The Weather

Fine Dining Follow-up: Dear Patina

It turns out at least one member of October’s fine dining experience wasn’t happy.

Dear Patina,

I have had the pleasure of frequenting many fine dining establishments throughout my life and the globe. With that said, I believe that in my experience, I have gained a valuable perspective on the ways in which fine restaurants ought to function. Before I ruminate upon the cause for me writing this letter to you—to speak about your areas for improvement—I must first and foremost state that I am in no way a food or restaurant expert, and that all I really have to offer you is an impassioned reaction to an evening I felt to be a rather compromising fine dining experience, one that could have been better. Patina, I only want to help you.

As I have learned throughout the course of my moderately-lengthed life, it is nearly impossible to eat a bad meal at a restaurant that has been Zagat rated at or above a twenty-five. I needn’t get into the logistics of such a system, but suffice it to say that Zagat is a wholly reliable restaurant rating network, and you, dear Patina, came in at an astounding twenty-eight out of thirty. And so, as experience and a good head on my shoulders have encouraged me to do in the past, I trusted you.

Let us backtrack a moment. Our night together was nearly fantastical—yes, October 20, 2012, was an evening of pre-dinner baths and cigars and the coolest of attire to complement budding sexual tension; you, Patina, were the perfect side dish to the wild grandeur of my eve. All was well throughout my time with you, for spirits were high and so was I, along with my fellow diners, from all the sugar each of your five delicate desserts injected into our systems. We left you that evening feeling awed despite throbbing teeth—and I left you that evening with a confidence pulsing through me that propelled me to believe I would never visit a finer fine dining establishment anytime, anywhere, ever again in my life. I had seen it all.

Then, on December 30, 2012, I found myself in midtown Manhattan en route to the Sunday brunch at the Waldorf Astoria, rated an impressive twenty-nine out of thirty on the Zagat scale. The Waldorf Sunday brunch has been a family tradition of mine since I was a youngster, and has built within me a love for the finer side of dining. It is not difficult for me to recall the ravishing sensation of my first bite of beef Wellington at age four—delicate, piquant, succulent. Further, I do not hesitate to claim that it is by frequenting the Waldorf Astoria Sunday brunch once a year throughout every year of my life, that I have learned the true nature of a quality fine dining experience: a sexy, deviant sort of thing that occurs underneath low-hanging lights and incandescent atmosphere around peeking skin, carrying on in whispery chatter that swells around smooth saxophone tunes. I must confess, that after eating at the Waldorf that Sunday, I came to my senses at just how far you still have to go as a fine dining establishment all your own. Patina, what I’m trying to say is, I had a culinary awakening. And now, I just so happen to be rethinking my time with you—but I believe we can work through this. I really do.

As I arrived at the table with my fellow diners at the Waldorf, I found myself sliding into a seat with ease. As I recall, Patina, the feelings from the seating experience you imbued us with that October evening were those of frustration—how long it took us to configure our seating formation within such a clustered booth table with uneven cushions! You see, as I made my way to a seated position upon a chair at the Waldorf, I hardly noticed that I was doing so at all—I feel this is how all seating experiences should be at fine dining establishments: unnoticed. One attends a fine dining establishment for purposes of consumption, not to play musical chairs. The games get tiring, dear Patina.

Further, I feel as though napkins ought to be folded and at peace upon the table as diners arrive. Napkins should be ready for use, standing still in intricate shapes of geometric, origamic glory on tables upon arrival, and not handed to diners while they take a seat. When a napkin is handed to one as they sit, as what transpired while with you, Patina, the possibility for an intricately folded wiping cloth to awe is promptly eliminated. This is why you are only a twenty-eight out of thirty. This is why.

I would like to bring us now to the issue of decor. You see, at the Waldorf Astoria, there is a distinct theme of peacocks in aesthetic form around the dining room. They are everywhere—on the walls in picture frames, on the floors in feather-patterned carpets, on the plates, the bowls; even the bars of soap in the restrooms are shaped in the fan structure of a peacock tail. What I’m trying to say is that, an aesthetic theme within the decor of a fine dining establishment is a highly effective way to install the sense of culinary embrace. Why is such a thing important, might you ask? When one makes the decision to dine at a highly rated restaurant, they don’t just do so for the food; they want to be held, they want to be cared for, cradled into a food coma not only by the hands of some gifted culinary genius, but by the constant visual caress and stability of surrounding corresponding shapes and aesthetic patterns.

I am trying to be totally honest with you, Patina. If the best of the best is what you’re striving to embody as a fine dining establishment, you really ought to do something about that strange conglomeration of shapes and color that is your decor. A few times throughout the course of the five dessert courses, I couldn’t decide whether I felt as though I was in a spa, on a safari, or in a penthouse. There was a painting of a cornucopia up against a lamp in the shape of a piece of sea glass; there were square plates next to circular water glasses that had been artfully bent inward at random points to signify a sense of high design: deception. Your decor was, bluntly, all over the place. It caused my perception to spin.

And so I spun and I spun as I sat there over sugary confections in my finest of attire, in my tallest of poise, but still felt empty after eating every dish of dessert. Why? Patina, you hid things from me. You hid things from me that ought to have been disclosed. You wouldn’t tell me about the rose air. You wouldn’t describe to me how it came to be. I sat there and chewed on the unchewable white fluff and swallowed without a second thought, nor with any indication of how it would affect me—I am lactose intolerant, and mildly gluten-sensitive as well. Patina, I hurt. I hurt real bad. And so, perhaps the most important lesson you must learn is that you mustn’t keep things secret; you must boldly articulate all of your specificities. For in truth, how ever will anyone come to trust dining with you if you don’t divulge your methods of food production? Why ever would one want to revisit you if the last time they had a go, their insides turned to mush and then babbly, allergic masses they all became?

I know I’m being hard on you. I know the time we had together was grand, it really was. I left you with a feeling of awe and inspiration, full with sugary satisfaction. But let’s be honest—what good is all that sugar if what it eventually does to a system is crash it catatonic? And really, what’s the point of trying to be a thirty when there’s a shit storm of problems heading right your way, keeping your rating stuck somewhere in the twenties?

My final point of importance to you with this letter is not only a wish for you to take these observations seriously, but to also acknowledge that your future is not hopeless, not even in the slightest. You may certainly shine and gleam one day, but all this luster may take some time to develop. Though with this too, you must try to remember, tiny twenty-eight, that incremental gains are quite possible in this world. They are happening all the time.

Until next time, sweet, sweet Patina. I have hope that one day we will dine together again. Maybe when that day comes, we can do lunch. Five of them.

Sincerely,

Katie Browne

KT’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Passages North, and The Review Review. She is an MFA candidate at The California Institute of the Arts, and currently at work on a novel. She lives in Los Angeles.