Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Greenwich, Good and Bad

I thought twice about penning this post since it could inadvertently be seen as a critique of the wrong party. For the record: devoted partner did a bang-up job of our first non-Chinese/bathrobe Valentine's Day. I mean, come on, people, breakfast in bed and got me this! Which I love and am buying appropriate citrus for this afternoon. So devoted partner gets a non-asterisked win.

But let's talk about dinner.

Last year, Ed and I dined at Scarpetta, the trendy Italian joint in the oh-so-trendy Meatpacking district (where I'm pretty sure no meat is still packed) and ordered a $24 plate of spaghetti and tomato sauce. Yes, you read that correctly. $24. Pasta and sauce. And simple sauce at that. If you have read any of the reviews of Scarpetta, you'll know that the spaghetti and red sauce was universally praised as the best plate of pasta and sauce you're likely to find. But still. $24 for the grown-up yuppie version of Ronzoni and Ragu. I won't lie. I liked it but didn't find it as transcendent as some, but it was a damn good dish I would consider ordering again.

So I'm not opposed to opulence from simplicity.

The menu at Polpo, located at 554 Old Post Road No 3, was entirely average and what you might expect from any number of average Italian restaurants. The prices were not. The prices were, in fact, more than Scarpetta, more than Babbo (and there was no goose liver ravioli to be found). The prices were veering ever so closely to 4-starish territory and the incongruity of the prices and the uninspired offerings made me immediately suspicious. Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all surprised to go into a steakhouse and see mammoth prices for one-word plates, but you go to a steakhouse to eat meat, potato, green. When I see pastas that are all over twenty bucks, I'd like to know someone took a little time to do something more inspired-sounding than: Linguine alla Vongole: Choice of white or red clam sauce. Really, I get a choice? Are both equally good? Don't you have an opinion? Maybe you could tell me a little about your clams...

I'll admit I was panicked. While eating out is something I really enjoy and think is worth a splurge now and again, devoted partner sometimes needs more convincing. When the meal is going to be a splurge and it's not going to be very good, I brace myself for a bad time. Devoted partner has changed. The man who almost made a waitress cry at Prune after being served, if memory serves me correctly, what appeared to be fish floating in a broth that I assume was meant as stock, but tasted of water, made nary a grab for his butter knife cum weapon. Instead, we ordered. Safely. I wasn't about to go for the out-there items on a menu that cried out to be conservatively ordered from. I figured it would take a lot to mess up a Caesar salad and spaghetti bolognese.

I can admit the rare occasions when I am wrong.

The "salad" was a single segment of romaine lettuce with two whole marinated anchovies, one tablespoon of dressing plopped in the center, and huge hunks of parmesan cheese. The spaghetti was from a box and I could discern no ingredients in the bolognese save meat. It was delightfully appetizing. For the record, Scott Conant's $24 spaghetti and tomato sauce is made with house-made spaghetti. Someone made the spaghetti. I'm willing to shell out $24 for that. Making spaghetti is annoying and time consuming. When a restaurant charges the same for something it paid 15 cents for, I'm less forgiving if the resulting plate looks like hamburger helper. (It should be noted that the polpo website does a great job of not showing you what the food looks like.) Listen the food was edible...if we were paying 1/4 the price.

But I think what made the evening complete and something we could good-naturedly laugh at was that the staff clearly didn't give a shit whether or not we enjoyed ourselves. Now, I know a little about restaurants, hell, I staged in one, and I know restaurants actually hate nights like Valentine's Day because they are overbooked and the people who book for V-Day are frequently not the same kinds of customers who come the rest of the year, especially at fancier restaurants. Yet, somehow, other restaurants can make their infrequent customers feel a little less like chattel. We had an 8pm reservation and were hustled through our meal even though when we left there weren't people clamoring for our seats - we WERE the late seating. And, if I can let the thinly veiled snobbishness that has been peering out from corners take center stage:

You're a restaurant in Greenwich. You're not the 8:00pm coveted table at Marea, or the frankly impossible to get even ten years later table at Babbo. I walked out of a restaurant in Paris because the service sucked so badly, but at least I was in Paris where an argument could be made for bad service being part of the ambience. Not so in Fairfield county. I know that Polpo is a hub for hedgies and that won't change, because there's nothing better than being a hedgie and taking clients out to a place that does more of a 4x wine markup than a 2.5x (I also really love an Italian restaurant that gives about equal space to Italian wines and Bordeaux and California - nothing says class better than linguine with clam sauce accompanied by a 1990 Haut-Brion).

But, for the people that I know occasionally come here from one of the Greenwich blogs, take note: the Batali/Bastianich empire has an outpost. Tarry Lodge was so far superior in every way the two times I ate there to the frankly embarrassing meal we had at Polpo that I am absolutely flummoxed the latter has managed to stay in business since the former opened. And it's about 40% cheaper.

And, to reiterate: none of this could have been anticipated or prevented by devoted partner. Who rocks!

Now a little bit of good. You might remember that I am still on the hunt for an aesthetician who neither mocks me nor does a half-assed job. And I may have found her. Suzana (or Susannah?) at Hopscotch on Railroad Avenue gave me the best waxing I have had in years. The Best! I literally only had to go back over her job to get like 6 pesky hairs - everything else was as smooth as I've seen it. She listened to what I wanted and adhered to the shaping and sizing of certain areas without editorializing. Yes, it was more money than I ideally would like to spend, but if the results are this consistent, well, crap, I'll spend the extra money.

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