Monday, December 29, 2008

How to spend a two-hour wait

December 29

“This is one of the things I hate about New York,” my friend Yishane Lee said.
We had friends visiting from out of town who wanted to go to The Spotted Pig on a Friday night. At 8pm.
The Spotted Pig is one of the hottest restaurants in the city, and it doesn’t take reservations. But Jeff Cranmer and Susie Park are good friends, and it was the day after Christmas. That’s a busy shopping day, of course, but an anomalous restaurant day. And the economy is in a shambles, after all. Perhaps The Pig would be quiet.

Nope. I was the first person in our party to arrive, and I squeezed my way through the crowd to get to the host’s stand. The host was nice enough, and apologetic yet fatalistic when he told me it would be a two to two-and-a-half hour wait for a four-top. I thanked him, had him write my first name down (I spelled it out for him, with one ‘t,’ he wrote it with two — that happens more often than not, and it fascinates me) and went inside to wait for my friends.
Just so you know, Jeff and Susie are no rubes. They knew it might be a long wait, but they wanted to see what all the fuss over The Spotted Pig was about. Sometimes to find out things like that, you have to wait.
It’s one of the things I hate about New York, too.

But of course the most important part of a meal is who you eat with. That’s also the most important part of a two to two-and-a-half hour wait.
If you ever see me using unusual but apt turns of phrase, I learned that from Jeff, who seems either to start from scratch or to continue part of his own internal linguistic dialog when he makes observations. I’d give you an example, but I can’t muster any great Jeffisms at the moment. I do think my use of the word “muster” probably came from him, in spirit at least.
He was doing a lot more verbal gymnastics when we met, oh, I'm gonna say 13 years ago in Bangkok. But we all had more vigor back in those days.
Susie does retail merchandising for Old Navy and was really after me to invest in a $1,000 coffee maker for my home, because a great cup of coffee is worth it. And of course she has a point. Susie is usually right.
And she was right that the crowd waiting for tables at The Spotted Pig was more boorish and apparently less accustomed to living indoors or associating with other people than you would expect from New Yorkers. As people stood around in friend groups near the bar, they seemed oblivious to the fact that people behind them might want a shot at making eye contact with the bartender. They didn't seem to know that if you make uninvited physical contact with someone — an elbow to the shoulder blade, a shoulder to the face — you’re supposed to acknowledge it with a brief verbal apology or, at the very least, a look of regret.
So it seemed to be a bridge-and-tunnel crowd (living in Brooklyn, I, too, am technically bridge-and-tunnel — I know), but I was with good friends who know not only how to behave in close New York spaces (Jeff and Susie lived in New York themselves for a few years), but also how to gracefully take over bar stools as they are vacated.
So we managed to score three stools, and for awhile the four of us tested our balance by sharing them while eating appetizers. We were then thinking of heading to Arturo’s for pizza, but an hour and fifty-seven minutes into our wait the staff offered us a table.
And it was a doozy of a table. I don’t usually notice when I’m getting a great table, but we got the corner booth in the back of the ground floor, by the window. Very classy.

What we ate at the bar:
prosciutto and ricotta tart with marjoram
sweetbreads with piperade and mint
sheep's ricotta gnudi with brown butter & sage
Somthing else, the name of which I have forgotten, but it’s basically the face meat of a pig made into little cakes — like crab cakes, but out of pork.

What we ate at the table:
Chargrilled burger with roquefort cheese & shostrings (two of them split among the four of us)
Scallops stewed with girolles & crème fraîche
beets with greens
Brussels sprouts
Walnut, chocolate & Amaretto cake
Ginger cake.

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