This week one of my favorite restaurants (“El Comedor”) that I’ve mentioned at least twice in my blog got an across-the-board four star review in the Kansas City Star ( http://www.kansascity.com/2011/09/14/3140292/review-uniquely-superb-port-fondas.html ). Well deserved….it’s the right combination of everything that is good about food and fun about eating, and I could ramble about Port Fonda, Patrick, Max and Katy all day long…but it’s just a jumping off point for what’s really on my mind. I have helpful knowledge to share today, goddammit.
I’ve eaten in El Comedor more than once and looking forward to going again… I’m insanely happy about it and proud to be a part of the communal love shared by a great group of KC chefs, BUT there is a pretty long progression and a distinct learning curve when it comes to that sort of situation being a normal part of your life…especially considering the fact that I’m not in the service industry, I’m not an entertainer, journalist, hipster, millionaire or anything of the sort. I’m just a dude who loves going out to eat. To be honest, there are some intangibles here that I cannot help anybody replicate…I’m pretty good at mixing with just about anyone, I have a wicked sense of humor, and for God knows what reason I’ve always just kind of drawn people in (the freak magnet part of that is a big downside). I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit in my day, so I’m at ease in damn near any social environment. Worst case scenario, I was a pentecostal minister turned porno dealer prior to my very vanilla IT career, so I can be a good little dancing monkey and provide endless stories from back in the day. And that’s not even counting the drinking adventures….hoo boy.
When I was talking to a food critic outside the trailer a couple of weeks ago, they jokingly asked me who I had to pay off to keep scoring the hands-down hardest to get table in the city….probably one of the toughest in the country at this point. My inferiority complex tells me that the chef is just having mercy on the poor retarded kid, and while that may be true enough it isn’t anything I’m going to advertise, so I just said….”I think being a nice person who is obviously there for the food and fellowship goes a long way”. The whole hipster/coolest kid on the block angle doesn’t mean shit to me….the restaurants that are still on my bucket list are far, far outnumbered by the great places I’ve already visited. And nothing makes me want to vomit more than a restaurant being “THE scene”. If Patrick was just some dude doing this same type of thing in a trailer in his mom’s driveway, if the food was still that good and I could bring my friends along, I’d fucking eat there any time. I don’t give a FUCK about the velvet rope aspect. YES it is FUNNY to know how many completely clueless people who haven’t done their homework email him thinking that the type of annoying persistence that gets them some comped spinach queso dip at Chi Chi’s is going to get them a Comedor booking. BUT I would rather light a candle than curse people’s darkness, so today what I have for you is at least a brief beginning to what I think of as “being a good customer”. If you’re an idiot who already thinks what I mean by being a good customer is bending over for a crazed egomaniacal autocrat of a chef so that I can be one of the “cool kids”, you’re in luck….my dick needs sucked. So get to it, and then go enjoy some fucking slop at the goddamn Ted’s Montana Grill you love so much because they let you be the customer who is always right.
#1- YOUR PRIORITIES HAVE TO ALREADY BE A LITTLE FUCKED UP-
It’s all about what you value….the value of me and my wife’s cars combined is probably around three or four thousand dollars. I know people who go out and spend forty grand on a new Lexus and then piss and moan about spending ten dollars on a lunch, because spending that much money on food is just STUPID. If you’re just a casual diner who doesn’t branch out much and chain restaurants are your thing because they are consistent and familiar, you’ll get some decent food and maybe awesome service from time to time, but the world of serious dining is probably not for you. And that’s cool man, everyone has their thing they love….cars, guns, scrapbooking, stamp collecting, Chiefs season tickets…whatever. Dining for me is an obsession and something I truly love and enjoy…I love a million things about it, and I have put in the time and work required that allows me to blend into that community and make great friends who feel the same way about it. The food is just one aspect of the big dance.
#2- COMMON COURTESY, how in the FUCK don’t people realize that?-
I’m a fun guy, I’m engaging. I bring a lot to the table. Most of all, I’m a nice guy. If you’re nice to me, I’m in your corner and I’m a handy sumbitch to have in your corner. Simple things, man…if you’re going to need to split checks, mention that shit right at the beginning…no fucking suprises at the end of the meal where everyone tries to figure out who is supposed to pay for what appetizer. Be clear at the onset. OR, shit like- if you drink at the bar before you are seated, tab out before you go to your table, don’t have that shit transferred to your dinner bill. Pay your bartender, tip your bartender. Really basic shit….some substitutions are fine, leave off the cheese, dressing on the side, etc. etc., but there are people who try to completely rebuild the menu on a slamming Saturday night…want Caesar dressing specially made WITHOUT anchovies, crazy stuff….horrible human beings. Nightmares of the planet who pretend to have some weird allergy just to get their way. Make reservations if the place takes them…don’t go walking in on a Saturday night and be shocked that your ass is waiting two hours for a table IN the men’s room (and then when you ARE seated, act like a total pissed off asshole expecting them to blow you for your trouble the whole time because you’re too stupid to take the time to book ahead).
