Sunday, June 1, 2008

Order Up.

I'm the guy who asks waiters for his recommendation on what to order. Some of my friends think this habit is embarassing, or annoying, or that it slows the ordering process. Or that it puts the waiter on the spot. People who know my dad thinks that my habit of asking a waiter for a recommendation is very Roy Talyor-ish. Whatever the case, I'm that guy.

There are entire industries based on the idea that someone else knows better. Consultants are paid for their expert advice. Doctors are, too. Travel companies and tour guides are supposed to know their respective cities or points of interest. When I go to a restaurant, I like to know what's good and what sucks, and so I'll ask the waiter, who's supposed to be an expert at their restaurant, right?

I understand that asking the TGI Friday's waiter might not be worth it, as he inevitably respond with "I haven't tried that" or he's just working there to make some extra money over the summer. I know this because I used to be a waiter at TGI Friday's. Or some waitstaff might be expected to know the wine menu but instead only know a few. I know this because I waited tables at a different restaurant (Friday's doesn't have a wine list) and knew only one white and one red recommendation. But at a non-chain restaurant, or one in an unfamiliar city or foreign country, you can count on me to ask for a recommendation.

Yesterday, I was in Lisbon, Portugal, at this crowded restaurant in the Bairro Alto district. Picture small cobblestone streets, Portuguese people (okay, and tourists) spilling out of the local pubs. Picture a cool evening with the sun setting where you can barely hear the crash of the Atlantic waves. Now put three different guys in that mental picture all asking me if I want to buy cocaine. You get the scene. Right down the street from cocaine dealer #2, there's this great restaurant called Bato Alto. It's crowded with locals and all the other people who bought Lonely Planet: Lisbon. After a wait of about a half-hour, we get wedged into a tiny corner to delight in this authentic experience.

Our waiter spoke English, so I asked him his recommendation. He said they were known for dried fish, which I didn't want. But in our trek through the crowded restaurant, I saw someone with a bowl of a risotto-looking dish being served tableside by another waiter. It looked kind of like oatmeal, or slop, or something mushy, brown/gray with clam shells in it.

I asked our waiter about it. He said that it had shrimp, clams, clam shells, herbs, rice and a raw egg mixed in. "99 percent of people don't like it," he advised. My sister had her friend ordered the dried fish and the specialty cod, so I thought I'd just eat more bread or something if I didn't like my order. The raw egg made me a little wary until Martha said, "you eat raw cookie dough all the time." Good point.

The waiter came to the table, dropped the raw egg and mixed it all up and served it. I must be part of the 1%, becuase it was good slop. When dessert time came, the waiter said that he didn't like the fruit and nut pie. I ordered against his recommendation on that one, too.

In other news: I'm finishing this blogpost in the Philadelphia airport. I think I just saw New York from MTV's I Love New York. Rewind and put that TV show on my list of guilty pleasures.


Kim said...

Usually the egg cooks a bit in the hot pasta. Was this dish shiny or cozy?

Quinn said...

RJ! I love it. I always ask for recs. I get you. How was lisbon then?