When i had dinner the other night at the Spanish tapas bar Sol y Sombra, I noticed again how important good customer service is in a restaurant. Especially, after just coming back from Rome in Italy, where the word service is still a myth in most of the places, especially the classical trattorias or coffee bars.
Not that they were exceptionally fast at Sol y Sombra or did any of the typical American asking you 20 times during the course of your dinner with a toothpaste commercial smile "Is everything all right? Can i get you anything else?". Our waitress was simply really nice and smiley and when she came out with a dish of fried vegetables, my vegan friend had ordered, asking specifically if it was vegan, she asked if it was ok for her to eat eggs (it was probably part of the batter around the veggies), but then immediately admitting her mistake, apologized with a really cute smile and offered to take it back right away.
This reminded me of a little lunch scene that I had last week, so typical of Roman trattorias. I had a lunch date with my good friend Vito to go to the Hare Krishna near Largo Argentina, where I used to go at least every other week for lunch. They serve you a delicious home-cooked ayurvedic meal in their little temple, where you sit cross-legged on the floor in a community style manor. Unfortunately, we had to discover that they had closed down the restaurant service for a few months. So we went further down the road into the Jewish Ghetto, known for classical Roman Jewish cuisine. We sat down at a table outside 'Il Portico Ottavia', a traditional Roman Jewish trattoria.
After an initial wait, the waitress came up and without greeting, directly asked us in the Roman charming way 'Allora, che volete?' (So what do you want?). Hm.... maybe a menu first? That was the first mistake. It took about 10 minutes until we finally got hold of her again. One dish on the menu was called Linguini al Portico and my friend curiously asked her what it would be made of. She explained that it is a sauce made from fresh plum tomatoes, black olives and porcini mushrooms. I asked her if the funghi porcini were fresh and she confirmed, so I said "Ok, I am going to have the linguini" and I was obviously referring to the linguini dish we had just talked about.
15 minutes later, another waiter presented me a plate of linguini ai funghi porcini, which is basically a kind of creamy sauce prepared from only funghi porcini, not quite what I had asked for. So I told them that I ordered the Liguini al Portico. He took the plate back and a second later, our waitress reappeared with the plate and grimly told me that this was what I had asked for. After my explanation that I had just asked about the freshness of the funghi in the other dish, she suggested to just throw some tomatoes and olives on top and it would just be the same plate. I knew, it was not, since I saw the plate before and it was obviously a sauce prepared of the tomatoes, olives and funghi cooked together and then mixed with the pasta and topped with cheese. Did she just lie openly into my face...? Nope, I couldn't take that and insisted on my initial order.
Regardless of my request, the plate came back a couple of minutes later with raw tomatoes and olives tossed on it. I insisted another time that this is not, what I had ordered and that I would like to have the plate as it should be. BAD mistake. What came back after 5 more minutes, brought by another waiter who told me with a smile 'Now he even gave you a nice big portion', was the incredible result of my insisting.
Obviously, the entire plate of pasta was thrown back in a pan, reheated, so that the tomatoes get cooked a bit and it had even whipped cream added. Of course, now the pasta was completely overcooked and mushy, simply inedible. Realizing, they just would not admit the mistake and certainly not redo the pasta, I just gave up. I picked only on some mushrooms and tomatoes and left alone the pasta, when I heard the waitress's charming voice again from behind 'Ma adesso non se ne mangia neanche, ma che kazzo!' (What the fuck, now he's not even eating it). We burst out in laughter and asked for the check, which surprisingly arrived instantly. I had not eaten lunch, but at least I had a good laugh.
To make up for it, we stopped by one of my favourite pastry shops in Rome, the Jewish bakery, a tiny little corner shop on the same street, run by 3 fabulous old ladies that must have been running the place already at the time my dad was born. They make an incredibly delicious sweet bread made with nuts, dried and candied fruit, always slightly burnt on the outside edges, which is part of the particular taste. And when you get there around lunch time, it's mostly fresh out of the oven and still warm and crispy, yummm. But also here, the rule: Just take it, DON'T ASK! That's why up to today, I still don't know the name of this delicious sweet, since I dared to ask them once "Mi scusi, questi che sono?" (Excuse me, what are these here?) and one of the old ladies looked at me if I had just terribly insulted her and grunted "Ma che ti pare!" (What does it look like!?). I never asked again ;-)
Ah well, gli Italiani. Even though I still do get irritated with this behaviour, it is part of the Roman charme and it would not be quite the same without it. And on top, I had a fantastic laugh together with my friend.