|Bread service at Shaw's Crab House|
"Will you be taking bread service with us today?" asked the maitre d', a young lady I had never seen before.
My immediate reaction was to burst out laughing, but I manfully suppressed that.
My college pal Cate and I were in Shaw's Crab House last week, sitting at a small table in the bar, where we have met for lunch for the past ... gee ... several decades. Since the woman offering us "bread service" (where's that term derived from? Table service? Funeral service?) was doodling on her desktop in kindergarten.
Shaw's is off my usual round of restaurants. A few blocks too far from the office, and I'd have to walk past Harry Caray's to get there, and why would I do that? Harry's is cheaper, and the food is better, and they somehow manage to retain their staff, thus it's possible to get to know them. I've been going to Shaw's since it opened, but still don't know anybody there and never did, nor do they know me, which takes the blush off a place.
"Will you be taking bread service with us today?"
Maybe its the carbs, Cate suggested, during our immediate post-query analysis of this puff of pomposity. Maybe so many diners are now leaving their bread untouched that it seems a waste to just bring it out then throw it a way.
Pretty to think so. I suspected economy. Bread costs money, money not spent if you don't bring it, just as some restaurants have stopped automatically bringing water, to save themselves the expense of washing the glass.
Still. A salad at Shaw's is nineteen bucks. They should just bring the damn bread. "Will you be taking bread service with us today?" while pinning the needle on the orchid-sniffing feyness meter, is only the polite form of "We're withholding your bread basket unless you specifically request it," which is just wrong. What's next? The napkin menu? "Could I interest you in a fine bleached white 300 thread count Egyptian cotton?"
I think that's what makes the phrase so noxious. A strange marriage of thrift and pretense. Usually, elegance involves luxury. "Would you care for some caviar?" To try to nudge something that heretofore standard into that camp—"And will you be purchasing full restroom access this evening?"—it becomes a ludicrous insult.
What I actually said was, "I was thinking about that bread this morning." Which is true. Always really good bread at Shaw's, though we never had to beg for it before. They brought us a pair of fresh cheese-topped rolls and few flats of crackers topped with some pungent seed, anise or fennel or some such thing, that were quite good.
Somebody ought to rate downtown restaurants by their bread. Petterino's has the best: a warm glazed Parker House roll, with a slice or two of complicated black Russian bread thrown in. Gene & Georgetti bread is your basic French bread baked that morning at D'Amato's. Cold, a little dry on the outside, which is just as well because you don't want to waste your appetite on bread there anyway. Harry's has an Italian bread, warm, worth the indulgence. They never ask you if you want it. Of course you want it. The challenge is not to order seconds.
"Will you be taking bread service with us today?" The right answer, I see now, is "I don't know, will you be giving it?"