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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Waiter Chronicles: Bon Natale

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Eve at the Ristorante was carried along by an air of other-worldliness. There was an eerie quiet coming from the kitchen, and Angry Chef's absence created an atmosphere of sadness mixed with relief. For me, the place doesn't feel the same without him. But the first hours without him revealed the burden that his temper had placed on everyone.

The dining room was busy all night. Junior jumped back into the kitchen to help cook, and people were pleased with the food. Near the end of the evening, the wife arrived to have her Christmas Eve dinner, and the owner insisted that I order dinner and sit with her, both of us as his guests. Grateful, I complied.

As everyone exchanged Christmas wishes and headed home, the Owner passed out Panettone and Prosecco. We left happy.

It was a Bon Natale indeed.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:36 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: Angry Chef's Ouster

Monday, December 24, 2007

I'm not sure how it went down, but Angry Chef was fired sometime between 10 pm last night and 12 pm today. Junior just called to tell me the news and to inform me that our eight Christmas Eve reservations (and anyone else who wanders in) will be treated to the culinary stylings of Augusto and Felipe, the two sous chefs. If needed, Junior himself will lend a hand in the kitchen.

Last night's dinner service was not good at all. Around 5:30 several large parties with children arrived at the same time. They were all seated, given drinks and bread, and had their orders taken. As will happen, two parties of eight (one of them mine) had their entrees fired at the same time. That's 16 entrees that need to come out at once. The kitchen doesn't even have 16 pans.

Angry Chef lost it. He had been animated up to that point, but this put him over the edge; he came out of the kitchen yelling, looked at me and pointed, screaming "[expletive deleted] you!" Then he demanded to know where the owner was. I produced the owner, who ambled back into the kitchen with his disgruntled employee, and a loud Italian shouting match ensued.

I'd never seen this before. I'd seen Angry Chef yell; I'd seen the owner yell. I'd never seen them yell at each other. The waiters and bussers did our best to keep moving and ignore the catastrophe in the kitchen. In the end, my party of eight had to wait 45 minutes for their dinner, and I had to offer them free desert. Likewise, Pepe's party of eight waited nearly an hour.

Things settled down after that, but at the Ristorante's expense. The owner had to turn people away, since the kitchen was in such a state. So here he is with a dining room only half full, telling customers he can't seat them. Needless to say, he was not happy. In fact, he would say later that he would have done better to not even open last night.

What happened between then and the phone call I just got I don't know. I suppose the details will be filled in, but I won't be asking for them. The long-and-short of it is that the Ristorante is out its chef.

I feel bad for Angry Chef. He's a far more complicated person than I know, surely, and his flamboyance and temper bespeak some self-destructive habits with [obviously] detrimental results as far as his career is concerned. But he's a genuine guy. He loves good food and wine, and he lives and dies by the integrity of his craft. I had grown quite fond of him, actually. In fact, as we readied the dining room last night, enjoying a little pre-dinner chat, he wistfully told me that he loved me and that he would miss me when I left.

How could he have known that, in less than 24 hours, he would be preceding me in departure?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:45 AM | link | 1 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: My Tortured Conscience--The Waiter Responds

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Waiter has responded to my agonized plea for guidance regarding Saturday night's episode, wherein I was offered food by the chef, but no other waiter was.

Here is his response, in full. Well, almost:

"[expletive deleted] those waiters. Eat the salmon when you can. They'd probably do the same thing to you. We're a rather mercenary bunch. Waiters come and go - stay tight with the kitchen guys.

Happy Holidays

Waiter"

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:19 PM | link | 4 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: My Tortured Conscience

I've been a reader of waiterrant for about six months now. After a dicey situation tonight, I sent The Waiter an email seeking advice or absolution. Here, in full, is the text of the email. Please feel free to respond.

"Waiter,

I'm a waiter of only six month's experience. One of the things I learned early on is the stratification of the restaurant social system, with the bussers, waiters, and kitchen staff all occupying their respective roles. As a waiter, my place is secure. But tonight I got myself into a situation that I wasn't prepared for and that may have called my loyalty into question.

After a steady and busy night when nothing went wrong and everybody loved their food, I walked into the kitchen to retrieve some silverware for polishing. While there, I decided to applaud the kitchen staff. I simply stopped, looked at the chef, the sous chef, and the food prep. cook, and I applauded. Literally, I clapped my hands in acknowledgement. It turns out they were in the process of cooking some food for themselves and the dishwashers, and after my gesture of appreciation the chef ordered, in Espanol, that a plate be made for me. I made like I didn't understand and left. Normally, the kitchen will make plates for the waiters as well.

A few minutes later I went back into the kitchen, and the waiter told me to come and enjoy a plate with him and the rest of the kitchen. He also offered me a glass of wine and some mussels he had cooked up. I quickly realized that there was going to be no food for the waiters; the stoves were off. Yet, to refuse this unusual offer would be to offend the chef in a very serious way. So, while my waiter colleagues polished glasses and set tables on empty stomachs, I wolfed down a salmon filet and caeser salad, standing at the chef's side. I also slurped a few mussels. I made quick work of it, then earnestly thanked him in Italian and returned to the bussing station. I felt so bad about what I had done that I actually confided in a couple of the waiters about what had happened and sort of half apologized. They didn't get any food at all.

I fell like I have violated some fraternal loyalty among waiters. But would it have been any better to offend the chef?

