June 18, 2009
Recent New York City Eats and a Scary Hostess
Lately I've been going to bed at around 3 a.m. or later. Why? Because the Internet is another boundless dimension where all I do is waste time as my muscles atrophy and my eyesight worsens and my brain cells die.
Actually, it's not all the Internet's fault. I've been fiddling with LSDJ a lot lately and it's one of the biggest time sucks to ever grace my computer. I treat this fiddling process as a learning experience, but in my mind, when I'm learning something that has no use outside of "fun hobby," it goes into the steaming pile of "wasting time." I don't waste time by doing nothing/mindless activities; I consider "wasted time" as anything that isn't TGWAE, work, food, housekeeping, or photo-related. Like fiddling with LSDJ and updating my manatee blog.
On the bright side, I'm never bored. On the dim side, I'm not sure I'm ever teaching myself anything useful that the rest of humanity could actually benefit from. All I can hope for is that the manatee blog brightens someone's day. Someone's very sad, boring day that can only be redeemed by the power of photos and words about the lumbering, tubby sea cow.
Oh well. Hey, how's it going? Okay.
Before I get to my story about the Scary Hostess, here are some posts I've done lately for Serious Eats New York. Despite the ongoing posts about Iceland in which I've managed to stretch a one-week trip into two months of posts, I actually do live in New York City and, since I'm not a robot, eat food here as well. It's a lot easier to write posts for Serious Eats instead of my blog because 1) it's my full time job which means 2) I can actually write stuff during the day while at the office and 3) they give me deadlines.
Lambsplosion of Uyghur Food at Cafe Kashkar in Brighton Beach: I'll have to write about this epic day on TGWAE at some point, but basically, I went to Brighton Beach with Diana, Greg, Kathy, and Edd for the purposes of helping Diana on her photoshoot and frolicking in that fun substance we call "sand." We followed our beach romping with dinner at Cafe Kashkar because Kathy and I had eaten there before and really liked it. It's still good. (If you're wondering if this trip also include the carrot cake from M&I, they had unfortunately run out by the time we got there. SAD.)
Budae Jjigae from Pocha 32 in Koreatown: Pocha 32, a divey bar/restaurant decorated mostly with bottle caps and fish nets, seems to be a good place to go if you miss South Korea. Their menu features huge ass bowls of street food meant to be shared between you and your posse of Korean food-loving friends. Carol brought me there so we could get the budae jjigae, or army base stew, a spicy broth filled with hot dogs, Spam (or some other processed pork product), ramyun (ramen), cheese, rice cakes, slices of pork, cabbage, tofu chunks, carrots, watercress, and...god, I don't know. Stuff. Stuff that all came together quite well. I'd eat it again.
Sujebi and Seafood Pancakes at Arirang in Koreatown: Sujebi, torn noodle soup, was one of my favorite dishes in Korea. Luckily, it wasn't long after I got back to NYC that I get to fulfill a sujebi craving. My favorite version at Arirang so far is the chicken soup (over the kimchi and the seafood). And don't think of eating there without also getting a seafood pancake. It's one of the best things ever. Ever. Also make sure to eat there with at least two people because portions are freakin' huge.
Seolleongtang, Ox Bone Broth, from Gahm Mi Oak: The people have spoken, and they say Gahm Mi Oak has some solid seolleongtang, but perhaps more importantly, awesome kimchi. Seolleongtang is a Korean dish of noodles and rice in ox bone broth that you salt to taste or else you'll wonder, "Why the hell is this soup so bland?" Add salt and you shall unlock its minerally secrets. A pile of scallions doesn't hurt either.
But there was something about their radish kimchi that made a lightbulb pop over my head, coupled with a "ding" sound, and maybe an angelic glow. It was tasty. It was, "Uh so I'm going to shove more of this in my mouth now and I don't know why, I just can't stop myself," tasty. Before, I would eat kimchi merely because it was there; this time, I was driven by a force that I didn't recognize. I have since identified that force as "kimchi craving"—felt by millions around the world, and now it has come to me.
And now that Scary Hostess Thing
My blog is generally free of negativity and bad things a-happening, as is my life. Eating experiences are mostly positive, or at least neutral. That's why I don't talk about crappy food or horrifically bad service; I'm lucky to say that I rarely come across either.
Since I like this wave of happy thoughts, I wasn't sure if I should air my grievances about an atypical experience I had at PDT on Tuesday. But maybe that's why I should blog about it; because it was atypical. And then you can regale me with similar stories. It goes a lil' something like this.
