Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Bridge and Tunnel Crowd

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Yesterday I was reading through the Discuss Detroit forums and found a thread on Iridescence inside the Motor City Casino. Some Bridge and Tunnel type made a comment about the food quality not being worth the price. I hammered out a response only to get denied at the point of posting because other people were posting at the same time. It was probably for the best anyway; I decided to save it for my blog instead.

With these Bridge and Tunnel types, it isn't that they lack culinary knowledge and walked into a fine dining establishment expecting to pay Applebee's prices and complain when their flat iron steak isn't mounded with mashed potatoes and gravy with a side salad swimming in It's that they have so much expertise in fine dining that they are disappointed by the quality in lieu of all the buzz; they are beyond a simple 5-star and cluck their tongues at the rest of us for being so easily duped.

It's not that fine dining establishments are all perpetually deserving of and entitled to the glowing reviews they typically receive...they're not. Mario's downtown? Horrible. Andiamo's? Varying levels of bad to awful depending on location. The Lark? Not as good as it is made out to be.

No, it isn't that a 5-star restaurant can't not live up to its hype. The problem with these B&Ts is that they inevitably endcap their argument with a "...for the price."

True foodies never talk about price. They speak of the experience, the art, the creativity, the boldness, the ambiance, the presentation, the service, the atmosphere, the compliments of textures and flavors, the adventuresomeness of the executive chef...but never the price.

So let this be a lesson learned: when you find yourself in the middle of a conversation with someone and they endcap their complaint about a high-end restaurant with a "...for the price," you now know you are dealing with a B&T type and you should proceed no further. They have about as much knowledge of fine dining as you do about caulking and soldering. You have two options: (a) nod politely and try to gracefully bow out of the conversation as quickly as possible, or (b) swifly redirect their line of thought by stating how great you think Obama is and how he is going to save the world and end all war and find a cure for AIDS.

So where does the "Bridge and Tunnel" come in, you ask? It's a pithy turn of phrase remnant from my days in Manhattan, taken from people who work in the fine dining industry in reference to the people who do not live in Manhattan but instead Long Island or New Jersey or elsewhere in the burroughs who take the bridge and tunnel into Manhattan every weekend to whip out their Visa Aspire cards and complain about the prices.

This is Manhattan. A cocktail is going to cost at a minimum $10.00. This is simply just how Manhattan is. If you don't like it, I suggest you go somewhere other than Manhattan.

So these Bridge and Tunnel types infest the island and overtake the high-end restaurants in their backwards baseball caps and flip-flops and jeans and ponytails, then order by pricepoint and complain about quality and service in an effort to make themselves look less cheap.

I've had one significant experience with a B&T. I was at Felidia, the flagship restaurant of Lidia Bastianich and one of the most renowned restaurants in New York (which puts it in the top 50 in the country). There I had the most culinary orgasmic experience of my life, beating out the former title holder Spiaggia in Chicago (for a black truffle risotto). It was a duck ravioli with shaved white truffles--and when I say "shaved white truffles," I mean the server stood tableside and shaved mounds of white truffles onto my dish, coating it as if I were at the Olive Garden getting my gluttony on with mounds of parmesan being shaved on top of my bottomless house salad. I'm talking more white truffles than I have ever seen in my entire life.

$150.00 worth, to be exact. That little dish was $185.00 total, and worth every penny. My orgasmic experience was interrupted, though, by the B&Ts sitting next to me.

I was there with my BF at the time. He was an arrogant prick and I both loved and hated him for it. Eventually the hate won out, but for this particular moment in my life there is no one else in the world I would have rather had with me to share it.

I'm in the midst of my foodgasm when this uncouth B&T bitch next to us starts yapping about the prices and how she didn't know how much the white truffle ravioli cost and how he (the server) should have told them (yes, that would be classy--"Tonight we have a special duck ravioli with shaved white truffles." "Oh, that sounds great, I'll have that!" "Yeeeeeeeah, it's going to be about $185.00 though, sure about that?" Um...tacky?). This dough-faced boorish troll of a woman (with her douchey denim-wearing boyfriend) pitched such a fit that she got the white truffles comped. COMPED! $150.00 worth of white truffles COMPED!

(SIDEBAR: This is why I never bend for customers--human beings exhibit all the same Pavolvian conditioning patterns as those infamous dogs, and the general consensus in this service-the-customer country is if you piss and moan loud and long enough you'll eventually get what you want. My favorite things to say are, "Look, these are your options, and that's it. And I don't even have to do that much." and "I'm just not gonna do it." They usually back down when you look them dead in the eye and say "No." But you cannot show fear...they can smell it and will seize their opportunity to pounce.)

It was embarrassing to be sitting next to her during this display of why Marx was clearly wrong, so much so that I had to put down my fork in the middle of my foodgasm and sit there playing telepathic disgust with my boyfriend. So this squawking, yelping, pudgy little harpy finally stomps her way out of the restaurant and the rest of us are allowed to continue with our meals.But...but...not only did she get $150.00 worth of white truffles comped, she continued to complain about the restaurant (because it's the restaurant's fault for her unhappy existence), then she STIFFED THE SERVER.

YOU DO NOT STIFF THE SERVER IN A FIVE-STAR RESTAURANT. Hell, you do not stiff the server period. I don't care if it's Coney-fuckin'-Island and the woman forgot to refill your coffee and fucked up your order twice. YOU DO NOT STIFF THE SERVER.

