April 7, 2008 | BITE: My Journal
Restaurateurs Have Peeves Too
Elettaria: We're hot. We're hip. We're here. Are we happy?  Photo: Steven Richter
Elettaria: We're hot. We're hip. We're here. Are we happy?  Photo: Steven Richter

        “There are so many unseemly habits guests have ... Pretty please can't we express our peeves?” writes "SauceontheSide," partner in a Chelsea restaurant. "Here are some of my top complaints:"

  • Trying to substitute items that are sold as sides on our menu and then complaining if we won't sub or must charge for doing so.  Dishes are paired by the Chef and priced accordingly.
  • Feigning allergies as an excuse to substitute.
  • Asking for "a little extra" of things that are sold as menu items and getting annoyed there is a charge.
  • Insisting on being seated when the group is incomplete, saying "she's right around the corner" then 30 minutes later party has completely ruined the timing so the next party waits 30 minutes and yells at us - on weekends.
  • Smoking outside between courses.  We run the food back and forth and it suffers.
  • Separate checks.  Multiple credit cards are fine - multiple checks are time-consuming (and tacky).
  • Know what medium-rare is when you ask for your steak that way.  If you want it medium or medium-well, be honest with yourself and don't send it back with contempt like we put a raw steak on your plate.
  • Don't bring your dogs into the restaurant and don't fight us about it.  Fight the health department.
  • Don't smoke in the vestibule…even if you're European!
  • Don't grab one of us by the arm if you want our attention.
  • Clean up after yourself in the restroom - throw hand towels in the trash can, not on top and not on the floor. 
  • Stop stealing napkin rings, silverware, bars of soap, lotion or anything not nailed down.
  • Stop "accidentally" taking the signed copy of your credit card slip - servers etc. can't get tipped.
  • When Chef comes to dining room to say hello - don't complain to him about parking or signage outside the restaurant and please don't hand him your coat check ticket!
  • Be polite, gracious and respectful.  Stop asking for everything free, show up on time and take it easy.  It's dinner - not life and death!”

        And from a bartender:

        “What would really be lovely is if all the city's food fans could afford their own servants, whom they could train to properly pour wine according to their style, keep the chef's menu descriptions nice and short, and stay away from any and all manners of speech which they find offensive. In the meantime, I am sure the city's waiters would settle for the simple cognizance that you are not the only diner in the city, that tastes and service requirements vary from person to person, and often times servers are trained by the chefs and managers to be just who it is that is annoying you. As for waiters who think a martini is made from vodka, the mind reels.”


Lights Flicker at Elettaria
Kampachi with hearts of palm, pickled trompettes and a chile kick. Photo: Steven Richter

        It takes a while and two bites of something really delicious to jolly me out of my miff when my table isn’t ready.  I‘ll simmer if I’m forced to stew until my party is here.  But when the party has promptly assembled and stands rubbing hips with an edgy crowd waiting for tables to clear, I start trying to think up a default play.

        But we are stuck tonight at ElettariaSmith’s, Bar Blanc, favorite retreats that are close will surely be overbooked too.  The unemployment blues aren’t playing here yet. So maybe it’s my dark mood that makes me decide Elettaria is not really my kind of place. My pal Cassandra says she will definitely be back. The crowd has a self-satisfied look. Yes, it is noisy, darkish, loungey, vintage shabby with flea market detritus cleverly arranged. I can rise above that. I can feel sympathy for sturdy servers dressed to look like gypsies (neither sexy nor flattering) even when I sense our puckish server’s self-mockery is actually insulting me.

        Twenty and thirtyish young pretties who travel in packs dressed to incite a riot are checking it out tonight too.  They try to catch the chef’s eye. “He’s so cute,” they mew.  Indeed. Yes, Akhtar Nawab, late of E.U., partner here with Noel Cruz (they met at Craft) is as handsome as any Bollywood hero.

        Cassandra sends back the recommended Quimby Fizz --“too sweet”--  and seems content sipping the $14 Rita Hayworth replacement: pineapple juice infused with tequila, lime and a bit of honey. At just $30, the fruity Picada red from Patagonia shows definite empathy for the budget as well as the food.  Mellow sweetbreads with bits of pineapple, silken curls of cured kampachi with hearts of palm and a chile kick, and the tumeric-scented crab meat with gnocchi and fried herbs are three starters that melt my annoyance.  There are just half a dozen entrees, measured portions, all $25 or less. My favorite is the bavette, a meaty and delicious butcher’s cut of beef you don’t often see on a menu in the states. I would not have ordered the chicken with its clumsy ravioli if I’d known it was all white meat (I forgot to ask) though I have to admit it’s quite juicy. Wild striped bass with beets and cinnamon is too cooked for me but Cassandra is beguiled.  Steamed rice cakes with lentils to start and saag paneer - ricotta gnocchi with spinach - are vegetarian options that sound more exciting then they are.  Mango lychee tart is one of those wimpy desserts that make you want to stop for a Dove Bar on the way home. This may seem harsh.  After all, Elettaria is young and this is just a first tasting. Nighttime’s fickle nomads like gentrifying odd neighborhoods and mean streets. Perhaps they won’t be as prickly as me.

33 West 8th Street. near MacDougal 212 677 3833. Dinner every day from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m.


Two-Time Commerce   

Artist Joel's bucholic romp looks down on a self-possessed crowd. Photo: Steven Richter

        We can’t wait to get back to Commerce, my bread-disavowing friend and I.  It’s not just the fresh baked olive rolls, brioche, and mini pretzels that neither of us can resist, it’s a chance to taste “odd things” again – the stew of tripe, pig’s foot and oxtail.

        I open the door and am blown back by the tsunami of noise.  Was the racket this painful just one week ago?  Folks are crammed in, a nicely mixed muster who have to be where it’s happening and Village aborigines you feel you recognize.  Amazing waiters can still get through. There is no table free. The speedwalking conductor at the podium, partner Tony Zazula, recognizes me and looks respectfully frazzled. (“Quenelle power,” my then husband used to call it.  I’m too ego-needy to be embarrassed.) We stand buffeted by two-way traffic in an almost non-existent crack of space till suddenly a table clears in the bar.  We resist, not wanting to sit in a stockade of late comers prowling for a vacancy.

        “It’s actually quieter,”
Dare to eat just one. Photo: Steven Richter.
Zazula assures us and so it is. But quieter in the sense that 22 inches is less than two feet of snow.

        A warm, actually too hot, pretzel distracts from the torture. And soon enough I’m entranced with a marvelous ragu of asparagus with mushrooms, truffles and a perfectly poached hen egg from the daily changing market listing. The hand cut beef tartare is remarkable too, mixed with pickled ramps, shallot, chive and mustard, smoked oxtail on top and an oval of horseradish whipped cream with celery root chips for scooping.  Slightly too acid marinated fluke sashimi might better be billed as ceviche, and something odd has happened to “odd things.” The voluptuous tangle of innards and pasta has been overdosed with tomato sauce.  It’s good, very good even, but not the intense texture drama that has haunted me all week. (Chef Harold Moore admits he has been “playing with” the recipe.) I can’t believe I’m eating pappardelle Stronganov as well.  With sour cream.  What a bold revisionist concept.

        The place is clearing out.  The din subsides.  Zarzula acknowledges the house is working on noise control. Artist David Joel will do a second mural to be backed by sound proofing.  And then…well, we shall see.  As if we needed an excuse to return.

50 Commerce Street near Barrow. 212 524 2301. Dinner seven nights from 5:30 - 11:00 p.m. Sunday, from 5:00 p.m.


Patina Restaurant Group