Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Finding englightment with TAO

Unless it is a terrifically special occasion, I never ever go to nice restaurants and foot the bill myself. Between work and older men taking care of me, I can boast of having eaten at least half of New York Magazine’s 101 top restaurants, all without paying my own way-- which is impressive for a 20 something who works in the ad world, without a major trust fund. I take advantage of expense accounts that don’t belong to me: from my vendors who take the ad team out to lunches at Balthazar, to my ‘mentors’, who only need the justification of a young girl sitting across the table. However, even in my sick world of comp’d five star meals, I didn’t have enough balls to call any of my wealthy older friends and ask them to take out five alcoholic foodies for a birthday extravaganza. Confronted with reality, my friends and I decided to swallow our dinner-whoredom and give Lauren a proper birthday present, one where she wouldn’t have to pay the host back with mild flirtation and empty promises of future afternoons together.

Knowing that my friends and I are partial to Asian food and great cocktails, a ‘mentor’ suggested that we make reservations for TAO, a faux-trendy fusion restaurant that is part disco, part bar and barely restaurant. Being the native NYer in the group of out-of-towners, I was left in charge of making the Saturday night dinner reservation. Which I forgot to do, until Thursday afternoon.


“Hi,” not understanding her heavily faux European accented slur. “Is this TAO?”

“Yes,” in a short choppy syllable.

“Uhm, I would like to book reservations for 5 on Saturday night?”

Scoff. “We have 6pm and 10:30 pm”

“Shit…it’s a birthday, if we get pare down the group could we maybe get an earlier reservation?”


“Shoot, I don’t know what to go with,” hemming and hawing.

“Well, it’s either 6pm or 10:30,” in an apathetic rush to book the reservation.

“You know, give me the 10:30 and I could always switch the reservation, to the earlier one, right?”

“That is if we still have it available! Credit card info?!”

“Why do you need my credit card?”

“To hold the reservation! What is it!”

Pissed, I rattle off the card number from memory. But, I’m booking this for Lauren and not myself, so I have to abide by this bitch’s demands.

“Call and confirm the reservation on Saturday or else you lose it. And be on time, if you are more than fifteen minutes late you lose your reservation. Bye.”

The line goes dead before I can tell her ‘ok’.

The reservation-nazi and the reviews on citysearch should have clued me in that this was not the gastronomical delight that it was once billed, but instead like many well known trendy restaurants in the city, fall victim to perpetuating its image—pretension cannibalizing the flavor.

We get to the restaurant at exactly 10:30, with the aid of a taxi driver whom I’d bet was a drag racing champion in his native country in South Asia.

“Hi, [my last name] for five at 10:30”

“Oh, we are going to need fifteen minutes, here is a buzzer and we will call you when your table is ready. Feel free to have a drink at the bar.”

We do as we’re told and drink a round of martinis. No buzzer sounds, and twenty minutes have passed since we arrived. Bored, my friends explore the restaurant as I go back to the bar for another drink.

We reconvene on the stairs, bored expression across their faces as I sip my second martini, half drunk and smiling goofily. Thirty minutes, in total, since we’ve walked in with no sound coming from the buzzer they gave us.

“Let me go talk to them, this is ridiculous.”

I speak to the maitre’d, she answers my concerns and frustrations with mock understanding and free drink cards.

Score! Free drinks!

I give them to my friends, but since they aren’t as afflicted with alcoholism as I am, they don’t want to ruin their meals by getting too drunk. Although it means more booze for me, drinking by yourself in public is never in good taste and usually indicates a small problem.

Fifteen minutes pass after my initial encounter with the maitre’d, 2.5 martinis have been chugged, and my friends are threatening to walk. They’re on the verge of leaving and I talk to the door bitch again:

“Hi, Listen, we’ve been waiting here for forty-five minutes and it is my friend’s birthday, and we’re hungry. If you don’t have the table ready in the next 5mins, we will go someplace else.”

“My apologies,” she says with mock sympathy. “Here are some more free drink cards, and as soon as the table is ready, we’ll send over appetizers.”

Now you know I have to be frustrated when the following words leave my lips:

“While we appreciate the free drinks and appetizers,” I said as I pocketed the card, “they’re useless without a table. You have five minutes to seat us or I will find another restaurant with an available table!”

“I promise your table will be available in five minutes.”

Empty promises, another free drink card in hand, and the 2.5 martinis hit my bladder.

In addition to the crappy service at the bar and the long wait for a table, I’m now met with a women’s bathroom line snaked around the cellar. Only the attendant was inside the men’s bathroom.

“Ladies,” I drunkenly slur, “this is fucking bullshit! I don’t know about you, but it is our legal right to pee in men’s bathroom when the line is this fucking long. I’m going. Who’s with me!”

The other women give me skeptical looks, tentatively waiting to see if I will follow through my drunken rantings, and wanting me to shoulder the potential consequences first.

I walk with my head held high into the men’s bathroom, in my knee length skirt and heels. Another woman follows. We’re greeted by a flustered attendant, not knowing what to do with women in the men’s bathroom.

“Ok, you pee here but no others, and please wash hands in the ladies’ bathroom.”

Did he just tell me that no other member of the sisterhood could join me? After leaving me waiting for 45 mins for my reservation, left only with free booze to fill my gnawing belly? I get quite self-righteous when I’m drinking, especially with feminist issues.

As I walk out of the bathroom and see that the line is longer, I make an announcement, “Ladies, the men’s bathroom is open. I just came from there and it is cleaner than our bathroom. Get off the line and pee in the men’s room!”

A stream of women hustle into the men’s bathroom, confronted with an attendant who didn’t understand that gender can be deemed a social construction when a lady needs to pee. Teetering up the stairs, not caring about the mini-riot I started, Corinne sees me with a with a smug smile on my face. Evidently, the minute I left the restaurant floor, our table became ready.

“Corinne, we are going to make them fuc-king pay! Do they have champagne here?”

“I think so,” she answers tentatively, not sure of what asshole move I am going to pull.

The group is seated when I get to the table. Before I sit down, I already have the drink menu in my hand.

“Sarah, how many drink cards do we have each?

“Great! Lauren, how would you like some Vueuve Clicquot to start the evening off? The bitch said that the cards will buy us any drink. Well, I would like a $22 glass of champagne! Who else is in?”

In my estimation, those 2 free rounds of champagne for 5 people cost the restaurant about $75. 10 glasses of champagne, roughly 3 bottles, and figure at cost each bottle had to be about $25. Also, in addition to the champagne, the free appetizers were wonderful, especially the Sea Bass. I was so full, though, I couldn’t even finish my $10 sushi roll. And I know my friends felt the same way.

Sadly, in that hour that I stood there waiting for a table, I got too drunk to find out whether the food was worth the hype. So, my only memory of TAO involves what I saw of my meal at the bottom of a toilet that evening. However, I must say thank you for one of the cheapest dinners I could remember, especially since I didn’t even have to let an old man rub my ass…


At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

l o fucking l
can't wait for the rest.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger AWE said...

I saw that place on the Travel channel or one of those channels and was wondering about it. Glad to find out about the long wait.


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