As we wound down our
cavalcade of awful dining experiences 2011 Restaurant Week, J, two friends, and I met up at Brasserie 8 1/2. You know, from that Sex and the City episode where Stanford first meets Anthony (SPOILER: They offensively “marry” in the second feature film), Samantha poses naked for some reason, and Charlotte has a bummed-out vagina. What I most remember about it, though, is the whole Carrie-as-famous person/model plot line. The designer, played by Alan Cumming, asks her to walk in his runway show along with other “celebrities,” and in the end she’s forced to wear glitzy panties and falls satisfyingly flat on her face.
I bring this up not to only make the obvious comparison between the faux celebrity atmosphere of Brasserie 8 1/2 and the similarly laughable idea that Carrie Bradshaw — a D-list sex columnist — would somehow fit in with the likes of Heidi Klum [appearing as herself in that episode but sadly not at our dinner]; but ALSO to regretfully admit that I still remember both, despite the corniness. There’s something so ridiculous about how much Brassiere 8 1/2 tries, from the cool but bizarre spiral staircase to the Matisse [I’m assuming editioned] works on paper everywhere. Who are they trying to fool, rich old uptowners? If you squint ever so much you might also see Carrie as a model and not what she really is: a horse-faced alien scout.
So how did the meal itself fare on the runway?
Well, let’s start with the waiter, actually. I’ll admit we arrived clearly
buzzing on cheap mohitos ready to enjoy ourselves and have a good time. Be that as it may, at no point between walking in the door and first seeing the menus did we do anything noteworthy, much less abhorrent. You certainly would have thought otherwise if you were to listen to our waiter. The first thing after a lackluster, “Hello and welcome to Braeuszurie 8 and something something,” was, “and in case you didn’t know, it’s restaurant week.”
He didn’t say it in the manner of, “Oh Hello folks! Thank you so much for coming; we were just about to fire everyone and burn the place to the ground, but now that you’re here everything’s golden! Oh my fucking god, did I not mention that it’s restaurant week, and we have this amazing special menu? Please don’t tell anyone, but we weren’t supposed to let anyone know about it! It’s only for the cooliest of cools, and guess what? You’re it!”
No it was instead more like, “Oh my fucking god, another slovenly, gaping maw wandered in from the whorehouse looking for cheap eats. ‘Time Out says Brasserie 8 1/2 is real good, Maw and Paw,’ little Jimmy’s probably saying. Ugh, and I bet they’re going to ask me to take their picture and not order any wine! My life is literally over — I am a waiter in a very nice restaurant in New York City, and not like I’m saying that’s my end-all be-all goal in life, but at the age of 28 and without English as my first language, you know what I’m doing pretty well for myself — because this is the worst thing that could have ever happened to me. Jesus christ are they going to be asking me what wine is and where babies come from? It is plain to see that these diners are anything but: normal, late-20s, probably know something about food, dressed well, affluent people.”
Let’s just say that we were disheveled, sweaty, inappropriately dressed people? (We were not.) A waiter should still approach his new guests coming from a position of positive welcoming energy and not the assumption that we are all idiots. Innocent until proven guilty. Plus, it’s not like we just wandered in. Obviously, we picked Brasserie 8 1/2 carefully from a long list of possible restaurant week places, and even if we’re there on a night with a prix fixe menu, big deal! Guess what? No one’s forcing you to do restaurant week!
Before the waiter took our orders, he mentioned a “special” for the day: a towering complex of crab, mussels, clams, oysters, and unicorns…so high it reached the sky! Just heaps and heaps of ocean corpses, ready for you! “The Seafood Plateau,” he named it. Legimately intrigued by the physics I asked, “how is it both a tower and plateau of seafood?” He smirked and looked away.
Basically I had called bullshit on his operation, not five minutes into the evening.
When it came my turn, I asked for the salmon carpaccio, roasted poussin with beans, and creme fraiche sorbet with berries. He interrupted me after “poussin,” and unnecessarily clarified, “poussin is a young bird, not a fish.” Yah, thanks! I know what the french term for “fish” is. Oh, also there was that period of five months of my life where I was dedicated to all things food in Burgundy. Yah, there’s that too. Maybe lots of people ordered the poussin hoping for fish? What kind of fish would that have been in their imagination? Just some generic “fish” fish! And why would they know what “poisson” translates to yet simultaneously be unaware of a “poussin.”
We definitely did not tip the waiter well.
Three of us ordered what was described as “the wine pairing,” assuming our individual glasses would match our three different meals. Nope, just straight up the same wines for everyone! So even though the only available second courses were all either fish or poltry, the second glass of wine is a Malbec. Random. We even uncharacteristically asked if there was a mix-up. “No, the uh, the skate has some lentils in it,” he said. The explanation as to why three different dishes lacking any red meat would be paired with a Malbec was essentially, “lentils.”
This went on and on throughout the meal. It was like the waiter was two steps behind us, yet already checked out mentally. At one point he came by to clear the first courses away. He pointed to J and said, “there, the salad fork…the small fork.” Jeez! (Maybe J was just surprised you had trouble clearing a four person table!)
Oh, so the food.
Actually, it was pretty good overall. The salmon carpaccio lacked any flavors other than 1) salt, and 2) yep, this is salmon. The accompanying toast was a little soggy but fine. Someone asked me what the stringy green things were on her plate, and I instantly shot out, “Seafire beans…fancy, fancy beans. They’re fancy beans.” The waiter was rubbing off on me. J’s tomato soup was heavy on the foam, but once you got down to the bottom it had a lot of flavor. The aforementioned poussin/poisson was pretty delicious, and it was accompanied by a very nice chicken sausage. The desserts where overall good but unmemorable.
On the cab ride home, the driver blared Christian radio yet failed to say “Bless You” (or anything else) when I sneezed.
P.S. Oh, and we spent some quality time at Whiskey Trader before dinner. It’s the kind of place wanting you to think it’s an upscale Midtown after work hot spot, yet they sell $5 melontinis and hand out free popcorn. Yah, not quite, Whiskey Trader. L advised that we not partake in the popcorn, as she had once spotted a rat in another bar’s popcorn machine. Totally did not listen.