All in good taste
As a seasoned gourmand (I am usually seasoned with oregano because I am no sage), I know enough about food to give expert advice on which wine goes with Slim Jims (red) and which goes with Twinkies (white).
In fact, I have always had a burning desire, which sometimes happens in the kitchen, to be a restaurant critic. And I recently got my chance when I went out with a real restaurant critic to review an eatery where I passed judgment on the menu, which wasn’t edible (too chewy) but did contain lots of tasty offerings.
The restaurant was Tra’mici, a cozy Italian spot in Massapequa Park, New York, and the critic was Melissa McCart, who has written sparkling reviews for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Newsday of Long Island. Accompanying us on this gastronomic adventure was Janelle Griffith, a talented feature writer for Newsday.
Our waiter was Marco Gervasi, who introduced himself by saying he would be our waiter (these formalities are very important in the service experience) and commented that there was an empty fourth seat at our table.
“Sit down,” I urged him. “Are you hungry?” I got up, put a white cloth napkin over my arm and said, “I’m Jerry. I’ll be your waiter.”
I could tell by the look in Marco’s eye (his other eye was blank) that he knew he was in for a long night.
Then he asked if we wanted anything to drink. Melissa and Janelle ordered white wine, even though Twinkies were not among the entrees.
“I’ll have a glass of red,” I said.
“How about a cab?” Marco asked.
“If I drink enough of them,” I answered, “I’ll have to hail a cab for the ride home.”
Marco, who looked like he could use a drink himself, smiled and dutifully went away.
He returned shortly afterward with not only our wine but a plate of hors d’oeuvres, which contained not horses (pardon my French) but salami, prosciutto and cheese, along with olives. They tickled the palate. I soothed the tickle with a sip of wine. It was fragrant but not haughty. And vice versa.
For the main course, Melissa ordered Orecchiette alla Barese, served with broccoli rabe and sausage, and Janelle ordered Fettuccine al doppio burro, which did not (pardon my Italian) contain a stupid donkey.
When I expressed interest in a steak, Marco suggested Filetto (filet mignon with mashed potatoes, broccoli rabe and red wine reduction).
“The meat is cured,” he noted.
“Cured?” I said nervously. “What was wrong with it?”
“I can’t tell you,” Marco replied.
I ordered it anyway.
When our dinners came out, all three of us daintily dug in. Then we tried each other’s meals, which is how restaurant critics get a taste of several menu items in one sitting (it’s not a good idea to stand while eating) and can determine what’s good and, in some cases, what isn’t.
After Melissa sampled my steak, she said, “Yours is the winner.”
“Umph, umph, umph,” I agreed, even though it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full of food.
This shared tasting must be done inconspicuously or the restaurant staff will suspect that a critic is in the house. In fact, Marco asked me, “What do you do?”
“As little as possible,” I told him.
“No, really,” he insisted. “What do you do?”
I looked around furtively and whispered, “I stick up restaurants.”
Marco hurried away to get our dessert (salty caramel gelato) and possibly call the cops. He also must have alerted his boss, because the general manager came out to refill our water glasses.
“I’m Ben,” he said.
“I’m Jerry,” I responded, shaking his hand. “We should open an ice cream business.”
“It’s been done,” Ben stated.
“Then we’ll sue them,” I said. “Just as soon as my lawyer gets out of jail.”
“You can call it Jerry and Ben’s,” Janelle suggested.
Dessert was delicious, just like the rest of the meal. And the service was even better, which is saying something considering that Marco was working only his second shift at Tra’mici.
“What’s your day job?” I asked him.
“I’m a real estate agent,” Marco said.
“Do you get a commission on dinners?” I wondered.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s called a tip.”
He got a generous one. After dealing with me, he deserved it, which is why I am giving Tra’mici an excellent review.
“Keep up the good work,” I told Ben on the way out. “And give my compliments to the waiter.”
— Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows Best, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.