Exposed! Ten Things I Hate About Restaurants I Love: Food Buzz

Eleven Madison Park
$14 truffled hot dogs and $14 hamburgers at the bar at Eleven Madison Park in New York. The bar menu items are small and expensive. Photographer: Ryan Sutton/Bloomberg

New York has a lot of very good, very pricey restaurants with irritating habits that can rise to abuse. Here’s my list of suggestions to the high and mighty.

1. Turn down the volume! That’s right: Turn it down. Paul Grieco and Hearth’s Marco Canora seem to believe that an $18 glass of Riesling or a $2,250 Bollinger jeroboam can be appreciated at the eardrum shattering Terroir in Tribeca.

2. Transfer my bar tab. I once worked at a cheap Georgetown joint where we made the guests feel fancy by transferring their bar cocktails to their table checks. So why do I have to flag down a bartender and pay before a hostess honors my 10:30 reservation at Minetta Tavern, where $48 steaks attract Manhattan’s high society?

3. Take my plastic, please. If your flight gets rerouted to Vladivostok, I can recommend a restaurant that takes plastic. But you’re out of luck without cash at Frankies 457 in Carroll Gardens. Do owners Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli not think the people of Brooklyn merit credit? I ask this because they take all major cards at their Manhattan location.

And unless you’re using American Express, their Prime Meats steakhouse, where bills easily exceed $200, is cash only. That’s a win for the expense account crowd, annoying for everyone else.

Don’t Fence Me In

4. Write as many checks as my party wishes. I once took an esteemed American diplomat to a disreputable Washington club to celebrate his impending marriage. Our server, whose skills were more corporal than mathematical, split our bill about seven ways. So why won’t the Momofuku minds behind Ma Peche accept more than four credit cards for their $900 beef dinners?

5. Don’t treat me like cattle at the bar. Why can’t great restaurants treat their bar patrons as well as their dining room patrons, even when they charge them as much? I am remembering those two-bite $14 hot dogs and $14 hamburgers in the lounge at Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park. The overcooked dogs were housed in lousy, oversize buns. The sliders were under-seasoned.

I spent almost as much on food as the prix-fixe dining room patrons, but my $124 bill didn’t win me any of the freebies they got, like the amuse of strawberry gazpacho, macaroons or the parting gift of pate de fruits. No one crumbed my placemat during the four-course meal, either. No hosts said “Good-bye, come back soon,” upon my departure.

Wine Whine

6. Put your wine list on the Web. Among the city’s three-Michelin starred quintet, Le Bernardin and Jean Georges don’t have their lists online. Per Se, Daniel and Masa have comprehensive Internet lists. For places where wine costs can exceed food bills by thousands of dollars, wouldn’t it be nice to have easy online access?

7. If you want to charge like Manhattan, move to Manhattan. At Brooklyn Bowl, which serves great smoked chicken wings, a bourbon milkshake is $13 and white meat fried chicken is $21. And you might pay a cover charge for entry. Memo to Brooklyn: You’re still Brooklyn!

8. Learn how to make a proper Manhattan. Manhattans are about taking a fiery bourbon or rye and taming it with good ice and sweet vermouth. But the Four Seasons restaurant can apply the fortified wine with such parsimonious disdain and stir the drink so quickly that the product tastes less like a cocktail, more like antifreeze.

Come Again?

9. Omakase shouldn’t translate as “None of your business.” Why does Gari charge me a different price for the chef’s selection every time, with no line-item explanation of why I was billed $98 one night, $150 another. Sushi, not Enron, is the most apocryphal form of accounting.

10. Pick up the phone. So I left the shower door open. I turned on the speakerphone. I had to get ready for work. I also had to score a booking for Blue Hill at Stone Barns, whose reservation system is about as enjoyable as a trip to the DMV at the end of the month.

I can’t criticize Blue Hill for booking up quickly; Dan Barber runs a restaurant that rivals the French Laundry. But would you subject yourself to endless busy signals, then listen to bad piano music for 10 minutes to learn there are no Saturday night tables available? There has to be a quicker way to let diners know that no good seats are left, at least not for them.

(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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