Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beware of 6 & 10!

As much as I love getting down and dirty in the kitchen, I look forward to a nice night out as much as the next girl. I’m lucky enough to live in one of the greatest cities on the planet, and there’s always a restaurant out there that I’m dying to try. I’ve been known to exercise my spontaneous side every once in a while, but there are times when a girl needs a plan, and a reservation.

Late night eating establishments are one of my favorite features of NYC, and it’s always easy to be seated when you arrive at a restaurant around midnight, but there are other occasions when an earlier, more delicate dining time is required. Much to my chagrin, and in the middle of a restaurant-wide recession no less(!), I’ve found that reserving a table in this town is turning me into a veritable conspiracy theorist. Is it just me, or are New York restaurants locking you out of a table at a reasonable hour too? I tell ya, dear readers, it’s gotten to the point where I’ve given up on the whole conceit of booking. I just show up. My advice? Forgedaboud booking or beware of 6 & 10!

The truth is, nothing irks me more than when I call to make a reservation (even if it’s weeks, maybe months in advance) and the receptionist tells me she only has 6:00 and 10:00 available. Now, I know there are a hefty handful of overcrowded restaurants in this city that honestly do get booked between the hours of 6 and 10 every night; but, I also know that most do not.

How do I know this? It’s proven to me again and again when, instead of making a reservation, or rather, after trying to make a reservation and being told they only have 6 and 10 available (ugh!), I just walk into the restaurant at my preferred 8:30 eating time and am promptly seated. Sometimes I have to wait at the bar for ten minutes while they pretend the empty tables in easy eyeshot are reserved, but I like delayed gratification and a pre-dinner cocktail. What I don’t like is the pretense that I’m being ushered to the bar for any other reason than to spend money while waiting for my table.

I’m convinced that receptionists and hostesses across town are being told to give potential patrons the appearance of being busier than they truly are by telling them they only have 6 and 10 available, when this is clearly false. Their pretension astounds me, especially when it means they will lose (and have lost!) my business for behaving this way.

Not everyone buys into my 6 & 10 conspiracy theory. Mr. Mix has often accused me of being dramatic and cautioned that I am underestimating the popularity of so many of the restaurants I take for granted. Without giving away any particulars, I set out to prove him wrong. We selected a restaurant in my ‘hood; one that, while still quite popular, had been open long enough for the overwhelming buzz surrounding it to die down. I called the weekend before, looking for an 8:30 rez for the following Saturday. “I’m sorry,” the reservationist cooed, “but we only have 6 & 10 available.”

“Of course you do,” I thought, but what I said was, “That’s alright.”

Through clenched teeth I asked, “Might it be possible to get on a waiting list? Should you wind up with any cancelations I’ll gladly take the table.” I gave her my number, all the while presuming she was more likely to be texting than taking down my digits.

Needless to say, I never received a call about any tables opening up, but Mr. Mix and I arrived promptly at 8:30 on the date in question–and like the TNT movie marathon you’ve sat through far too many times, we were told there’d be a wait; we were sent to the bar for a quick cocktail, and by 8:45 we were whisked away to a lovely corner table in a restaurant that wasn’t quite packed. I eyed our hostess, wondering if she was the one who gave me the spiel. Our meal was lovely, but it was tainted by the taste of 6 & 10.

I know I could probably get around this problem, but the truth is, when booking, I never tell a reservationist I write a food blog; I never expect special treatment, but I know I could probably wield that power if I wanted to. I don’t. I want my dining experiences to be on par with everyone else’s…no “belles” and whistles, just an average night out.

I have friends who work in all areas of the restaurant world, from tiny 12-seaters in Brooklyn to the temples of the James Beard award-winning food gods (and the publicists who put all those people in their seats), and when I bitch to them about the about wily ways of New York reservationists, they always say, “Just call me the next time you need a rezzie and I’ll get it for you.” Snotty McSnobster is a particular example, sitting as he does at the top of the NYC food chain, but I never take him up on his offer. This city is supposed to be an everyman society. If I have the money, and the café’s got the table, I should get a reservation without having to call in the big guns from on high. Right?

Wrong. And it’s high time I dig my heels in and take this town to task. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to unleash a new feature on my blog. One I’ve resisted for the three and a half years I’ve been writing it; one that will offer me my own seat at the table of culinary critics; one that I am constantly asked about and very rarely concede. Tomorrow I will offer my first official restaurant review. And I’ll do it on camera! To be fair, my video blog–or vlog, as the kids are calling it these days–will be more of a casual recommendation than a critical evaluation, but it will offer an entirely honest, off-the-cuff, unsolicited account of this Food Maven’s experiences eating out. I’ll post these vlogs here on my blog, on my Facebook fan page and on Yelp. So please, keep your eyes peeled for tomorrow’s inaugural post, write in and let me know how I’m doing or share your own tale from the frontlines of the mean foodie streets. For a city that’s been as good to me as New York has, I feel like it’s time to honor both those lauded institutions and hole-in-the-wall destinations that steer clear of the curse of 6 & 10.

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