Restaurant Etiquette: Mothers’ Day Brunch

Things to keep in mind when brunching out on Mothers’ Day.

1. It is Mothers’ Day for everyone. Your party is not the only party who loves their mother (or mothers). Chances are there will be many, many special requests for particular tables, quiet tables, tables that are not near the kitchen or the bathroom or a draft. You can increase your chances of getting all of your requests met by booking your reservation well in advance and booking for an early seating before the restaurant fills up.

2. Prepare for a pre-fixe. And if you know that members of your party have dietary restrictions or allergies, ask to have this noted on your reservation.

3. Be mindful of modifications. As with most services when a restaurant is busy, you and your guests will likely be more satisfied with a dish that meets your needs without requiring modifications. On rare occasions at some restaurants, modifying a dish on a busy service may result in your table’s order being cooked after a run of orders that did ordered everything as-is*. (*Most every restauranteur will deny this happens. “No one does that!” They will cry. All I am saying is that after 14 years in the industry, I have absolutely seen this happen. So do with that advice you will.)

4. Prepare for the children. For the children in your own party, prepare age appropriate entertainments (coloring books, a surprise treat, an ipad with games), but be careful about toys and games that make noise (as your neighbors at the next table may not enjoy their eggs benedict punctuated by sproings and rat-a-tats). Most restaurants will have some diversion for little ones (crayons and coloring sheets), but some won’t. Do not rely on the service staff to watch your children, as well. If your toddler is restless and wants to look at the fish tank, by all means let them look at the fish tank, but go with them. The service staff is doing their best to keep an eye (as they know to expect many children on Mothers’ day as well), but they are carrying heavy trays of hot food and beverages. No one wants to drop a cup of coffee on a curious primary-schooler.

Recipe: Cherry Clafoutis

Recipe Video here!

Cherry Clafoutis

3 cups dark, sweet cherries (fresh or frozen), pitted and halved

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp flour

Pinch cinnamon

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups milk

1/8 tsp salt

2/3 cup sugar, separated into 1/3 cup portions

1 tbs vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

1 tbs butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place cherries on a foil lined baking sheet and roast until soft, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice, 2 tsp flour and a healthy pinch of cinnamon. Set aside.

In the pitcher of a blender, or a large flat bowl with an immersion blender, combine milk, eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar, salt, vanilla, and almond extract. Blend on high until combined, about 1 minute. Melt 1 tbs butter in a heavy bottom, oven safe skillet. Pour in a 1/4 inch layer of custard and cook over medium heat until set. Remove from heat.

Add half of the cherries, sprinkle with 1/3 of the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, then pour on the rest of the custard, finish with the remaining cherries and sugar.

Bake in 425 degree oven until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before serving in wedges.

Restaurant 101: 86

If you’ve seen any film or television show set a restaurant, you have heard the number ’86’ thrown around like a verb by restaurant staff.

It has two meanings.

The first one is “We’re out of” as in “86 the meatloaf” means “We are out of the meatloaf.”

The second meaning is little more ephemeral. As in “That guy at table 12 is 86.” This means two things in itself– one, “that guy” is going to be ushered from the premises pronto, and the manager or owner wants the staff to get a good look at him, because an 86’d guest is usually not to be served in the future.

Restaurants are loathe to lose a customer, so generally the 86’d person would need to behave absolutely heinously to be 86’d.

There are several theories as to where the slang usage originated, but the one that makes the most sense to me is as a synonym for… dead. As the parameters for a grave are eight feet long and six feet deep. So the meatloaf is dead; it is 86. And when a customer behaves foully, they can become dead to the restaurant; just as if they were eight feet across and six feet deep.

Hospitality @ Home: Tea Service

Ah, tea. More than mere coffee’s aromatic cousin, tea is an event in itself.

And if you are a coffee purist who asserts that decaf shall never cross your lips, herbal teas are a great hot beverage for when your caffeinated heart gets close to bedtime.

From Japan to Ethiopia, Russia to Great Britain, tea is an important part of many culinary traditions. Tea services can be elaborate and intimidating, but the best equipment for a simple tea is what you have on hand.

The most important aspect of tea service to keep in mind is this; Tea is about gathering.

Like the fire was to our ancient ancestors, so the piping hot tea pot at the center of the table is a place for us to arrange ourselves around something warm.

All that is required is hot water, tea leaves, and vessels to sip from. But if you have some sweeteners, cream and some odds and ends of savories and sweets to serve alongside, all the better. You will hardly ever go wrong pairing mild buttery, fruit, or nut flavors with tea. Scones with cranberries or currants are classic with an afternoon tea for good reason.

Tea as an event is a great idea if you are cash strapped and still hoping to entertain; because tea is generally in the afternoon, or presented as bit of a diversion between or after meals. To host a tea, you need not prepare an elaborate affair. With a quick tart or clafoutis on the table and a simple tea service, you will be the consummate host for any guest who pops by.