Please help ease my conscience.

Not Prince Hamlet

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:10 AM | link | 2 comments |

Back to Bagging for Biden

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Over the summer I used this blog to endorse Sen. Joseph Biden as the Democratic nominee for President. I haven't said much about it since then, since NPH is not meant to be a blog about politics. But I did make a contribution to the campaign, so in the name of personal narrative, here's Biden's first TV ad in Iowa, a piece I like to think I helped pay for.

I think it's well worth the investment.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:48 PM | link | 2 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Monday, December 10, 2007

Last night at the Ristorante, that oft-quoted Advent nugget showed its shadow side.

At table 21, five adults brought a finicky 9 year-old to dinner. Like most kids, she knew what she liked and what she didn't like, and she had no intention of eating the latter. Her mother and I began dinner negotiations with pizza:

"She likes pizza. Do you have pizza?"

"[smiling through the obvious absence of pizza from the menu held wide open in the woman's lap] No, I'm sorry, we don't. We've started to do pizzas at lunch, but we don't have them for dinner. But we do---" I stop mid-sentence, because she has stopped listening to me and has urgently leaned over to her daughter to report what I've just said, as if the girl were deaf.

The woman's attention regained, I continue, "Something kind of like a pizza is a chicken parmigiana. It's a thinly-pounded chicken breast covered with tomato and mozarella."

"But she won't eat the tomato sauce." There's no trace of the apology or embarrassment that usually accompany parents' recitation of their children's food hang-ups. In fact, the woman's tone suggests I ought to know that her daughter won't eat tomato sauce.

"Well," I suggest, still positive, "The chicken milanese is breaded, but it doesn't have any sauce on it. Maybe that would be better." There is a moment of silence, unbroken only by the repeated opening and closing of the Ristorante door, as groups of diners continue to enter, get seated, and wait for their waiter. At long last, the woman looks up at me from her menu and intones, "You don't have kids, do you?"

"No ma'am, I don't." I resist the urge to share that my first is on the way.

"Well, it's got to be like McDonald's or they won't eat it." Restraint grips me again, and I refrain from correcting her that "they", from my limited experience, will eat what their parents tell them to. Also, the obvious suggestion that the family ought to have gone to McDonald's goes unvoiced. She suggests that she might order the Funghi Chicken for her daughter, if only the mushrooms can come on the side.

The dignity of my borrowed craft makes an inconvenient appearance. If only to avoid being bullied around, I recommend against the mushroom-chicken-with-no-mushrooms, since that's not mushroom chicken at all. She resists, and I cave. Just get it over with.

Only, the young girl also wants an appetizer. Drawing on my expanding knowledge of her culinary do's and dont's, I suggest some bruschetta pomodoro, "wedges of toasted bread covered with chopped tomato and mozarella cheese." All the tables' adults nervously consult the girl, again, as if my description had been in some unknown alien tongue that they must now translate. They concur: she will have the bruschetta.

When the bruschetta makes its' graceful arrival on the table, a ripple of anxiety invades table 21's adults. The girl stares plainly at the simple appetizer like she might stare at a charred squirrel. "No," announces her mother, rushing to her distressed damsel's defense. "That has tomatoes on it. She doesn't like tomatoes. She needs one without tomatoes, only with cheese." She's looking from the rest of the grownups to me frantically, and at any point I expect her to call for a paramedic.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'll bring that right away."

Again with the bruschetta, only this time I'm not waiting around for the verdict. I've already wasted too much time on this cult of childhood preference; I've got three other tables now, one of which has already sent back a bottle of wine. It's only a few moments later, when I retrieve the bruschetta plate, that the drama achieves its muted conclusion.

Three of the four wedges have been eaten. One remains, and the girl shows no sign of interest. So I reach down to pick it up, with the obligatory inquiry, "Are you all done with that?" She nods silently, but as I lean down to lift it from the table she whispers in my ear:

"To be honest with you, I didn't really like it."

These are her only words of the entire dinner saga. Their significance requires a response of gravity. I suspend my reach for the plate, turn my head to look her straight in her finicky-innocent face, and answer, "To be honest with you, your parents don't really like you."

I wish.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:37 AM | link | 2 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: Go Toward The Light

Friday, December 07, 2007

I sat down with one of the Ristorante owners last week to have what was, to her, an obvious conversation. Before I could even begin, she preempted me, "You're quitting."

That is was so obvious made it easier. Not that it was going to be terribly difficult, announcing that I'd been offered a call at a church and that my time at the Ristorante would soon be over; but I felt a strong need to relate to The Owners as colleagues, and not just as bosses. So, even though I won't start at the church until early February, I felt I should let them know now.

It's somewhat surprising how much more enjoyable an end-date has made my work. Now that it's only something I'm doing in the interim, I can admit to myself and my fellow waiters that I'm not very good at this. At the same time, given a two-month timetable, I can set a couple of modest goals. I can challenge myself to master a couple key waiter skills before my tenure is up, like making a solid recommendation for a bottle of white wine to go with the Sea Bass or telling a diner, "No, you can't add to chicken to a Spaghetti Pescatora."

There will be time to reflect on these six months, what the Ristorante has taught me and what, if any, contribution I have made to it. But for now I'm relaxing in the good news that, while there is a time and a season for everything, this season will soon come to an end.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:17 AM | link | 1 comments |