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The Bum's Rush, Restaurant Style
By Dianne Nicolini
A couple of weeks ago my husband and I and another couple decided to have dinner at a trendy new restaurant in our hometown of Oakland, Calif. Asian-fusion small plates. Sort of tapas in Hong Kong. Now, I must admit that I am not a big fan of Asian food -- and that my not loving Asian food is, in the eyes of my family members and others, a serious personality flaw. But, I ask, where's the butter and wine? I've noticed that these ingredients are seriously lacking in Asian cooking. And what is fine cuisine or, really, life, without them?
Anyway, the restaurant hot spot had taken all the reservations they were going to take for that Saturday evening so I put our name on the waiting list. A wait of forty-five minutes to an hour was estimated by the hostess. No, that's wrong. She was, at the very least, the maitresse d', but I think she may also have been one of the owners. That is to say, she seemed like someone you could trust.
But we had lots to catch up on. Kids in college. Other kids learning to drive -- eek. Respective jobs, going well. Too well. Too much time spent working, not enough spent living. And hey, don't we know that guy at the bar, the Art Garfunkel look-alike? Hope not.
After an hour, I, as the designated squeaky-wheel, approached the hostess/owner. "I'm so sorry," she said. "It's one of those nights. No one will leave!" She described hovering over parties who had finished their dessert and green tea cappuccinos. Bringing the check unrequested. Cheerfully saying, "Please do join us again soon." But they refused to budge, according to her. And so we waited and talked. I wondered what we would have left to talk about when we were finally seated – which happened two hours after we entered the restaurant.
Fast forward to a few weeks later. Another Saturday night with another couple of friends. We're enjoying a truly spectacular meal at one of San Francisco's most popular California-cuisine institutions. We had wonderful steak tartare, very original marinated beets on a stick, a glorious rib-eye with mashed potatoes so smooth and rich it's hard to believe they're just potatoes. And the desserts. Imagine chocolate croissant bread pudding. We had been seated at 8:00. It was now 10:00 and before we had sucked down one cup of coffee each, we were handed the check. How very un-Continental. I was stung. I thought San Francisco was more sophisticated than this. We dropped two credit cards on the bill and asked the waiter to split the check and to please bring us more coffee. Before we knew it, we were being visited by the maitre d'. Hands clasped behind his back, grinning. “Everything all right? Did you enjoy your meal?" And the memorable, "Please join us again soon". I wanted to say, "But sir, we're still joining you now."
Yes, it was clear we were getting the restaurant version of the bum's rush. I looked downstairs to the bar on the first level and saw that it was jam-packed with San Francisco's hippest set waiting to eat. Did I recall our own similar experience weeks earlier? Yes, I knew exactly how they felt.
So what did I do? After-dinner drinks for the table.
Dianne Nicolini is the midday host on radio station Classical 102.1 KDFC in San Francisco. She is also the mother of two teenagers and has been married for more than 25 years to Oakland pediatrician James Hanson.