Last week, my coworkers were discussing a recent review that had been posted on Yelp. They had been navigating the site for a while, and still couldn’t find the offending entry.
“Ask Lily,” said one, “she’s pretty much the mayor of Yelp.”
I admit it: My obsession with reading the online reviews of my place of employment has become a problem. It’s a fatal combination of shadenfreude (“OMG – they called ABC out by NAME as a shitty server who didn’t know jack about the menu!”), of service-industry self-gratification (“that ‘sarcastic yet charming student who had her wine knowledge on point HAD to be me!”), and of adding fuel to the already-scorching fire of customer-directed derision (“you’re gonna write that you got better service in a White Castle, douche? Get the fuck outta here!”) It’s hilarious, cringe-worthy, and totally addictive.
I’ve already written about these reviews, and also about how Yelp is used for the wrong reasons. However, as someone who has recently acquired an MFA, I’m currently viewing these sites not just as a place for ill-educated diners to air their unfounded grievances, but also as a place where bad writers go to die. Open Table, Trip Advisor, Yelp, Urban Spoon, and company aren’t so much forums for the intelligent exchange of information – both good and bad – regarding an individual’s dining experience but rather a place for people with disposable income and dispensable time to pretend that they’re penning posts that will be printed as feature articles in the Alternate Universe Edition of the NY Times Dining section. These posts all tend to fit an established framework that aways includes the following:
- A high level of snark, classism, and/or subtle racism
- Egregiously lengthy paragraphs that have absolutely nothing to do with food or dining
- Comparisons with meals that have absolutely nothing to do with the type of cuisine in question
- References to international trips
- References to New York City
- Typos at awkward moments
- Adverbs on adverbs on adverbs on adverbs on adverbs
- Multiple disclaimers regarding the lack of times the writer has ever complained about anything
- Multiple allusions to the writer’s easy-going and/or chill nature 99% of the time
I could explain this to you ad nausea, but if I learned anything in those grad school workshops, it’s show, don’t tell. I thus present a fictional review in the style of Yelp Lit:
One of the greatest differences between humans and animals is our innate necessity for variety. A tiger in the wild will gladly tear apart the sinews of a small coyote night after night for his entire life, seeking not change but sustenance, interested not with inspiring his palate but of filling his stomach. Humans, on the other hand, especially us denizens of a certain metropolis known in intimate circles as Gotham, simply cannot subsist on calories alone. We require tantalization of taste buds, culinary creativity. If variety is the spice of life, than the spices of life, by default, create the variety.
Having eaten our way out of borough and city, I took to the web of the wide wide world, and decided that an extra-urban dining diversion was exactly what we needed to throw the salt into the pot on an otherwise uninspired Wednesday evening. Ergo, I found myself, along with my husband, Cooper, who I met one night at a Prohibition Party at our small liberal arts college in the Northeast, at Restaurant Q in Heaven on Hopeless, a hamlet right above the inner city of Yonkers.
The 2/3 train was under construction at Prospect Park, so we were forced at what may as well have been gunpoint to take a shuttle bus to Court Street and then switch to the 4 to Grand Central. Upon arrival at the much-revered station with its oh-so-vaulted ceilings, there was no indication that buying a ticket on board would be more expensive than buying it beforehand. We were informed by a less-than-coherent train conductor once in the already-moving train that the ticket prices are more than double if you don’t purchase your ticket before hand. Major minus points for the restaurant!! If you’re going to be located THAT far from Brooklyn, at least be located on a train line that DOESN’T charge you extra for being a busy person who doesn’t have thirteen minutes to wait on line at an automated teller.
Located on the banks of the Hopeless River, nestled equidistant from the Tappan Zee and George Washington Bridges, this breathtakingly gorgeous eatery instantly transports you, at least on an initial visual level, to the Tuscan farmhouses you, as did we, visited on your month-long honeymoon through the small villages of Italy that are both orgasmic and inspirational for the gourmand slash oenophile with a mature palate.
