…or was he simply buttering me up?

Dishes 150-151: Valenciana Paella at Amada, 7th and Chestnut, http://www.amadarestaurant.com

Hummus with dried fava beans and laffa at Zahav, 237 St. James Place, http://www.zahavrestaurant.com

Our dapper host approached the table in black plastic-rimmed glasses, straddling right now and a time very far away indeed:

Here is the dish. And here is something else. I was inspired by your interview, in which you said that what makes food taste good is butter, butter, and more butter. So this is hummus, with melted butter. Be careful, the metal is very hot.”

It was beautiful, a deep golden liquid speckled with flecks of char, swaying over the hummus, permeating its depths in places. Butter. How thoughtful. I tore off a piece of laffa, the thin, crispy-in-places, sexier cousin of pita and dunked it. Toasty and rich, it was intoxicating, and I couldn’t dismiss the thought, he chose this for me. He read about me, and did this just to please me.

This is why food critics are anonymous. It is against the tenets of food criticism to make oneself known, because this exact sort of thoughtful action will occur. How dare he. How dare he try to figure out what I like so that I might enjoy my meal further. On the same note, how dare Amada send over those translucent rectangular prisms of melon wrapped in perfect slivers of ham. Those were delicious. And both examples of generosity colored my opinion of each already-beloved restaurant in a more glowing fashion. This is no way to demonstrate journalistic integrity.

But everything we ate was a product of the chef’s imagination. Every gesture we received from the waitstaff was a true gesture produced by an employee of the restaurant. Perhaps not the same as every guest, but clearly within the realm of a night’s work—so why would it be wrong? Is it wrong to save the drumstick for your cousin who likes them best? If the staff knew every guest, would it not be within reason to think they would try to make each guest this happy? It would be good for business, after all.

Carrie Bradshaw typed away on the silver Macbook in my brain, asking whether this manager really wanted to make me happy, or was he simply buttering me up? And I asked her, did it really make a difference– wasn’t my experience within the margarine of error?

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