Frank Bruni is pissed! The New York Times' omnipotent restaurant critic (pictured) today reviews a new Tribeca restaurant named Ago, which is owned in part by actor Robert De Niro. And Bruni's experience there is proof for the entire restaurant business that no matter how popular, expensive, or exclusive your place is, it is still quite possible to receive a terrible review if you act like an idiot. Please: Learn some lessons from Ago's fiasco. Here is what not to do when your restaurant is being reviewed:
#1: Be late with the reviewer's reservation.
He returned at 9:02 with something less than disaster relief. Our table, he said, should be ready in 10 minutes. Never mind that we'd been told at 8:45 that we had five minutes to go. Never mind that Ago has some 110 seats, giving it more flexibility than many restaurants have.
We waited. And waited. One of the hostesses finally fetched us at 9:22. I'll do the math: that's 52 minutes after our reservation.
#2: Spill wine on the reviewer or his friends.
I'm talking about the "Poseidon Adventure" of wine spills. Shelley Winters could have done the backstroke in it. I'm not sure how the bartender set it in motion, and neither was he. He kept marveling at its fury and aftermath: my friend's wine-splashed chin, her wine-soaked skirt, her wine-sopped entirety.
#3: Put the reviewer at the worst table in the house.
She led us to a round table little bigger than a bike wheel. When our four appetizers later arrived and claimed every square millimeter of it, the waiter audibly contemplated balancing a fifth, communal appetizer that we'd ordered on top of our wine glasses.
The table was pressed so close to a column that I couldn't lower my right arm all the way, and if my wine-drenched friend leaned back in her chair, the column obstructed her view of me and mine of her.
#4: Have bad food.
This restaurant isn't in the hospitality business. It's in the attitude business, projecting an aloofness that permeated all of my meals there, nights of wine and poses for swingers on the make, cougars on the prowl and anyone else who values a sort of facile fabulousness over competent service or a breaded veal Milanese with any discernible meat.
The one I had one night was pounded so thin that the breading on top met the breading on the bottom without pausing for much of anything in between. A vegan could have made peace with it.
#5: Have waiters who are jerks.
Then came an entree that perplexed us, a pale slab of meat with one long bone.
"What is this?" asked one of my friends.
"The special veal chop," said the food deliverer.
"But I ordered rack of lamb," my friend said. I had heard him.
"Yes," said the deliverer. "That's rack of lamb."
My friend pressed: which was it?
"It's the special rack-of-lamb veal chop," the deliverer said, at which point we sought deliverance from him and searched for our frequently vanishing waiter, whom I had come to think of as the bucatini Houdini.