Tag Archives: server blog

The Dragon Lady [PartI]

8 Oct

“Jamie? Sammy? Daaaaaaaavid? Where IS everybody? I’m here!”

Our most infamous regular had arrived. It was only 4:30pm,  the restaurant was empty. And I was the only person on the floor. It was just me, The Dragon Lady, and the bruised shadow of her Ego, secretly hiding in the dark folds of her waist-length black hair. 

“Where is everybody?,” The Dragon Lady asked again, this time with suspicion. The creature in her hair was already roused, assessing the threat, ready to attack.

I waited on Nikki, The Dragon Lady, for the first time on October 8th, 2008.  I was at my old restaurant then, a small french bistro on the Upper East Side.  Nikki struck me as so eccentric, that I held onto the waiter-pad from that night (I was thinking about TheInsideWaiter blog even then), and I wrote about her in my journal, the whole train ride home. 

The first thing I noted about Nikki was her delicious voice. She spoke like a queen, with heightened speech, and long sung vowels.  Her voice was more than “affected,” it was effective, making even the most stubborn waiter hinge at his waist. 

The Dragon Lady was a modern regal, a stunning, petite woman of  ambiguous Asian descent, and the Ex-wife to a famous New York restaurateur and club-owner. She was highly educated, and yet, there was something just plain cow-town American about her, especially when she said things like, “Awwww’ come on!,” and, “gimme’ a break!”  

Sonny, our most senior server, once told me the story of the afternoon Nikki earned her celebrated alias, The Dragon Lady.  Nikki was one sexual cat, a cougar one might say. In the summer, Nikki’s idea of “Sunday Best” was a coral silk negligee with bamboo print, that she proudly wore, without underwear, to our bistro’s brunch, every Sunday.  Nikki loved to bring her one night stands with her, usually younger men, and make-out with her Johns on the patio, after being emboldened by a few bottles of Peirre Jouet.       

One afternoon when Sonny was waiting on her outside, and her John was in the W.C., she asked Sonny, “Hey Sonny, What do you think of Brazilians?” Sonny didn’t quite understand what she meant, until she uncrossed her legs and opened her silk negligee, and said once more, “Now… what do you think of Braaaaazilians?” And so The Dragon Lady was named (After a racist-sexist stereotype, perpetuated in film and on this blog). 

Sonny once warned me, “Waiting on her is like riding a wild Bull.  If you can ride her once, she’ll remember. But if you can’t ride her, she’ll remember.” Tonight I  intended to ride her for at least 8 seconds, if not for eight courses.

And I was well prepared. This was not my first encounter with the Dragon Lady. I had waited on her many times before, but only as the back-waiter to her favorite servers, the aforementioned Jamie, Sonny and Daaaaaavid (He was as pretty as his long “a’s” implied).

I knew what to expect: In the first place, she was an eater. Secondly, there would be many questions. And most importantly, The Dragon was as indecisive as she was decisive, and the process of ordering would probably take twenty minutes, if not half an hour (Fortunately I had no other tables);  and once the kitchen got the ticket, multiple changes to the order would be made throughout the night. Things were inevitably going to be sent back: “smudged” glassware, “dry” bread, “unsippable” cocktails,  “measly” mussels, “overdressed” caesar salads… you are getting the idea.

I escorted The Dragon to table,  Table 41, her corner-booth of choice. 

“Oh. Let’s try something in the sun this afternoon. I’m cold,” she said, before assuming her throne.

She was testing me already. I knew very well that she would move from “something in the sun” to her old table 41, in a matter of five minutes; but, let the games begin.

“So where is Sonny. Where’s Daaaaaaaaaavid?” she insisted again.

I explained for the third time, that her preferred waiter toys were “off tonight.”  I watched her trying to imagine Sonny in civilian clothing –without an apron– not anticipating her entrance into the bistro. She was clearly nervous to be taking risks with a newbie like myself, but not as disappointed (or nervous) as I was.   

Whatever; I’m hungry,” she said whimsically, pretending that it didn’t matter. “Oh, I haaaaaave to eat. I am FAMISHED. Just FAMISHED!,” and then she began laughing at herself, with those delicious low tones. “I have a new trainer. I can hardly moooove, but feel these abs, feeeeeeeel them. Go head. Feeeel them!,” she demanded.

“Just say NO,” right? Easier said than done.  It would have been more awkward not to touch her, than to touch her, so I petted the cat’s belly.

“Can you believe I’m forty-seven. Forty-seven! Aaaaaaaah!,” and she screamed like a party girl. “And I have five kids. FIVE. Feel that stomach.”

Nice. You have kids?,” I asked.

“Oh my god, yes, they are with him tonight. Thank God,” she said. “Do I want a cocktail? What do you think I want?”

