Several readers reached out while I was on hiatus, asking where I had gone. My editor, publisher, and even a Sun Media Group vice president took a few inquires. More importantly, many of you wanted to know when, and if, I’d be back. The “why” behind it all was a personal conundrum I hope to never revisit.
That addressed, the feedback gave me tears. Writing in general, this column in particular, is my truest, strongest passion. I wear many different hats, not all of them a flattering or comfortable fit, for the privilege of these 800 words a week. To say I’m humbled and grateful to be rekindling this love affair (I promise to be emotionally available) doesn’t scratch the caramelized crusted surface of my creme brulee.
Equally important to the column’s return is the affirmation of its original intention, which is to bring behind-the-scenes, hospitality-focused, edu-tainment to life. To expose and examine the fluid that runs through the spinal cord of the restaurant business; the sticky stuff human nature is made of. Dishin’ That was never about reviews (not that I have the self-restraint to hold back an opinion) or who’s opening a bistro du jour when, or the odds of its survival.
So with the comeback housekeeping out of the way, here are a few not-so-great tidbits I archived in my absence:
• Sharing a birthday week with The Weatherman, we went to a fancy B&B in Vermont for a glorious, pre-fall, sun-drenched weekend. He wanted to be sure I didn’t have to make any research-filled, gut-wrenching decisions about where we would dine, so he took the initiative and pre-booked dinner in the B&B’s upscale dining room.
Upon check-in, we chatted with the innkeeper/chef about his impressive hospitality background and his goals for the inn. A sharp guy who was justifiably exhausted, I was disappointed he wouldn’t let me peek into his galley kitchen. His “no-crossing-the-line” mentality didn’t fit with the homey openness usually found in B&Bs. Creative commercial kitchen remodels in historical buildings turn me on, so I pouted, but to no avail.
Pushing it aside, everything was lovely until we sat down for dinner, only to discover a shockingly limited menu (even by pre fixe standards) of uninspiring items. The price point was in the $$$$ category and I instantly wanted to bolt, feigning car lag, or some other travel ailment.
The Weatherman wanted to do the same, but as he pointed out we had to face our “host” for two more days. Far more gracious and accepting than I, The Weatherman made the decision to stay put.
Normally, the lesson would be to peruse the menu on a website prior to making a reservation. In doing so after the fact, I was only mildly surprised to find no mention of a pre fixe-only dinner option. In retrospect, the lack of entree descriptions and price points did not surprise me.
• To celebrate a professional milestone we hit up a popular Exchange Street restaurant in Portland and were delighted to be dining al fresco. Part of the charm of sitting outside is wire patio tables, but few things bug me more than not being resilvered when dining in courses.
Our overly perky server was unfamiliar with the menu and couldn’t help me identify an item I had in the past (which I later found), but was quick to take my salad fork off my side plate and set it directly on the table.
I’m talking about an outdoor, wire patio table hovered over by seagulls. Then, assuming I was done with bread, which we had to ask for, and no longer needed a side plate, she took those away, too. Believe me, I understand the aesthetic and operational value of pre-busing, but when my entree is $51, call me crazy, but I want a new fork.
No doubt our server was taken aback when I reached for the check. It was the first time she made lasting eye contact with me all night.
•My BFF and I went to see Lyle Lovett at Merrill Auditorium last week and found ourselves at the chef’s counter of a place close by. Our advice: Don’t work in an open kitchen, much less a chef’s counter, if you don’t want to smile at people. And not to be moochers, but what happened to the tiny samples that used to be gifted upon those present for the culinary show?
Like I said, I’m glad to be back, but haven’t even scratched the crusted surface.
The last time I did this I swore I’d never do it again, but I know of a two super places for experienced, mature servers to hang their bistro aprons. Email me ASAP.
Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.