I knew something was wrong last night when a friend and I walked into Sant Ambreous, a little restaurant at the corner of West 4th Street and Perry Street. It was around 9:30 pm. The atmosphere felt a little too stiff and formal, and they were all too glad to see us. Restaurants that have their act together never show excitement when a customer walks in. It’s always a sign of desperation. They need to just smile and keep their zen cool.
On top of which the waiters wore pink shirts with black ties. Village restaurants should always use waitresses who look like Sylvia Plath and who wear black leotard tops or somewhat tight sweaters, or…whatever, young, sharp-looking guys who may or may not be gay but who look it. But nobody wears ties — what is this, the Radisson in St. Paul?
Another trouble sign was that the bartender, a young girl from Brazil, spoke with heavily-accented English, and a little too softly. Bartenders always look you in the eye and speak plainly and with confidence, like a banker.
A voice was telling me to leave right away but we stayed because it was cold out. The voice was actually screaming at me to leave. As Lawrence Tierney‘s gangster character said in Reservoir Dogs, “When you’ve got instinct you don’t need proof.”
The pasta I ordered was so drenched in oil and garlic that it was almost pasta soup. But the defining death blow was the fact that my friend and I had brought a bag with two pieces of cake (i.e., that pear cake from a couple of nights ago) inside some tin foil, and we wanted to sample it. We’d already spent about $62 dollars and had a relatively decent time, but we were the last people in the place and asked the bartender if we could have a couple of forks. It was the end of the night, we’d spent our money and we just wanted a couple of bites of that Dean & Deluca cake.
The bartender asked the manager — a guy in his late 40s or early 50s, also wearing a pink shirt and black tie — and a minute later he came up behind us (we were sitting at the bar) and said he couldn’t oblige. “We have many fine desserts here,” he explained. “You should try one of them.” I saw red. I told him I would never return to his place, and that I would do what I can to dissuade others from visiting. Which is what I’m doing right now.
If it were my restaurant and it was late and a couple that had just ordered a fair amount of food and drink wanted to sample their own dessert…fine. If it was right in the middle of the dinner rush, I might politely decline. But when it’s pushing 11 and your staff is cleaning up and putting chairs on top of tables, what’s the difference?