This could go on forever……..too many examples, but here is the big one-
TIP! And I begin this under the assumption that anyone reading it already knows shit like you tip on the original amount if you’re using a Groupon, coupon, gift certificate, whatever. If you don’t know THAT shit, then go start hoarding cats and get to know the state worker who will be managing you. If I am a “regular” somewhere, it is a place where I tip at least 30%…it’s also a place where I have a regular server, but even if that person isn’t working that night, then whomever takes their place still gets 30%. And to be clear, for any piece of SHIT reading this who doesn’t count tax, alcohol, etc. when calculating the tip….you tip off of the highest number, dumbass. Tax, wine, what the fuck ever…it counts, it ALL COUNTS! If you have some egocentric retard logic that says otherwise, you seriously deserve to have someone fuck up your face….restaurants for you are just places for you to compensate for your lack of power and control in your real life, so stay the fuck at Ruth Chris or McCormick and Schmick and all of those bullshit chains where they are happy to treat assholes like royalty. Seriously, you can know all you want about a chef and be a kiss ass and all that, but it’s your front of the house people who make shit happen…the amount of free food, great tables and VIP treatment I get is pretty cool….and you know how that happens? I’m a nice guy….low maintenance, genuinely invested in the experience, and I take care of my people. Common fucking courtesy. Politeness. If I have an early Saturday night reservation I don’t linger over coffee…I give the valuable real estate back so someone else can sit down and buy food. Simple respect….things often forgotten these days.
#3- LEAVE THE CHEF THE FUCK ALONE-
Okay, you’re impressive. You know the guy who just got the big review and you are also showing off your “faincy” new dress on a hopping Saturday night….so that trip across the dining room and straight back to the kitchen would probably be greatly appreciated by him, right? No. It’s not right. It’s wrong. It is so wrong. It’s Saturday, there are people at work who are making the place worthy of that review you just read…don’t go messing up the flow with a goddamn panty raid on the kitchen. As they have time, chefs make the rounds….they know that PR is part of their job, and all of my bitchiness aside, they probably really do like you and appreciate the fact you want to talk to them. Most chefs are very, very cool that way. But the time they have available forces them to be strategic with their table visits….chances are good that on a Saturday night they’re going to have to schmooze with a less-savvy/big money group or perhaps other industry folks who are visiting from another city when in fact they would much rather be chilling with you or another cool regular. That’s how it goes, don’t take it personally, and don’t be a whiny suckup. Have some self respect for Christ’s sake.
#4- KNOW FOOD-
Understanding different methods, ingredients, seasonality and things of that nature really make you a valuable customer….especially if your server is bombarded with people who need every fucking ingredient and word explained to them. Enthusiastic, collaborative discussion about food is therapeutic…you bond with people over that shit. It sets you apart from the weekend warriors because you know food well enough to be there for THAT. Overly simple, but this is really at the heart of it all. It’s exciting. It’s why we love food.
#5- ORDER RIGHT, DUMBASS!-
I swear to God, nothing pisses me off more than when someone I know FINALLY visits a restaurant I love that they’ve asked me a million questions about, and then acts like they are doing ME a favor….only to come back with THIS bullshit:
“So, we finally visited whatever-the-fuck-restaurant!”
“Yeah, how was it?”
“Well…it was okay, we didn’t really see what all of the fuss was about.”
“Seriously? What did you guys order?”
“We both got the house salad and shared one of the appetizers.”
Aaannnnd SCENE! I shit you not, people are that stupid. First of all, wasting real estate on a Saturday night like that is enough to knock them in the head. Secondly, BOTH of you ordering the safest, plainest possible thing and THEN only venturing in far enough to SHARE one damn APPETIZER….is more than likely, and I am no psychic, but it’s more than likely not going to be the greatest sampling you need to get an accurate accounting of the flavors offered. And of course, then I’m the idiot who actually goes there all the time as they go around the office with their emperor has no clothes bullshit directed at me.
Order right. Trust your server. Check out the specials. If the chef is pumped about a specific dish or ingredient…chances are it’s not going to suck. Don’t all order the same thing. Don’t look for a great burger at a Vietnamese joint. Don’t use goddamn Texas Roadhouse as your measuring stick. Be realistic. Oh, and these are not poor people I’m talking about, I’d never ding someone for not being able to afford the full smorgasbord, I’m not an asshole….these are professional people with enough money to order an actual meal…and they are stupid. Don’t be like them. Don’t be stupid.
