Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Three Stars

So, did you recognize the movie star? It is... drum roll, please... Susan Sarandon. It may have been difficult to recognize her without her red hair anywhere in sight. Only about half of the dozen or so passengers in my cab whom I showed the pictures to got it right. One passenger, a dancer from Flashdancers, the strip club, didn't recognize her but did immediately comment on her cleavage, which I myself hadn't noticed up until that point. We are all experts in our own fields of endeavor.

Speaking of which, here is the newest addition to the streets of New York. The Toyota Prius taxicab.

This is, of course, the hybrid electric and gasoline car which is great on fuel and low on pollution. I asked the driver how much he spends on gas per shift (about 140 miles are driven in a shift, the ultimate in stop and go driving). He said from 8 to 10 dollars. I'm spending between $40 and $50 in the Ford Crown Vic I lease from my garage. Wave of the future? I sure hope so. But how will it stand up to the brutality of driving on New York streets? That remains to be seen. It's a small car.

Now, down to business. The focus of this blog is the "fare of the night" or the "thing on the street", meaning the most interesting people I encounter in my taxi or something I see on the street that's worthy of mention. And here's one I wanted to write about. On Aug. 2nd at 1:30 AM I picked up a happy, young lady in Greenwich Village and drove her out to Astoria. She had been talking excitedly on her cell phone for awhile and when she finished that conversation I asked her what was going on. She told me she is the manager of a restaurant in the Village and they had just received a favorable review in the NY Times. Three stars, as a matter of fact.

Unless you are already familiar with the culture of fine dining in New York City, this may not seem like such a big deal. But I assure you, it is. This is how it goes: someone at some point in his (or her) life realizes that he loves to cook. He may very well have attended and graduated from a culinary school (no small accomplishment). He works for years as a chef in an excellent restaurant. Finally, with investors lined up and with many friends to help him, he takes a mighty plunge and decides to open his own place. Enormous planning and effort are put into this project.

At last the restaurant becomes a reality. But will it be a success or just another one of the many flops? This often depends on a single, fickle, and perhaps fair or grossly unfair variable: the review of the food critic of the New York Times. If the reviewer likes your restaurant, your chances of success have multiplied dramatically. If not, your entire endeavor is most likely headed where the potato peels, egg shells, and fish bones wind up... That's the power of the food critic of the NY Times. So there is real drama here.

My passenger, whose name is Sara (and whose birthday it is) filled me in on the behind the scenes details of the story. She works at the Blue Hill restaurant on Washington Place between 6th Avenue and Washington Square

Park. It's a cozy, little place in the below-ground-level of a townhouse which has been in business for six years. The special feature of Blue Hill is that they prepare only food that has been grown within 150 miles of New York City. Blue Hill had received a two-star review ("very good") from the NY Times when it first opened and, Sara told me, if a restaurant is still in business after six years, it is the policy of the Times to review it again. They'd been informed that a food critic would be dining there that week, but they didn't know what day and they didn't know who it would be. So there was an air of mystery, suspense, and excitement in the restaurant all week. Was the portly gentleman at table twelve actually the mighty reviewer from the Times? Or could it be the woman in the pink suit at table seven?

The moment of truth had arrived earlier that evening. They received word that the review of Blue Hill would be published in the August 2nd edition, and they had received 3 stars ("excellent") from food czar Frank Bruni. The ecstasy of the staff had to be contained as the last diner stayed in the restaurant for an excruciating 45 minutes after the check had arrived. Finally the patron departed and they all celebrated their significant win.

Another example of increasing my own reality by communicating with a passenger. I wouldn't have known anything about all this if I hadn't simply asked her what was going on. If you'd like to see the review for yourself, by the way, google "Blue Hill restaurant, New York City".

1 comment:

Harry said...

that was so very interesting. i never knew restaurants were so dependent on critics...I cant wait for your next entry