Are New Yorkers becoming Parisians?
It started in my friendly local bike shop, Bike Works on Ridge St.
Me: Hi there.
Me: Hi there.
Me: Excuse me.
Man: (Looks up.)
Me: I was wondering if you had any bike helmets.
Me: Oh, right. Well, do you have any ideas for where I should go to get
Man: Maybe in a couple of weeks.
Me: But if I wanted one now, where should I go?
Man: A bike shop.
But it only got worse with my arrival at Patria, hitherto my favourite
restaurant in New York. It seemed to me to exemplify the best of New World
cuisine — innovative fusions of Latin tastes with classic French techniques;
friendly, unhurried and not obsequious service; airy high ceilings; an
excellent cocktail bar; a fabulous wine list; etc., etc.
Then, however, I started hearing reports that it had moved to quite
a steep prix-fixe system, and that it was getting a bit full of itself.
They were right — the restaurant now seems much more interested in self-glorification
than in giving its diners the best possible experience.
It started well — the woman who took the reservations was very friendly.
When I later asked if I could put it back from 9 to 10, it took a while
but was done again in a very friendly way. But as soon as our party entered
the restaurant, it all started going downhill.
The maitre d’ first announced that I was not allowed into the restaurant
on the grounds that I was wearing shorts. Never mind that there was a
heatwave going on outside, never mind that I would be sitting at a table
all evening with my legs safely out of view, never mind that these were
very smart, below-the-knee corduroy long shorts — almost knickerbockers,
really. No, rules is rules, and I wasn’t allowed in. Now sometimes, especially
recently, I’ve been dressing it down. But not last night. I had Gucci
loafers on, a Prada top; I was certainly just as presentable as anyone
I wasn’t fussed, to be frank, but I think the very fact that I was so
good-natured about it helped sow the seeds of later snubs. I think most
New Yorkers would be expected to harrumph and walk out to one of the multitude
of other restaurants on Park Ave S, and I think with hindsight that the
restaurant was a bit pissed off at us that we didn’t. Rather, I took up
their offer of a pair of checkered chef’s trousers — they went rather
well with my top, actually — and went to enjoy my mate Matt’s final dinner
in New York.
And the food was stupendous, and the wine was mind-blowingly good, and
the busboys were very good at keeping our water glasses filled. (Although
this did involve running off to get a second bottle of water which they
then charged us for despite the fact that no one had ordered it — had
they asked if we wanted another, we would have said yes, but they didn’t
We didn’t really have a waiter, though, which was a bit disconcerting
– it seemed to be a different person every time. One person came along
and recited the specials; he seemed quite nice, but we never saw him again.
We asked someone else whether they might be able to come up with an alternative
to the prix fixe for Camilla — she never eats all that much at the best
of times, and had already had quite a large lunch, and only wanted an
appetizer — they’d go and ask the maitre d’, who of course came over
and told us that rules is rules, etc. The woman who took our order was
particularly dour, and seemed to spend most of her time inspecting the
corner of the table.
The appetizers were delicious, but they were quite large, and we certainly
could have done with more than three seconds to digest them before the
main courses appeared in front of us. We had a late booking, so they didn’t
need to rush us out to fit another party in after us; as it was, none
of us came close to finishing our entrees.
And when the entrees went, so did everything else — water glasses,
half-finished cocktails, everything — which again just gave the impression
of rushing us. By this point, all the people at the tables around us had
finished their meals and had left (there were others still eating on the
other side of the restaurant); could we have an ashtray? I’ll go ask the
maitre d’. Of course, we knew what was coming — rules is rules; no.
By this point, we were all convinced that they didn’t like us. Which
is stunning, really, in an American restaurant — I can’t recall ever
feeling that way in New York, although it’s much more common in Europe.
The deserts were amazing, it almost goes without saying, but there was
a sour taste in the air. We didn’t order coffee, we left a small tip,
I went to the bathroom to change back into my shorts, and we exited into
the hotter, more humid, more polluted, but definitely less stuffy atmosphere
of Park Avenue South.