“Do you make Linguini Puttanesca?”
“No Madam,” I reply, “We don’t have it on the menu.”
“Well,” the lady harrumphs, “The chef made it for me the last time I was here.”
God – I hate when customers use that line.
“Really?” I say, hiding my chagrin. “”Then he’ll able to make it for you this time.”
“He made it with eggplant last time,” the lady says excitedly. “Can he use eggplant again?”
“Of course madam.”
“And make sure he puts capers in it,” the woman says. “He didn’t put capers in the last time.”
Suddenly I’m suspicious. Puttanesca sauce doesn’t have eggplant and always has capers. Armando’s an experienced chef. He wouldn’t forget the capers. I’m beginning to think this woman’s thinking about a different dish at another place. It’s not unusual for customers to transpose a dish from one restaurant to another. I shrug internally. It’s not a big deal to make puttanesca sauce and throw in some eggplant. Besides, the customer’s always right.
“I’ll make sure he puts capers in it Madam.”
“And I have another request,” the woman says.
“Can he make it with penne instead of linguine?”
“Good,” the woman says, “Because he did it for me last time.”
I want to find this “he” from “last time” and kick his ass.
“No problem Madam.”
“And sir?” I say turning to the woman’s companion. “What would you like to order?”
The woman’s companion is a handsome older man with a rich baritone voice. When he talks he sounds like Richard Burton.
“Well,” the man says, “The chef made a chicken dish for me the last time I was here.”
Crap. Here we go again.
The man describes a chicken dish in a white wine sauce. He lists the ingredients to be used in excruciating detail. When he finishes his little exposition he smiles at me smugly.
“Got all that?” he asks.
I can tell this guy’s in love with his voice. Actually he’s probably been in love with himself since the Sixties. Sounding like Richard Burton probably got him laid once. He’s never gotten over the ego trip.
“I think we can manage that sir,” I reply, scribbling on my pad.
“Well you should,” the man says, “He made it for me the last time.”
I flash a smile, extricate myself from my high maintenance table and head into the kitchen.
“Armando,” I ask, “Did you ever make a Puttanesca sauce with eggplant?”
“Never,” he says. “Why? Does some one want that?”
“Yeah,” I reply, “But use penne. And the woman wants capers.”
“Puttanesca has capers.”
“I know you know that. I’m just repeating what they told me.”
“OK,” Armando grunts. “Anything else?”
I describe Sir Richard’s chicken dish. Armando shakes his head but agrees to make it. We’re not busy. A short while later the couple’s food is up. I deliver it to the table.
“Oh boy,” the woman says, looking at her Penne Puttanesca, “That looks delicious.”
“Enjoy Madam,” I say.
“Can I have some grated cheese?” the woman asks.
“Of course Madam.”
The bus girl appears with the cheese grater and grinds out some Parmesan.
“More,” the woman says, “I love cheese.”
The busgirl turns the handle furiously. Soon the woman’s penne’s covered in a thick snow of cheese. I wish the table buon appetito and head to the back to get a drink of water. Before the glass touches my lips the bus girl comes up to me.
“There’s a problem at your table,” she says. “Go over there.” I walk over to the Burton’s table. Liz and Dick look very unhappy.
“What’s the matter?” I ask.
“This dish is too salty!” the woman shrieks.
“Let me take that to the kitchen and have the chef fix it,” I reply.
“Please,” the lady says, “It’s terrible.”
“How’s your entrée sir?” I ask cautiously.
“It’s fine,” the man says. “Take care of my wife’s food.”
“Right away sir.”
I take the Penne Puttanesca back to the kitchen. Armando thins out the sauce. I take it back to the table.
“Still too salty!” the woman says. “Take it back.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes and take the food back to the kitchen again.
“This woman’s pissing me off,” Armando says, grabbing the plate.
“Still to salty,” I murmur. “Unbelievable.”
“I didn’t add salt,” Armando says. “I even rinsed the anchovies. What more does she want?”
“I don’t know.”
Armando finishes re-saucing the dish. I bring it back to the table. The woman tastes it.
“Did the chef dump a cup of salt in here?” the woman yelps. “It’s too salty.”
“Madam,” I reply politely, “Perhaps you’d like to order something else.”
“But I want Penne Puttanesca!”
“I’m sorry madam.”
“I’ve never had such a salty sauce!” the woman says. “Why is it so salty?”
“Because it’s made with anchovies, you requested capers, and you put Parmesan cheese on top,” I say.
The woman looks at me funny. She’s not used to the help disagreeing with her.
“See here,” Sir Richard huffs, “If it was properly made it wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Well this isn�t acceptable!” Sir Richard says, glaring at me with his most intimidating look.
When I worked in mental health I wrestled knife wielding psychotics to the floor, talked suicidal people off of roofs and had people threaten to kill me. It will be a cold day in hell before a Richard Burton wannabe says anything remotely intimidating. I smile at the man – my eyes turning into two cold brown buttons.
“Sorry sir,” I say, “But I think the lady will be happy with something else.”
Richie blinks. After a moment of silence he says, “Maybe you should get something else honey.”
My face immediately brightens. I recommend a dish I know has low salt. The woman orders it, Armando makes it, and soon she’s happy.
“Thanks,” the woman says, “This dish is much better.”
“I’m glad you like it madam.”
“Sorry about the Puttanesca thing.”
“No worries,” I reply. “You should enjoy your food.”
The couple finishes dinner, have coffee and dessert, and pay the bill. The tip’s lousy. Richie’s parting shot. As they walk out the door I give the couple a gracious smile and wish them a pleasant evening. Richie stares at me funny. He doesn’t know what to make of me. I sigh. These little bullshit encounters have been wearing me down lately. As the door closes I catch my reflection in the glass.
Sometimes I don’t know what to make of me either.