays, I eat this soup all times of year (when not on Passover, noodles are added haha). It’s just a basic chicken soup with these soft consistency balls in it, but its delic. Also specifically for Passover is Harroset (I actually have no idea how to spell it). Its apples with cinnamon and wine all mixed together. It ends up being so good on Matzoh or over salad (a new find). Brisket; although I’m not even sure if this is specifically Jewish, is awesome if made well. My mom happens to make what I think is the best brisket. She cooks it two weeks in advance and freezes it so it really absorbs all the juices it cooks in. Then two days before she serves it she defrosts it in the fridge so it can soak in the juice. It ends up being amazing and is always the first thing to go on the table.

While some of these foods happen to be really good, it still doesn’t make up for the 8 days of painful anti-yeast eating. While I know bread isn’t the best thing for me; Like everything, somehow when you are not allowed to have it, it just makes you want it more.