The thing about food, and about food in a world-class city like the one I’m ridiculously fortunate to live in, is not only that it’s available in outrageous abundance, but it’s available in all shapes, forms, sizes, varieties, tastes, price ranges, and settings. That whole myth about New York being overpriced isn’t necessarily true. You just have to know how to eat, where to eat, and how not to be taken advantage of. Basically you have to do a little bit of research, which isn’t that difficult to do given the advent of this thing they call the internet and these crazy innovations called books. Books are free for the browsing, so even if you don’t have the bucks to drop on books, you can leaf through some of them at a Barnes & Noble without being hassled. Unless, of course, you’re setting them on fire as you’re leafing through them. Then you’ll run into a bit of a problem.
But let’s just say you’re reasonably intelligent. You’re not a slackjawed nincompoop. You have the ability to think for yourself, at least marginally. You know what you like to eat, you know the kind of restaurant you enjoy, and you know how much money you have in your wallet. You also know how you like to dress when you eat. So, adding all these variables together, and doing a minimum of brain- or legwork, you should be able to come up with a setting in which to partake of a meal.
So why is it that no matter where I go, I am witness to someone complaining about something in a restaurant? I don’t mean a fork that’s less than clean, or someone smoking in the next booth in a no-smoking section, or the fact that there’s a fly in your soup (does that ever really happen?). I mean stuff like what I witnessed on Saturday night at Zen Palate.
It’s a vegetarian restaurant. Vegan. It’s got an Asian flair. The flavors are incredible, the service is impeccable, the decor is tasteful and comfortable. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve had a dining experience par excellence. Although it had been about a year since the DOG and I were there, the owner and waiters remembered us and greeted us heartily. They welcomed us warmly, full of bonhomie. In fact, they’re so nice, respectful, and considerate that after our dinner, when the DOG and I were already a few blocks away, the owner of the restaurant ran up to us with the DOG’s scarf, which he had left behind at our table. We were blown away by this gesture, and impressed that he had even found us given that this isn’t a two-bit town consisting only of Main Street and Maple Lane — but then again, that’s the kind of people who run the place. Truly “good people”, as my father would say.
So, anyway, it’s a vegan restaurant. They play New Age sort of music that you can barely hear, but it adds a nice sort of easy flow to complement the food. But some pinched-face schmuck at a neighboring table was offended by it and called a waiter over to command, in an ill-mannered voice completely devoid of humor, that the music either be changed or turned down. Because, of course, this man, who also had to question the waiter about the methods of each tofu dish’s preparation, was clearly the center of the universe.
(Tip for the men: Nothing shouts “pussy” louder than a man asking how tofu is prepared. Except, of course, when he sniffs at the word “sautéed” and asks to have it steamed.)
His companion ordered a plate of steamed vegetables (please, don’t even get me started on that) as her entrée, and it came with some sort of dressing or sauce on the side. “Don’t you have any other options?” Mr. Sourpuss asked with raised eyebrows, downturned mouth, and more than just a touch of disdain. (Because, of course, the woman was too meek to speak up for herself.)
“I’ve got an option for you, you haughty bastard,” I whispered to the DOG. “How about my foot up your ass. Or, if that’s not to your liking, how about I rub your face into a nice stucco wall. Or how about this novel idea: A different restaurant.”
But this couple wasn’t the only one that should have taken their business elsewhere. To my left were two women. They appeared to be a mother/daughter combo. The daughter ordered a dish that contained tempura mushrooms, and when it came out, she sneered at it and sat there as if the waiter had just plunked down a steaming dish of braised tripe. She couldn’t even touch the table surrounding the plate. It was that offensive.
She stared down at her dish in disbelief. Apparently her brain was incapable of processing the information that “tempura” apparently has something to do with fried food. She called the waiter over. “Take this away,” she said. “Can you just bring me a salad?” I did not hear what the waiter said, but he looked a little confused. “Is this what I ordered?” the girl asked, impatience and a bit of hysteria creeping into her voice. The waiter assured her it was. “Just bring me a salad,” she repeated, and waved her hand in dismissal at the plate of food before her.
Now, listen, you uppity motherfuckers. This is a specialty restaurant. When you go to a place like this, you know what you’re in for. You either read the menu posted by the front door if you’re not familiar with the place, or you come to the restaurant equipped with the knowledge that it’s Asian vegan food. You come prepared to expect something different from your usual “chow”. You don’t come to this place expecting Houlihan’s. And if you do, then you’re better off going to Houlihan’s in the first place. (Which, by the way, is where the daughter belonged, given her dirty sneakers and frayed pants. But again, don’t get me started on the way people dress when they go out to eat.)
I’m a big proponent of “When in Rome …”. When you’re in a nice restaurant, being treated like royalty by graceful, accommodating people, act in kind. When you’re in a restaurant, remember you’re in a restaurant and the items on the menu are there for a reason. If you’re going to find fault with everything about the place, from the music to the menu to the food preparation and beyond, then you always have the option of staying home.