There is a myriad number of wrongs when it come to the dining scene of New York. These could be found in one of the issues of The Guardian last January wherein the resident restaurant critic listed down things that restaurants should stop doing this year and the column generated over 2K of comments in as little as 2 hours. Such is the level of offense being felt by the paying patrons of the service industry.
I agree with all of the points, but there are two things that really drives me mental:
One. Deafening noise level. When I say deafening, I mean deafening. Lots of New York restaurants are pumping extremely loud upbeat music. The reason for this is to make each and every diner so uncomfortable so as to hurry up in their eating and get the fuck out. This is very puzzling as I think all New Yorkers and those who visit New York can understand the not so subtle question of: “Can I get you anything else?” But still, most restaurants would subject both diners and staff to these ear-splitting decibels. Four years ago, someone proposed a class action lawsuit in behalf of all the servers who are subjected to this harmful noise about 8 hours per shift. I have walked out of restaurants before even ordering because of noise. Not just because I am old and can no longer take loud noises (some restaurants pump in Metallica’s Black Album, I shit you not, which I really like listening to in my living room or live at the Madison Square Garden, but not in a crowded restaurant) but because I want to talk to my wife or with friends every time we dine out. The worst offender of this stupidity is Momofuku.
Two. Smug servers. This is so apparent nowadays that if it is not irritating, it would almost be funny. I have encountered countless front of house persons who literally give you a frown or that faraway look that conveys I don’t want to serve you. And if ever they engage, they spit out the words, “It would be a two-hour wait,” even though half the dining room is empty. This loathing for customers is also a puzzle as I believe all servers know the dynamic when they work at restaurants: that the customers are the ones paying their salary and the boss is just the conduit that channels the money from one hand to the other. But still, you would be surprised. I have encountered some servers who couldn’t be bothered to put a fake smile, as if they are tortured poets doing the serving on the side. In equal footing, the offenders of this consumer condescension are: Momofuku, Beyoglu, Mission Chinese, The Catch, Roberta’s. Most, if not all of these, I have never gone back, even if an out-of-towner would pay my dinner. Why dine in a place that makes you feel unwelcome?
Yep, the ramen and sake bar by Morimoto-san.
The one restaurant, so far, who has righted two of my dining nightmares. We have eaten twice since it has opened two weeks ago and both times, I feel the sense that finally, a New York restaurant cares about its patrons.
Is that respect I hear?
The first time we went there, we are not even sure if there is a PA, although when I asked our server, she said that there was and it was on. This was a day after it opened, a Saturday at around 5.30 PM and we have just watched Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” on Broadway (superb, from the acting to the set to the sound and costume design). We met another couple and conversations were had without an effort to shout or lean in to hear what is being said in our own universe that is a booth for four. The second time we dropped by was last Friday, on impulse, as I met the missus at her Times Square mother ship. We walked the whole way to Momosan and were told that there is going to be a one hour wait, if we are willing. We said we are, and that also, bar seating would not be a problem. I listed my name and then we hang out by the door. Lo and behold, we got seated at a corner by the bar in about 20 minutes. There was music piping in but it was so un-intrusive that it doesn’t even register, all I remember is that it is neither metal nor hip-hop.
Is that genuine care I feel?
The Front of House is a real Front of House. His care for the customer is not in conflict with his command of the service. Both times, he was smiling as he told as the waiting times. The other front of house was also smiling as he surveyed the lines and the tables. Now, don’t get racist and think that this kind of service is an Asian or Japanese thing. Because while one of the FoH was indeed Asian, the other was Caucasian and they both behaved with the same kind of professionalism. None of that-I-am-an-artist-hipster-shit-and-I- am-better-than-you-and-I-would-rather-not-be-here-except-that-my-art-is- unrecognized-and-I-am-broke-as-fuck-so-I might-as-well-offer-my-ass-to-the-Man- and-try-to-earn-an-honest-wage-as-I-pretend-that-I-am-a-Trustafarian. What a relief, indeed, to be greeted by someone who loves his job. As I have said, we were seated before the allotted time was even up, both times. But the excellent service continues with the waitstaff who are polite, un-intrusive, and dedicated. This is consistent across all the servers that we saw. Including Morimoto-san himself who does all things from seating customers to clearing the table to providing a napkin to a customer who has splattered some soup on her phone. And this could be it. The source code. Morimoto-san himself is happy to be at that joint. He does everything with and then some with a smile. On both times I saw him: provide a plastic bib to a customer wearing a dress, place a handbag in one of the bar hangers before seating the customer, have a waitstaff take a photo of him with a customer — plus a safety shot — to avoid that awkward selfie. All these with a sincere smile. He really enjoys what he is doing. The last time we were there, he chatted the missus on how to eat the rice cake, a very nifty trick that works wonders. And on our way out, he also chatted us up to say “Thank You.” As did the very efficient FoH.
As for the food, well, words fail me. All I know is that we are eating there again next week.