Food & Drink Magazine

TheRealBarman Goes Fine Dining

By Waiterstoday @Waiters_Today

TheRealBarman Goes Fine DiningI have always wondered if being raised under different circumstances would have shaped me into something more refined.  You know, oil paintings and Persian rugs and a closet brimming with velvet?  But then I remember that I blow snot rockets when no one is looking and pour gravy or BBQ sauce on everything that isn’t cereal.  This is a preemptive statement for the inevitable question that you will all be asking, or at least thinking, in the next five seconds which is, “What qualifies you, a bottle-flipping, beer-sloshing (and quite possibly drunk at this moment) bartender to offer commentary on something as sophisticated and complex as fine dining?”

I’m glad you asked.  I honestly have no idea.  But for everyone out there who is Team Blue Collar like myself, I can promise you that while doing my field research in a fine dining establishment, I did observe the scene with the judgmental scowl alcoholics practice while disapproving of happy people eating expensive meals.  This induced its intended effect of extreme discomfort among many of the people eating there, so hopefully that counts for something.

Finding one of my friends to eat out with is easy if it involves the phrase Taco Tuesday or a plate of wings at Hooters or any place that feels sucking nacho cheese off your fingers is an appropriate substitute for using a napkin.  But fine dining?  I could see by the shiftiness of their eyes and the way they started giving the back of their own neck a stress massage that this felt more like a date to them than guys hanging out.

One friend I asked said, “No thanks, I don’t believe in fine dining joints.”

I didn’t really think this was fair considering the foundation of his belief system was based on the $37 in his checking account and not the food or the experience itself.  After all, it was one thing to not prefer fine dining or not be able to afford it, but to not believe in it implies that you are a casual dining extremist who stands outside fine dining establishments with picket signs waiting to splash red paint on people who enjoy tiny portions of overpriced food.

In the end, I went alone which is even more uncomfortable than worrying if people think your gay, because now you’re just the creepy guy leering at everybody because you have nothing else to look at and you can see them covertly searching for the handkerchief and chloroform they imagine you’re hiding beneath your shirt.

After assuring the waiter that no one else was coming, I ordered a bourbon on the rocks and surveyed my environment.  Because I sustain very little sophistication in my bones, the pretension associated with fine dining escapes me:  stark white table cloths, sparkly wine glasses and silverware so big and perfectly polished I could shave in its reflection.  I particularly have trouble with Italian places, as a cipher is required to decode the menu.  The descriptions of the dishes are thirteen letters long, and this leaves me clueless as to what I am ordering.

I understand that this is my own shortcoming, but while perusing the menu I was left wondering, what exactly is Finochionna? It was described as Pork Salame with Fennel and cracked black pepper, so I get that it’s some sort of salami, but was the Finochionna served in the main ingredient of the dish or was it the dish itself?  It didn’t help matters that it was listed under the Salumeria section.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be ordering raw chicken and throwing up half the night.

Of course I could have simply asked the server to explain what each of the dishes were exactly, but I didn’t want to come off as a five year old or some rube from Ohio.  After pointing to about the fifth dish on the menu and asking, “And this?  What’s this?” I could see the look on his face, and it said, “How about you head back to TGIF’s and order yourself a nice Captain Crunch encrusted halibut?”

I eventually took the safe route and settled on braised short ribs, as it was the only thing on the menu in the form of recognizable English besides the Caesar salad.  When my food arrived, I was conscious enough not to use my napkin as a bib, but I couldn’t help but pick my ribs up with my hands and eat them as they were meant to be eaten:  with the carnivorous certainty of a man who likes his meat.  Still, I had to wonder if they hadn’t made a mistake and given me the child’s portion of ribs, but I was too petrified of the expression on the server’s face I was certain to induce, so instead I smiled and said absolutely nothing.

My lack of refinement was certainly not this restaurant’s fault and while surveying the scene (and after my third cocktail), I suddenly realized that no experience in life makes you feel or appear so suave as sitting in an elegant restaurant cutting up a filet mignon and sipping a robust glass of Petite Syrah. 

One man at a table nearby, dressed in a dark suit with slicked back hair and a neat, economical beard was doing just that. Instead of scoffing in disgust and ridiculing his alleged conceit with the sarcastic cynicism I'm used to bestowing upon the haplessly unaware, I sensed a pang of envy creeping into my belly, right where I imagine my liver might be.  It was like having Sean Connery eating twenty feet away from me. 

I couldn't quite hear him over the low din of chatter all around me, but I imagined he was entertaining his entourage with a smooth British accent while saying things like, "Do I detect hints of blackberry and currents in the Shiraz," and "Unfortunately, existentialism is far too abstract and remote to answer the question of its effect on concrete human experience."

The phrase “savoir faire” is reserved for people like this man, and in a moment of lunacy I leaned toward their table and asked in a loud voice, “Pardon me, sir, but would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?”

Ok, I didn’t really.  I just made that up.  But I wanted to.  Instead I observed them out of the corner of my eye, and even though I had no idea what their lifestyle consisted of, I imagined what it would be like to be invited to dinner parties at mansions with butlers and candelabras and a varnished oak table the size of a hockey rink.

Luckily, I am perfectly in tune with my own intellectual and worldly limitations—not to mention I have the attention span of a labrador puppy—so the feeling of envy was fleeting and I soon returned my focus to my bourbon and ribs which I attacked with the gluttonous intent of a walrus.

I eventually finished my meal, paid a bill resembling my car payment, and made my way out the front door.  As soon as I hit the sidewalk I instantly began searching for a hot dog cart so I could actually reach that pinnacle moment a feeling full.

I’m a simpleton and a minimalist.  I understand that.  But I like familiarity and when I go out to an Italian restaurant I want spaghetti or lasagna or maybe I’ll get crazy and go for the chicken Alfredo pasta.   I would never look at a menu and think, “Mmmmm…Sardines in Conservato, just like mom used to make.”

In the end, I guess I’m just another closed-minded son-of-a-bitch, stuck in my ways.

Cheers, until next time.


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