Belcourt, a Mediterraneanish restaurant in the East Village, is scheduled to open this Saturday, so last night they were practicing, serving family and friends and handing out sheets of paper for us to evaluate our experience. It's a common practice -- a sort of dress rehearsal for the restaurant's staff — although press isn't often invited to such things (or at least I'm not).
But publicist Gail Schoenberg invited me, and I had dinner with her and her high school friend Kathy, who is a bartender at a dive bar (her words) called Nancy Whiskey in Tribeca. She makes a good living. I shared with her a statistic I'd heard, and that some have trouble believing, that Hooters waitresses on average make 45 percent tips. She simply nodded. She also told me about a popular drink in Irish bars that I will never sample — the Jäger Bomb, which is a shot of Jägermeister dropped into half a Red Bull.
Some other press people were there, too, like Epicurious' James Oliver Cury and his wife Dorothy, who had been invited by chef Matt Hamilton. I noticed that Dorothy had a tattoo on her left shoulder — a heart with the word "mother" written across it. I asked her about it, and she said it was a tattoo that sailors and other tough guys have tattooed on their arms so that people would call them momma's boys, giving them the opportunity to get into a fight.
Oh, the things you learn if you just ask.
After dinner we decided to stop by Jehangir Mehta's new restaurant, Graffiti. There he told us the story of someone who called, claiming to be from a particular newspaper and asking for a reservation.
Now, Graffiti has, like, five tables, and so it's reasonable that they don't take reservations.
Could he make an exception?
Well, he supposed he could.
And what free stuff could he give them?
Well, he doesn't really do that.
How about some house wine?
What if we bought a bottle of house wine? Would you give us another one for free?
Well, you see, this is just a small restaurant and he couldn't really afford to do that.
So they canceled the reservation.
General rule of thumb for restauratuers: If someone has to ask, you shouldn't give it to them.
What we ate at Belcourt:
Chestnut, celery and sunchoke soup
Oil poached octopus with cardamom pickled carrots, salsify, coriander dressing and olive crisps
House cured duck prosciutto, spiced figs, mascarpone and lamb's tongue lettuce
Roasted butternut squash and apple ravioli, wild mushrooms brown butter and sage
Lamb burger, goat cheese, spicy ketchup, zucchini, pickle and fries
Salt cod bourridde with brandade dumplings, baby fennel, Manilla clams and sauce verte
Hanger steak with fried scallions, bone marrow sauce and brown butter
Zucchini crudo with lemon and brown butter
And at Graffiti (which we paid for, in case you were wondering, although Jehangir did pour me a bit of Merlot to drink while Gail finished her tea):
Chicory chocolate steamed bun with peanut-butter ice cream
Halva with mascarpone date cream
Grape-braised figs and black pepper ice cream