Pomposity abounding

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
June 30, 2004
While on vacation in the Florida Panhandle last week, I had one of the most bizarre fine-dining experiences ever.
After several meals of fried seafood served in cheesy tourist traps filled with noisy kids (one of which was ours), we needed a break.
The restaurant was in one of the trendiest sections of the beach. Glowing reviews were scattered throughout its advertising. The chef's accolades were touted by the dozen. My wife and I love good food; we had a babysitter, so we made a reservation.
Pretentious service
I hate pretentious service. This restaurant specialized in it. The waiter gave exhaustive descriptions of the wine and food offerings. He verbally assaulted us with the minutest details of the chef's life and his creations.
Any question was met with a three-minute soliloquy on the virtues of that dish, the chef's brilliance and a stern warning of what might happen if we deviate from the norm.
The restaurant was small eight tables. The waiter had the entire dining room to himself. His instances of unsolicited verbal diarrhea were not isolated. We listened as he gave the same spiel to each table.
What some restaurants need is a server swatter. Like a fly swatter except larger, 6 feet long, with an easy-to-grip handle and a three-foot by three-foot soft-mesh swatting surface nothing that would harm a pompous waiter, just something that would grab his attention and bring him back down to earth.
It could be kept on the floor beside the table, and whenever a server spouted off a round of pretentious bovine excrement, you could pick it up and SWAT! upside his head.
Server swatter
There would have been multiple occasions to use a server swatter at this restaurant. The following are actual quotes from our dining experience:
I took this particular statement as a challenge and tried to get my wife to order the lamb just to see what the chef would say if he came out. This night she had her mind set on fish, so we never found out.
No substitutions
But I'll tell you this; if I were allergic to an ingredient, I would expect the chef to leave that ingredient out of my dish. Recipes are organic documents, not laws written in stone.
Double SWAT!
This waiter actually told a table seated beside us, "If you ask for extra sauce, I don't know what he'll do." Here folks, want to borrow my server swatter?
True or not, the server created the persona of a madman in the kitchen who might snap at any minute, come running into the dining room, chef knife in hand, and massacre everyone who chose to visit his restaurant and pay to eat his food.
Maybe tourist traps, fried seafood, and screaming kids aren't that bad, after all.
Robert St. John is an author, chef, restaurateur and world-class eater. He is the owner/executive chef of the Purple Parrot Caf, Crescent City Grill and Mahogany Bar in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at www.nsrg.com.

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