Young and Hungry

All About Eve, Part IV: Dinner Service Pregame


Welcome to the fourth installment of All About Eve, Young & Hungry’s behind-the-scenes glimpse of working at Restaurant Eve. You can read previous posts here

In the three months I’ve worked at Eve, several times a week just before service is an announcement of a mysterious reservation at 5:30 with no notation of a birthday, anniversary, or special occasion. The name has no notes in Open Table. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema hadn’t been in for a while and was due in to update the fall dining guide. Is tonight the night?

Just before service, beverage boss Todd Thrasher barrels through the Tasting Room, arms wrapped around a giant pan of roasting garlic, rosemary and thyme from the garden. Like an Orthodox priest, he wafts incense by stirring his pot with a wooden spoon, ensuring that the room smells deliciously savory. In the Bistro, servers at hutches triple-polish silverware or iron cloths on tables that had been pressed at lunch. Others recite ingredients for menu additions like actors memorizing lines.

Once dinner has begun, side conversation ceases. Servers file in and out of the kitchen, shimmying around corners and each other. If they talk, it’s in whispers or they’re shushed.

Rat-tat-tat goes the ticker of the first order of the night. Chef Cathal Armstrong inspects the scroll from an order as it prints. "One lobster. Two halibut. One antelope," he says. "Lobster. Two halibut," from one corner. "One antelope," from another.

It’s the call and response of the brigade kitchen, the French system developed by Escoffier. Though it’s formal and old-school, the brigade can be as vibrant as an assembly of good musicians or a team set to win the playoffs.

Runners wear folded napkins like baseball mitts, protecting fingers from hot plates. Managers with messages from the dining room stand in wait, suited up, arms folded behind their backs until acknowledged by Chef, at which point they deliver missives with bulleted efficiency.

Sietsema didn't come in for dinner that night. He's since come by, though. His server was a little nervous, and the vibe in the kitchen was more intense, but it was business as usual on a busy Restaurant Eve night. I was surprised I didn’t find a marked difference in much of anything with a food critic in the house. Guests were coddled, servers were kind to them—in keeping with Thrasher's request before service.

After Sietsema left, I realized that every night the routine helps prepare for someone like a critic to visit. And that anyone—or perhaps everyone—is essentially a PX, the abbreviation for VIPs at Eve.

“It’s a lot of repetition,” says John Wabeck, in a discussion we’d had a couple nights ago about the nature of restaurant work. “Whether you’re washing dishes, on the line, in the front of the house or pouring wine, that’s what it is, day after day,” he said. “And you have to love it to make it your work.”

Photo by synaethesia via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

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