#6- THINK LOCAL, LIKE THE FUCKING HIPPIES-
This whole dining thing is part of a much, much larger picture….get to know that picture. Buy as much local product as fiscally possible, get to know your farmers and your suppliers, get into the seasonal nature of cooking and GRAVITATE TOWARDS the types of restaurants and chefs who operate in that manner. It’s really simple, but it’s a vital link to that community….I personally know the farmers who provide much of the produce we eat in our home, and they also supply the restaurants where I eat…I literally shared one great meal with my butchers and one with my farmers in El Comedor…both times eating food THEY personally provided TO the chef. The goddamn circle of life and all that….get to know people, you’ll get to know the people that THEY know, and at some point you’ll be where I’m at….never having to worry about whether or not my meal will be good because it’s either a place I already love OR it is a place personally recommended to me by those people whom I already know and trust. Top tier five star dining, hole in the wall Mexican with fucking crime scene tape on the floor, and everything in between…all awesome.
Granted, money and calorie-wise the majority of your meals are going to have to be eaten at home…and here is the bonus- sourcing great products and learning tips, recipes and various recommendations from suppliers and chefs improves your home cooking exponentially. Being a good home cook makes me a better diner and vice versa…it becomes much easier to identify truly great food when I can connect with a dish because it’s something I want to try and replicate OR it is something so far beyond me I could never pull it off.
#7- SOME SIMPLE SHIT TO LOOK FOR-
It is only possible to visit so many restaurants per month, and it is important to continue to take recommendations and keep trying new places in addition to your favorites. We have what we refer to as “the circuit”…it’s a group of Saturday night date night level restaurants that include places like Lidia’s, Justus Drugstore, Bluestem, The Rieger and obviously Port Fonda/El Comedor. We’ve got a ton of other places for all sorts of ethnic, casual and greasy spoon meals, but the aforementioned places are some of our tried and true places where we’re pretty serious regulars when we want a “nice” dinner.
Long story short, what gets my regular business besides creative, delicious and spot-on cooking is a very basic thing….a shared sense of pride and ownership. When the chef is all about their town, farmers, producers, etc., and the staff is all about their chef and genuinely love the food and want YOU to have a great time and love it like they do…THAT is the magic. That’s the dance, and it is what makes me excited to be there and to keep coming back. I know that only makes sense to a handful of people, as evidenced by the “wham bam thank you maam” types of chain-loving folks I encounter.
#8-SPREAD THE WORD-
I’ll be honest, I’m not some fucking patron saint of service industry good will and cheer. There are some very grand, touchy feely moments and the highest hopes for your favorite chefs and all that, but there are also moments when it’s good to be king. When you’re entertaining relatives from out of town and you’re showing off your favorite restaurant to them on a slamming Saturday night, and your server happily approaches your premium perch to inform you that the chef knew you were coming in so he held back the last two orders of softshell crab they’d probably have available for the season, and you get to sit there munching away while the table of moneyed yuppies next to you watches and collectively shit themselves because the dish wasn’t available to THEM….there is no price you can put on that. Or another good one….getting a peak at a cool ass cookbook that won’t be available to the general public for a couple of months. I share a lot of love and respect with many local restaurateurs, but when it comes down to brass tacks….they are there to make a goddamn living. Nobody wants to be a starving artist here, kids. If I like a place and I like you, I want you to love the same place and go there often. BUT I’m also pretty cool about not using a restaurant as a dumping ground for every scenester or stingy, hard to please asshole that I know. I’m pretty much a total dick about whom I will or will not spend time with; I just don’t like wasting time with dipshits. And I’m assuming the same can be said for any cherished server who would give me the stinkeye for blindsiding them with a douche. You spread the word…word of mouth is how I do business in 99% of my various transactions…I want my money to stay local and I want to build relationships. RELATIONSHIPS….are key here.
In summation…I’m in kind of a weird place because I do not have a venue other than this blog to ramble about all of this shit….and that is honestly not my goal. I’m a huge egomaniac, so I believe my writing is better than a lot of the popular bloggers and critics. And if people want to read my stuff, great, but I’m not going to shorten it, learn proper grammar or clean anything up just to be featured in some fucking rag. And I’m not a food critic, that is a very important distinction for me….I do find restaurants I’m not crazy about, but unless someone is just a total FUCKER I’m not going to take the piss out of a place; I just don’t write about it and I don’t go back. Between Yelp and the various food boards across the internet, one important thing gets lost…you can be real damn brave behind a keyboard and lose sight of the simple fact that you could unnecessarily and unwittingly fuck with someone’s livelihood. I only know of one….okay two….chefs who would go out of their way to give you the finger if you said their food sucked. One is just a goddamn savant and I will forgive it, and the other is locked away in the bowels of some hotel kitchen where he can’t do too much harm. The vast, vast, vast majority truly and from their heart want you to enjoy your meal and they appreciate your business. If you don’t like something they want to make it right, and before you take to the internet to light them up I think you should give them a chance to make it right, or at least let THEM know about your issue before you start your march to the sea. You’ll never meet someone more meticulous and self-conscious than a great chef. And when you find that special blend of alchemy that is evidenced from the front to the back of the house, it deserves to be loved and respected, and it damn sure deserves to be shared.