She asked the most dangerous question a customer, let alone a Dragon, could ask: What-do-you-think-I-want? Ohhhh, She was bold, buttering me up like that with her abs, her kids, and then hitting me in the face with a question like that.

“Well— I hate these sweet cocktails. What would you get?,” she queried.

The time had come to ride the bull.

“Honestly, right now,” I said. “I’m craving a dirty, dry, Plymouth martini up.” I thought she’d never go for it, but hey, tell the truth.

“Oooh. I like how you said that! I’ve never had a gin martini. I must have one.”

Bombs were going off in my head. Never had a gin martin? She was a forty-seven-year-old Manhattan socialite, the divorcee of a prestigious bar owner. How could you avoid a gin martini?

“What does it taste like?,” she asked, now concerned by her hastiness.

My God, this was like asking, “what do eggs taste like? What does the sky taste like,” It tastes like eggs, the sky; but still, I tried to muster up some description.

“Well, there’s definitely juniper berries, and herbaceous notes on the gin, with hint of pine. And… the olive juice adds a bit of saltiness? You have to try one.”

“If you think so,” she dared.

“Yes, lets,” I countered. She smiled at my boldness. I turned to place the drink order, before she stopped me.

“What’s your name?,” she asked with a smirk.

“TheInsideWaiter,” I said.

“Well InsideWaiter,” she said, “Do you happen to know what TIPS stand for?”

“Uuuugh— no,” I said.

“To-Insure-Proper-Service. TIPSsssssssss,” and she slid a tightly folded piece of paper into my hand, while looking directly into my eyes.

Indeed, she was a dragon. In the server station, I opened my hand and unfolded the bills. That’s why Sonny was so protective of her, that’s why he worked himself into conniptions over her entrees; he was just insuring proper service. By the end of this dinner date, I would insure that she was my regular, not for the money, but for the material . . . [Pt.2]





The Alchemist

23 Sep

For a moment I thought Table 25, Seat One, might have known a bit about wine.  He ordered a bottle of Mazuelo from Rioja that I usually recommend, and sell quite a bit of, the . It’s cheap and delicious. 

However, upon pouring a taste, he gave himself away immediately as someone that had picked the bottle for its price, and not its region or varietal: first, he held the damn glass by the bowl, not the stem; and second, his whimpy attempt to airate the wine in his glass, was novice, if not pathetic.  Watching him swirl his wine was  uncomfortable. It was that same feeling you get when you watch  a civilian throw the first pitch at Yankee Stadium — insecure, self-aware, and just plain embarrasing–. 

“Oh. Oh, this is definitely corked. Try it!” he demanded.

Now, I was not gonna be an accessory in his attempt to impress his friends.  I knew the wine, and how it should taste.  I could smell the damn thing coming off his glass. Immediately I poured myself a taste, and dared to contradict him.

-“Sir, I will give my manager a taste of this, but I’m honestly not  getting any cork here.  Now, if you don’t like the wine… that’s a different issue, and I can perhaps get you another bottle?”

-“No, no, no. I like this wine. But its definitely corked.”

-Okay, let’s try another bottle. This time I’ll decant it for you… You know, let it open up a little. It’s probably just tight.”

He was a nice guy, but I was going to beat his game. You see, I already had a plan brewing, and knew Seat 1 would find “decanting” alluring. I decanted the wine in the back station, and gave my manager a taste. My manager confirmed the bottle was uncompromised.  And so I decided to do a little psychology test; send the same bottle back to the guest, with a little blind swap, and see what happens.

I was already pouring bottle upon bottle of the Mazuelo at another table, a seventeen-top, at table 11;  I had some room to dance with bottles, without losing product, or cheating either table.  I was going to pull a blind swap. 

I brought one of Table 11’s new bottles over to table 25, Seat 1, in order for him to taste it. 

-“So much better thank you,” he said.

-“I’m glad sir. I’ll decant that for you.” 

 -“Thank you.”

 I returned to the service station and got the first decanted bottle, which was “corked.”  I picked up a new glass, and brought the decanted wine with me to table 25.  Seat 1 had already finished his little taste and so I replaced his glass with a new one.

-“Should I give it a few minutes before pouring?,” I asked.

-“Absolutely, thanks,” said Seat 1.

And so the moment their appetizers came out, I returned to the table and poured Seat 1  a taste of his decanted, “corked” bottle.

-“Please just try that for me again, after it’s been out a bit,” I said.

-“Now, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s how a rioja should taste,” he confirmed.

Waiters are magicians, alchemists of food and drink; or, atleast that’s how it appears to the guest.  In reality it takes a little know-how, a lot of running around, and pulling a few favors, to turn a pinot noir into a pinot gris, but it can be done, I assure you, it can.