Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Extra Helpings: My Brief Fifteen Seconds

I try not to take myself too seriously here at Exploring Food My Way. I mean, I'm just a guy who likes to search out and find good tasting food and share it with all of you by taking pictures and writing about it. Am I trying to find the cure for cancer? Am I working on discovering sustainable cold fusion? Am I ... well, I think you get the point.

I knew that undertaking the endeavor of writing about the local food scene and keeping my anonymity were going to be mutually exclusive and difficult goals to achieve. Even with the most stringent standards, eventually someone would figure out who I was. Not to mention that writing completely anonymously wouldn't allow me to share some of my own personal stories to help frame the write-ups I do here on the blog. I think it's very important not just to recite a litany of facts, but also to throw a little color and variation in there as well to entertain as well as inform.

So when something slightly "fame bubble-ish" happens to me when I am out for dinner, I have to stop, take a step back and analyze. Let me clarify. It wasn't that I ran into someone famous like a television or movie actor or even a local personality. It turns out that unintentionally, I was the local personality. The story goes that I had decided to return by myself to a restaurant I had eaten at previously and subsequently written an entry that was published here on the blog. Of course, all names will be withheld to protect the innocent. It seems that there had been a significant change in the kitchen and I wanted to return to re-evaluate the quality of the food. Honestly, I had never intended to write about my dinner; I just wanted to see if they were still worth writing about. In a somewhat serendipitous irony, clearly they are as you are here reading about my experience, although not in the way I'm sure the restaurant had originally hoped.

Since it was early in the evening when I arrived, I figured that I would be able to walk right in and snag a table without any problems. I was correct. It was also apparent that neither the hostess nor my server recognized me (which is absolutely fine since I didn't recognize either of them). I started out by examining the menu and sure enough, some items had changed. However, I was happy to see that one item which hadn't changed was their multi-course tasting menu. I decided that the prix fixe menu, essentially dishes that were prepared at the chef's whim, sounded like an ideal way to try out the new kitchen's mettle. I placed my order.

My server dutifully returned to the kitchen and I returned to putzing around with my Google phone. It wasn't until one of the managers stopped at my table with a complimentary glass of champagne that things took a very angular turn. Apparently my server had alerted him to the fact that the kitchen was being slower than normal getting my first course out to me. As with most good managers who knew that a free glass of anything sooths the savage soul, he had brought me the glass of bubbly as a gesture of good will while I waited. He approached my table from the rear and only as he set the glass down in front of me and we made eye contact did I see his eyes light up.

"Oh, welcome back! I didn't realize you'd be dining with us tonight."

He helpfully gave me some background information on the champagne he had brought me, but I could tell he was antsy to get back to the kitchen. He finished his description and quickly disappeared through the outer kitchen doors. Slightly bemused, I settled back into the activity I had been pursuing before our exchange, monitoring the statistics of the very blog you are reading.

That particular day, my latest blog entry had gone live and I was checking in to see how well it was doing. Contrary to popular belief, web surfing isn't completely anonymous. With the web tracking software I use for this site, I can usually tell where a reader comes from geographically, what web page they are on before they click on my blog and finally what page is read when he or she gets here. I cannot identify each user by name. However, through a combination of comments left on my blog and logic, sometimes I can connect the two. When I'm pretty sure I've correctly identified an actual individual, the statistics software I use allows me to "label" the incoming request. This gives me the ability to quickly tie a person (or entity) to pages that they've read in the past and pages they are currently reading. Of course, none of this information ever (EVER) leaves the blog. I do it mostly just for my own amusement.

I had managed to tag and label the IP address of the restaurant I was eating in when my first review was published on the blog many months ago. As I was sitting there sipping my lovely glass of champagne, perusing my usage logs, my fifteen seconds of fame suddenly came crashing down on top of me. Who should show up in my log in real time but the restaurant in which I was currently sitting! Not only were the last several blog entries I had written about them being read (or more accurately re-read), but they had also clicked onto my Facebook profile to check that out, too! For the briefest of moments, I had the image of them scrambling around in the kitchen knowing that Anton Ego, archetypal food critic from the movie Ratatouille, was sitting in the dining room ready to tear them apart.

This thought alone elicited an audible laugh from me which I quickly silenced as my server returned to my table with warm bread and olive oil. You can't imagine how half-tempted I was to ask my server to let the chef know that while he was in the back surfing my blog, there were a couple of other really great entries he might want to catch up on, too. But, I thought better of it and restrained myself. I realized that this little fame bubble moment was exactly that, a moment.

After my server returned to the kitchen, I revisited my logs just to make sure I had really seen them correctly. Sure enough, there they were. I'm not naive enough to think that good restaurants don't keep notes about their patrons. Many of the latest restaurant management software build those type of tools right into the reservation system. And while I am not all that particular about food idiosyncrasies, I can't imagine that the notes about me would be all that interesting. Then again, why go to your own personal notes when you can go to a much richer source of information about my likes and dislikes ... my blog!

I don't write this story as a means to shame anyone. Certainly if I were in their shoes, I would want access to as much information as I could get as quickly as possible. The fact that I caught them in the act as I was sitting in the dining room waiting for my first course to come out just makes me chuckle with delight. It's the first time I've ever felt like I needed to employ a fake accent and dark sunglasses to disguise who I really was in order to be an anonymous diner. I hold nothing but the highest respect for the restaurant involved and will happily eat there again and again.

Though I don't intend to start rubbing elbows with Madonna and Tom Cruise any time soon, don't complain that I didn't warn you when you see pictures of John Mayer and myself eating at the latest Wolfgang Puck restaurant plastered all over the cover of People magazine. Jennifer Aniston might be there, but I wouldn't count on it.

3 comments:

MikeV @ DadCooksDinner said...

What a great story! Someone said "with the internet, everyone will be famous for 15 people." Looks like you've got that number beat at this one restaurant alone!

And I love the Anton Ego bit. Any chance to work Ratatouille into a post is a good idea, but the mental image is a perfect match.

Mike V
DadCooksDInner

BONNIE K said...

Now that is a funny story. Although you have made me a bit paranoid to come and read your posts...

Tino said...

@Bonnie K: I know, it's a bit like seeing the man operating the machinery behind the curtain. Oz just doesn't seem quite as magical now, does it?

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