Our spirits gradually lightened on the ride up. Imbibing self-infused cardamom vodka on ice, we watched the Palisades pass by as we used retro Y-splitter headphones to listen to Cooper’s band’s demo (yes, my lawyer husband somehow finds time to have a . Unfortunately, the jaunt from the station to the restaurant was pretty much the highlight of the evening, for as soon as we entered the parking lot, we felt as though we’d stepped into an Eastern European dance club (I spent a semester in Prague and definitely took advantage of the nightlife opportunities), albeit one with a more rustic interior and fewer Slavs. I mean, we’re usually not the kind of people who complain about a place being busy, but this place was almost too busy. Think of the Sackett on a Saturday, but with cheap bling and bad music. It was as though every single person in lower New York had decided to take advantage of the platonic form of a summer day.
When you leave Brooklyn, you expect a certain decrease in the level of education of the general public – before you jump down my throat, this is a statistically based comment; I’m not the sort to generalize – but there were people behaving in a simply appalling manner. We got to the hostess stand and asked a teenybopper in a dress shorter than most of my dishtowels if we could have a table for two. Chewing her metaphoric gum, she squinted as though she didn’t understand me and asked me to repeat myself. I’ll admit it – I still have a slight nasal fry leftover from spending my formative years in Kentucky, but the majority of people would peg me with a non-regional American accent; I may as well be a news anchor. Seeing as the true New Yorkers are not those who are born in and have lived the majority of their youth and adult lives in the state, but rather those from far-flung territories such as Michigan and Arizona who choose to move to the weirdest-shaped state, I didn’t appreciate being patronized by someone whose parents probably don’t know how to SPELL “blue collar”, let alone wear one.
In any case, we managed to cross the linguistic barrier and were lead through hordes of people to a choad of a table for two in a corner, sort of near a window but nestled between an enormous table of enormous Italian-Americans, and a table of three old people who were drinking Dewar’s and gumming halibut. Not the best table I’ve ever had, but we’re there for the food, right? We sat down and were greeted glumly by a waitress who looked like a rejected cast member of LA Ink. Her downtrodden demeanor dissolved into derision when we put in our water order. Both Cooper and I have sensitive gums, yet, despite spending a significant amount of our twenties traveling through Europe, never lost our affinity for ice water. As a result, we always get tap water with no ice, separate glasses of ice with teaspoons (NOT soup spoons) to transfer the cubes at our leisure, as well as lemons and limes. It’s not rocket science.
We were brought bread by a busboy who spoke English like he had a bag of marbles in his mouth. The bread was too hot. There were one hundred and eighteen people wearing navy polos. I assumed they worked together, but there was some tense divide between middle-aged Mexicans, all of whom looked about six months pregnant, and adolescent white guys who had an aura of having spent a few months in a prison camp without access to sunlight or soap. The respective races were parading around the dining room, grilling each other with a sense of superiority: I felt like I was in a bizarro version of West Side Story in which the Jets haven’t been properly fueled and the Sharks have been out of water for a little too long.
Now, apparently our water order irritated Kat von Vapid, because she disappeared for about thirteen minutes. Cooper, who has not received a promotion at his intellectual property law firm in the nine years he’s been working there (despite GOING TO LAW SCHOOL TWICE!!!!), is depressed, and thus hasn’t been able to, as we aesthetes and artists so discreetly say, rise to the occasion in a few months, so you can understand that, on Wednesday night, I was in SEVER NEED OF A COCKTAIL!!!
La Waitress finally sauntered over like it was the most benevolent thing she’d done since helping her ex-boyfriend do a home tragus piercing and asked us if we wanted a drink.
“We’ll have two Old Fashioneds,” I told her, “ but the correct way.” Her blank look and snippy response that “I’m sure the bartender makes them as God and Marker’s Mark intended” told me immediately that she was definitely more accustomed to being on the lesser side of the bar, i.e. not in any way a mixologist. I’m not saying that every single server needs to hold degrees in all the various subsets of the dining arts, but I’ve always felt that if you’re going to be doing something, even if it’s not the thing you want to be doing, even if it’s something a little less helpful to society, you should at least do it with pride and intelligence.
Inevitably, we had to send the drinks back because they were doused in a gallon and a half of cherry juice. Cooper ended up walking over to the bar and leading the barkeep, step by step, through the making of the drinks, and they were almost as good as the ones we get at Delmano.