Generally, I fill a glass teapot (because that is what I have) with boiling water, and prepare a tray with an assortment of bagged tea, lemon wedges, cream, and sugar (or other sweeteners) so my guests can choose which tea suits them best. I am persnickety, so I arrange my teas from highest caffeine level to the lowest so it is easy to find when pulling a packet for a guest!

A simple tea service is an excellent alternative to a glass of wine for those teetotaling times.

I hope you gather around a cuppa today!

Restaurant Etiquette: Non-Verbal Communication.

It is said that 90% of communication is non-verbal. In a restaurant dining room, the rules are no different. Although if you are hoping to avoid interruptions to the ambiance at your table, you can communicate to dining room staff almost exclusively in non-verbal cues.

Sometimes you are deep in conversation, having a great time, and it seems like every five minutes a waitperson is interrupting to see if you need more wine, or bread, or if you are still enjoying that lasagna.

Here are few non-verbal things that can easily be performed in a restaurant setting (and make you look like a dining Jedi to your guests!):

1 If you don’t want more wine/coffee/water/etc, simply hold your hand above your glass when the server circles the table with a bottle or a pitcher (Coffee or teacups in a saucer can be turned upside down in their saucer if you do not wish to have them refilled).

2 When you have finished with your plate, place the cutlery side by side, face down on the plate, diagonally, like the hands of a clock with the tips in the center and the handles pointing to 5:00.

3 If you are merely taking a break from dining, place your cutlery on the top edges the plate, fork on the left and knife on the right (or on whichever side you use them). Alternately, when you see a staff member approaching to clear the table, simply pick your fork up again, or cut a fresh bite of your meal.

4 When a server approaches to check that all is well at the table, simply meet her gaze, make eye contact, and give a reassuring nod.

5 If you are ready for a glass to be cleared or refilled, move it to the edge of the table so if can be easily reached.

6 If you are ready for the check place your credit card on the edge of the table where the server is likely to see it.

Recipe: Soft Boiled Eggs Benedict

Brunch is one of those things that is excellent in a restaurant, but can be a bit tricky to perform at home, as the main event tends to rely on the every fiddly ingredient: Eggs.

To present at their best, eggs ought to be enjoyed as soon as they are cooked. But who wants to spend their whole morning in the kitchen hovering over a steaming skillet, serving one plate of flapjacks at a time?

This is a quick and easy dish I rely on when serving brunch in my tiny apartment, and it hasn’t let me down yet!

https://youtu.be/AlrjpYOzPM4

Blender Hollandaise:

(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

3 egg yolks

1 stick of butter (melted)

1-2 tbs lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 black pepper

In the bowl of a blender combine the egg yolks, 1 tbs lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend on high until well combined and thick. Add melted butter 1 tbs at a time, blending continuously. Once half of the butter has been incorporated, add the remaining butter all at once. When the sauce is thick and homogeneous, taste and adjust seasoning with additional lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

If you need to ‘hold’ the sauce while preparing other components, pour sauce in a lidded glass jar, and place in a pan of tepid water to keep warm.

Soft boiled eggs

(adapted from the clever folks at Cooks Illustrated)

Allow eggs to reach room temperature so they don’t crack when placed in the pan. Bring 1/2 an inch of water to boil in a large flat pot with a tight fitting lid. With tongs, gently place eggs in boiling water. Cover with a tight fitting lid and steam for six minutes (for soft, runny yolks. Add another 30 seconds for lightly set yolks, and 30 more seconds for firmer yolks). With tongs, place eggs in a bowl and run cold water over them for 1 minute. Peel eggs under running water, and serve. If you need to warm the eggs just before serving, simply place in warm water for 30 seconds.

Restaurant 101: “Corner!”

If you have ever encountered a neighbor at your local supermarket hollering “Corner” while hurtling around the end of the cereal aisle, chances are you narrowly missed slamming into a person who works in a restaurant.

(I will neither confirm nor deny that I have shouted “Corner” in public spaces like farmer’s markets, parking garages, and the market down the street from my apartment.)

Restaurant staff work constantly in tight quarters with hot, heavy, cumbersome plates of food and trays of martini glasses, and so some strategies develop to make it less likely that a bartender with a tray of glassware will collide with a busser laden with arm-loads of dirty plates. When rounding a blind spot in the restaurant floorplan– generally near the major entrances and exits to the kitchen, bar, or scullery– if one listens intently, one may hear a chorus of “Corner” being performed throughout the night.

Get close to the kitchen, and you might also hear such juicy tidbits as “On your back!” And “Hot Behind!” Or their spanish cousin “Atras!” All of which serve the same general purpose; to keep folks from crashing into one another and spilling a tray of hot shortribs all over the floor.