Elton John’s Maple Drive Oscar Party (3/3)
The wait staff, of which I was a member, could tell you the exact ingredients in the dishes. They could explain with words and subtle hand movements how the parts and techniques comprised the sublime culinary whole – gesticulating “smoothing” and “sprinkling” and “gently folding” like auditioning hand models. They could tell you about the rich mineral content in the oyster beds in faraway Washington State, about the Venice Beach architect who had labored for eons over the design of the place, about the heat of the rouille and the far-flung origins of the seafood in the bouillabaisse.
During desert, when it could be demonstrated without moving plates awkwardly, they could show you the individual designs in the seamlessly inlaid tabletops. They would not – but they could have if they had wanted to – tell you who was who and who was not right then and there in the room. They could have – but they would not have – inserted themselves into your conspiratorial table whispering to let you know that your second young wife is correct and you are wrong: the friendly laugh that sounds so familiar in the booth behind her is, in fact, Tom Hanks.
Despite its near mantra status and repetition, at any given time there may only be a thousand businesses in the United States where the proverbial customer is always right; for a season this restaurant was among them. The waiters were hired because they had an instinctive feel for this, for the needs of the client, for the delicate acrobatic craft being performed at the casually extravagant dinners for eight. If a patron, in front of his arrayed guests, decided to double-down and compose his own ad-hoc recipe from items he had foraged from the menu – turning the entrée descriptions into a kind of personal spice and produce stand of exotic ingredients – that new and improved recipe would be attentively written down on the waiter’s tiny white pad, repeated back for clarity and brought to the busy chef, where similar diplomatic skills would again be engaged on the receiving end. There was here, as there is in all restaurants, a kind of invisible high-wire strung between table and kitchen that a server must walk, and, perhaps in recognition of this, it was not unheard of for the waiters at this restaurant to receive absurd, disproportionate gratuities with zeros strung together like Christmas baubles.
It should be mentioned in closing that the food was exceptional.