Service Included, by Phoebe Damrosch

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on September 4, 2009

Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter, by Phoebe Damrosch

four-star-secrets-of-an-eavesdropperA relatively small number of us is ever going to have the privilege of dining at a four-star restaurant. It’s a simple problem of economics. A prix fix menu of $150 means a table of four is into it for $600, just sitting down. Now add wine, (practically de rigeur ) at, say, $300 for a couple of bottles. Coffee and an after-dinner drink? The twenty percent you should tack on for a tip is close to $200. Did you have $1000 worth of fun?

After reading Service Included, you may very well feel the answer is “yes,” and have you starting a savings account specifically to blow on the meal of a lifetime, even if it’s just once in our lifetime.

This book tells us the inside story of the preparations that went into opening Per Se, the creation of chef Thomas Keller, who had built a remarkable reputation on the West Coast with his Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry. The story is told by the charming and whip-smart Phoebe Damrosch. She’s a skilled enough writer to build a genuine sense of anxious anticipation, first with the opening, then with the inevitable visit of the New York Times restaurant critic.

This is serious business, conducted by people who are serious about food. This is reflected in part by the author’s admonishments as to the proper way to behave, in order to ensure the best dining experience for yourself and, not coincidentally, for your server as well. (Among my favorites: “’Give me…’ is a very unattractive way to begin a sentence.” And “Please don’t ask us to microwave your wine.”

Not nearly as gritty or personalized as much as other foodie tell-alls (such as Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential), in part because it deals so much more with the Front of the House, Service Included enlightens, teaches and enhances our appreciation of fine dining.

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