Not only is it a show of your complete lack of etiquette and class, but it also shows your total failure in common human decency.

Because of this whole intensely awkward and unpleasant episode, my boyfriend decided to overcompensate with his tip, which was already going to be about 30% to begin with because the service was top-notch, by adding another $50.00 to it. Hell, I think I even contributed an extra $20.00 to the cause, and I hate paying for anything ever.

(Yes, I can walk by Beggars' Row and avoid eye contact and insist I don't carry cash--which is actually true--but the second a server at a 5-star restaurant who probably makes 6 figures a year--because in Manhattan they do--gets stiffed, I'm getting all causeworthy about it. And I am totally okay with this, because I believe in Darwin and the GOP.)

After the troll left, we engaged the server in conversation about the little episode and he simply shrugged politely and said that these are the kinds of people he has to deal with on weekends. He then hooked us up fat with glasses of wine, port, and a dessert platter all on the house. Catch more flies with honey, no?

This is what I mean when I say "Bridge and Tunnel." These are the kinds of people who should never leave the comforts of the Olive Garden, with its $11.95 entrees and bottomless salads & breadsticks and carry-out boxes. These are also the kinds of people who would be fatally insulted if you were to treat them the way their behavior demands them to be treated, and then would proceed to squawk endlessly about that.

Yes, you're right--I'm the asshole here.

And so, going back to the "bad experience" at Iridescence. You did not have a bad experience at Iridescence. Iridescence doesn't have bad experiences. And trust me when I tell you that you can squawk all over the forums about it as much as you want, the only people whose business you're driving away are the people who shouldn't have been there in the first place. Really, it would be doing everyone a favor. So keep squawking.

Your lobster tail was not overcooked. And if it was...if it really, really was because you ordered the Jumbo Western Austrailian Lobster Tail, which is very difficult to cook properly. This isn't so much the fault of Iridescence's preparation as it is their fault in catering to the American fascination with all things big.

In the future, I hear Red Lobster has a very fine lobster tail, and it's only $10.00. You can also shovel down all the cheesy biscuits your plaque-filled heart desires.

And this brings me back to basic fine dining knowledge and the B&T crowd's lack thereof. White truffles are very very expensive. If you order something that has mounds of shaved white truffles on it, it's going to cost you a car payment. This is something you need to know before you go somewhere that serves shaved white truffles. Your ignorance in this matter is not the fault of the restaurant.

Same goes for Overcooked Lobster Tail. It's a 10-oz. jumbo lobster tail. It is next to damn impossible to cook all the way through without the outside getting a little rubbery--not unlike a 10-oz. filet, which would be charred black on the outside and runny red on this inside if not butterflied prior to cooking. This is something you should know. Much like you should know what an amuse bouche is so that you're not sitting there staring at it wondering if you're going to be charged for it (a discussion I've also heard before).

If these are things you do not know, I will not, in fact, judge you for your lack of knowledge. Provided you stay the hell away from such situations in which you have no such knowledge. Much like you will never catch me at an Obama mob rally with Obama-head-shaped fireworks and styrofoam Obama fingers, or on a mission with the Peace Corps to save poor people by spreading Christianity (back in the day it was called a "Crusade"--a much more honest phrasing, don't you think?), I never want to see you at five-star restaurant acting as if your malcontentedness is intentional and not the result of you feeling painfully, awkwardly, angrily out of place.

Overcooked Lobster Tail is probably one of the same people who complained about Tribute not "meeting expectations" back when Takashi Yagahashi was there--in my own humble opinion, the most brilliant chef whose creations I've ever been fortunate enough to experience in my lifetime. I've had truly orgasmic single dishes in other restaurants in other cities in other countries, yes. But Yagahashi is the only chef from whom I've ever experienced a truly perfect meal. (In Las Vegas, I made it a point to visit Okada while he was still there, and now he has opened Takashi in Chicago which just might make it worth a day trip, despite the fact that I don't think Chicago is all that great.)

And yet--people complained. And always, inevitably, it was "...for the price."

If I ever open a restaurant it will be strictly a vanity project. I would have money coming out of my arse from other sources and the intent of the restaurant would not be to actually make money, but to be elite. There would be a 5-table/20-person capacity, and all potential diners would first have to pass an entrance exam just to be allowed inside. This exam would include questions like, "Name five worldwide celebrity chefs (Emeril Legassi, Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck do not count)," and "From which body parts of what animals are foie gras and sweetbreads made?" and also "Name two of the top ten culinary training academies in the world." Perhaps I would round it out with "Name five different types of mushrooms, not field or Portabella." Perhaps also "Name the top 5 French wine producers." For shits and giggles, I would also ask "What is your favorite Italian dish, by region?" just to weed out all those Veal Marsala assholes.

Oh, there would also be an oral portion to the exam. People would have to properly pronounce the following: Foie Gras, Au Poivre, Meuniere, Buerre Blanc, and Dauphinoise, AND know what they are/what style of preparation they refer to.

These are all rather easy questions to answer, if you are a foodie. If you cannot answer them, let's make a deal: I'll stay out of your Obama-head pool party with Obama-shaped burgers if you stay out of my restaurants. Deal?

(Though I'll still make fun of you for voting for him. Or maybe I'll just let her do it.)

On a related note, yes this is currently the most offensive, insulting thing on television.