Cooper and I are big trivia buffs (we’ve actually gotten the Yelp User Award for the Most Check Ins at Trivia Night at Pete’s Candy Store – sure the crowd’s a decade younger than us but as the kids say – YOLO!), and we’re always on the prowl for new knowledge. Being soooo far upstate, we figured we’d take advantage of the proximity to the river and ask a couple of fact-based questions, since you never know what subject you’re going to draw. It also seemed like a good way to break the ice with Von Vicious, because honestly, we’re totally that couple that gets along with the restaurant staff. I worked in a coffee shop for a summer when I first moved to New York (on the Upper West Side, of all places!) and I absolutely get the lifestyle and sensibility.
I figured asking what the number one cargo transported was a basic question, but she drew a blank and told me I could Google it. I’m not an unreasonable person, but I do think that if one is employed at an establishment that’s located alongside a famous waterway, one should know certain facts about the river. She told me that there were specials, but at this point, I was a little miffed, my drink was settling in and I just wanted to relax and read the menu. Get your von vagina away from us, pu-lease.
Coop and I perused the menu and, though it was totally different from the 2007 version someone had posted in the Open Table pictures section, there were a few options that looked edible. We ordered a tapas-sized portion of Marcona almonds through one of the blue-shirted individuals, and asked him to send over our waitress because we had several dietary dilemmas that needed to be sorted out. He looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. Now, before I met Cooper, I had an ex-manfriend who had a timeshare in Tulum, and I went to Mexico several times (before the inevitable realization that I could never marry a man with a timeshare in Cancun – oh, youthful ignorance!). On the peninsula, everyone speaks English, so I don’t understand why a person living in New York would have any problem.
He summoned the waitress (assumedly using a translation found on Google, since that seems to be the only way anyone in this restaurant gets their information), and it was at this point that the already-downhill meal started digging a hole into the depths of the earth. While I don’t actually have Celiac’s disease, per se, I definitely feel lighter and more transcendent when I forgo the foods associated with the maladies of this infirmity, so I often, rather than wasting the waitress’s time with lists and restrictions, just say that I am, in fact, a sufferer of Celiac.
I asked a question that no one in South Slope would have balked at: “Do you have a separate gluten-free menu?” The answer was no, which is fine, but then she proceeded to tell me that all of the salads and appetizers could be amended to lack gluten, and that most of the fish and meats as well. I’m not an idiot; I know that. I ignorantly assumed that someone in a service industry profession would be willing to go above and beyond – finding a way for them to make a gluten-free pasta, for example. I have a Veggetti machine at home, which shreds zucchini into spaghetti-like strands. If she really wanted to be good at her job, she would invest in one of those.
As she turned around, I could swear she said something like: “You know what’s gluten free? Fucking SUSHI.” You know what’s the only thing decreasing faster than this girl’s ambitions and marital prospects? Her tip.
Ultimately, I settled on the mixed olives as my appetizer, and the king crab legs as my main. Cooper got a clam as his appetizer, and a half order of a gnocchi with seafood ragu as his entree. As we placed our order, I realized that she had never told us the specials, but honestly, at that point, I didn’t even care. I’m sure they would have been laden with seventeen ingredients that she would have pronounced painfully wrong.
The meal itself was average, and hyper-unfilling. I suppose we were spoiled by the fact that, as I mentioned, we spent our honeymoon traveling through Italy and Greece, and so despite the alleged authenticity of the food’s “Italianness”, I just don’t think it lived up to the meals we ate there. Even the wine, a bottle of the house Sangiovese, lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, or should I say non so che cosa. We forwent dessert, though we did split a decaf cappuccino (I don’t even have to tell you that they didn’t have soy milk). The check was dropped hastily, and picked up even quicker. We were barely out of our seats when the brigade of blue swept down upon the table, resetting it instantly for the next unassuming couple’s mediocre dining experience.
The thought of enduring the commuter train again was more depressing than Cooper’s stagnant career, so we got in a livery cab and paid the one hundred dollars to get back to Brooklyn. Rather than go straight home, we decided on a nightcap at the Sackett. As Neutral Milk Hotel played in the background, and the crowd around us debated the benefits and drawbacks of the Citibike system, we clinked our Old Fashioneds together and drank quickly, hoping to obliterate the memory of Hapless on Hellbank.
I’ve had better experiences in the open dressing room at Loehmanns.