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Dinner at Eight in New York? How Fortunate


Without exaggeration, there are close to 20,000 restaurants in New York City. But the way some of them treat you, apparently, you'd think there were only a dozen or so.

The New York Times food critic Frank Bruni (who must have been served some bad oysters) spilled the beans, so to speak, on an outbreak of arrogance (more than usual, that is) in the fine restaurants of the city. "They don't meet us on our terms," Mr. Bruni sniffed. "We meet them on theirs."

For one pleasant dinner, you pay what many Americans earn in a week if they're lucky, for which you're expected to be fawningly grateful. As the Times headline puts it, "You May Now Kiss the Chef's Napkin Ring."

Not THE chef, actually. It's "Chef," as in, "Chef has prepared his favorite panne de porc this evening." Chef isn't just a dictatorial boor in the kitchen any more; he or she's also an insufferable television star with a cooking show and a posse of acolytes to prove it.

For the privilege of tasting Chef's creations, you had better have made your reservation weeks in advance, confirmed it exactly 36 hours before dinner, and arrived precisely on time or risk a stern scolding.

As for the wait staff, the brusque waiters of Paris could take lessons. According to Mr. Bruni, New York's snobbish servers "muscle you toward a 47-course tasting menu" as "the only way to appreciate what Chef can do."

At some New York highbrow restaurants, it seems, you're given a strict two hours to get in, pay up, and get out: pay up with a built-in 20-percent tip to the server, no matter how surly.

New Yorkers used to be cocky, pushy. Now, it seems, the wealthy among them have been cowed by the lord or lady with the puffy white hat on that pedestal over there. Not the chef, remember. It's Chef.

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