Ed (Serious Eats founder, my boss, cool guy who likes pizza, etc) wanted us to visit PDT, the cocktail lounge tucked inside Crif Dogs, so we could eat and photograph their hot dogs for a "Cool Hot Dogs and Stuff in NYC" post. (For those unfamiliar with PDT, they serve hot dogs from Crif Dogs, but some with special toppings you can't get at Crif Dogs.) Neither of us had been to PDT before so we weren't sure what it would be like trying to get in.
"Can you make a reservation?" asked Ed as we were preparing to leave the office.
I called, asked the hostess (soon to be Scary Hostess) for a reservation at 7 p.m. and was told they were booked for the night. Okay...understandable, but...oh, crap. I "hmm"-ed and turned to Ed to tell them it was booked while awaiting further instructions.
"Is there any chance we can get in if we just show..." I started.
And then there was a distinct click. And a ringtone. In most other situations I might think I got disconnected—cell phones do that—but I was 99% sure that this was a hang up. Did she think I was rude? Did she already deem me unworthy of deserving any attention after five seconds of conversation? I don't know. It didn't seem like a good omen, but I didn't really have a choice; Ed wanted those hot dogs.
He called them right away, inquired if we could get in just by showing up, and we were off.
About half an hour later we made it to PDT with Kathy joining us since she lived nearby. Scary Hostess let us in since we fell into the three-person-maximum for bar seating. She was clear about the three person maximum, perhaps in case we were thinking of sneaking more people in. (We weren't.)
"Is there any chance we could just get hot dogs?" Ed asked. We knew the answer was probably "no," but it didn't hurt to ask.
"No, you have to buy cocktails; this is a cocktail lounge." And this was the weirdest part (a feeling shared by the three of us, at least): she repeated "This is a cocktail lounge," like a broken record, three times (or so), each time sternly with the sense that she was taking to idiots. Or something. It was kind of noisy in there and it's hard for me to explain. I think each of us was about ready to explode from the disdainful tone, but the explosion was outranked by thinking, "WTF?" and being hungry for hot dogs.
She said we would have to buy cocktails if we wanted hot dogs. Understandable. I'm not saying I'm against this policy; it's just that we were as far removed from the Danny Meyer school of thought as possible. Maybe Scary Hostess was having a bad day, or had to deal with lots of ignorant customers and didn't see the point in trying to be polite to get her point across. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that's naive. Another person would just say that she was drunk with power, or use more colorful language.
We sat. Ed realized we could get by just by getting beers for $5 each. (I wouldn't say we were trying to be cheap; Ed and I just don't like alcoholic drinks. Obviously, we shouldn't be at a cocktail bar, but we weren't there to linger.) And then, unexpectedly, one of his friends who works at the bar appeared and right away, the iron fist of rudeness was lifted and replaced with happy rainbows and kittens because he was the nicest guy ever and made sure we were taken good care of.
"Get them these beers...and those hot dogs...and tater tots. Anything else?"
The thing is, Nice Guy would've been nice to anyone. Of course, you'd probably going to be more hospitable to your friends, but for the most part, everyone else who worked at PDT seemed to fit into the Nice Person category. We just got unlucky with Scary Hostess, who isn't there every day. Of course, after being told who Ed was, Scary Hostess turned into Hospitable Hostess. I think she apologized to Ed when we left.
I'm not saying that we deserved special treatment; I'm saying that no one, assuming they aren't assholes or anything, should have to be treated that poorly no matter where they go. You could ask why Ed didn't try to arrange some kind of hot dog shoot in advance. For one thing, he wouldn't want to announce his arrival or possibly get special treatment, and I'd think he'd want to see what the average person would go through if they wanted to go to PDT. I don't think our experience was even average, though—just unfortunate. There was nothing wrong with PDT's cocktail-and-food policy; it was just the way it was...um...explained to us. And other stuff. If I liked cocktails I'd go back to PDT (it's known as one of the best cocktail lounges in NYC, with the extra plush of having good hot dogs and tater tots), but I don't so I probably never will.
I think it was the first time I ever experienced just how big of a difference it could make to go somewhere as an average Joe versus being a food critic and friend of someone who works at the establishment you're going to. Surely not an uncommon occurrence, but it kind of sucked to see in motion.
ANNND THAT'S LIFE, the end. Many people have experienced worse. I think I'm still lucky.
Posted by roboppy at 1:33 AM
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