Saturday, July 10, 2010


"Turning The Tables: Restaurants From the Inside Out" by Steven A. Shaw Harper Collins, 2005 216 pages $24.95 (PV Library book sale - 50 cents)

The title sums up the book's contents, but despite it being all about "food" I felt oddly hungry after I closed it. Shaw either glosses over the good stuff (creative bad language by kitchen staffs) or tells me what I already knew -- be nice to wait staff and they'll be nice to you. His advice on getting a table at a hot! new! restuarant? Be persistent, keep calling them, work with them - if they can't seat you on Tuesday, how about Wednesday? This is the sort of New York pushiness that I really don't like.

Never having wanted a seat at the newest, hottest, this was well beyond my experience. The only local resto that had lines out the door (due to great PR) was ... Chronic Taco! Life here at the beach is very, very different than what evidently is the norm in New York City. Our "fine' dining rooms are: Union Cattle Co. and Chez Melange. And both are fine due to the quality of the food and, in Chez Melange's case, the service.

Shaw does scut work in a couple of kitchens, went to the fresh vegetable and fish markets with the restaurant buyers, visited a veal farm, a cheese-maker and a commercial herb grower.

He examines the business side of a restaurant - location, rent, maximum and minimum number of staff needed, linens, china, glassware - the restaurant's "look" and uses as an example a place under construction - Cafe Gray in the Time-Warner Center, under the direction of chef Gray Kunz.* Kunz is working with kitchen architect Jimi Yui. To say the chef is demanding is understatement. He doesn't like the chrome finish on the pipe (because it will dull and scratch after repeated cleanings.) He wants a pipe to be square, not round( so that it will sit flush against the far wall of the cooking island.) Not surprisingly, construction costs soar.

A problem with books like this is that in a nanosecond, material can go out-of-date. Shaw adores Tavern on the Green (for example) and it's closed and has been for some time. In its heyday, it was nothing more than a gigantic tourist trap. Any kitchen that turns out some 3,000 plates for a Sunday brunch is not going to be that good. You're much better off at the local Mom'n Pop cafe where service is individualized. You can ask for "really dry scrambled eggs" and sit back with confidence that you're going to get exactly what you ordered. Not that we here at the beach are all that picky....

* Kunz and his restaurant are gone with the wind. Another problem with writing about "hot! new!" places ... they can fold like a fan and be gone before you really knew they were there.

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