Best fork forward
Etiquette tips to overcome the dribbles and smears
By Dan O'Heron 07/21/2011
Good table manners may be next of kin to those civilized forms and ceremonies that help you advance in rank or dignity, but they are no poor relation.
Applied protocols, sharp resumes and the right ties may tell the world how you vote. But to get ahead, there’s nothing more revealing about your environment, lifestyle and social adjustment than seeing how you eat spaghetti, crack a crab in a public house or juggle appetizers and drinks at a junket.
To bolster the claim, and not meant to be a rehash of Emily’s postings, what follows are my purely personal preferences and prejudices, ripened for two decades while watching people eat and drink in Pasadena.
In addition, you may enjoy the following tips from local waiters on how they politely respond to the awkward moments that you — or your children — may have created.
Little kids, with unsynchronized hands, arms, legs and mouths (often open and resembling the inside of a jelly donut) are often an embarrassment to parents in a restaurant. “Not at ours,” says Jack Huang, owner of Villa Sorriso, 168 W. Colorado Blvd., (626) 793-8008. “The parents do a good job in keeping the kids from running around and jumping into the fountain.”
And now, parents won’t have to teach their children to hold back from ordering expensive dishes: “My daughter has convinced me to have a child’s menu.” Huang adds.
Looking to future generations, Huang recently brought in a professional to hold an etiquette clinic especially for little girls, who showed up in fancy dresses. “Afterwards,” says Huang, “one mother said I should do one for little boys. And another said, ‘and husbands.’”
Men in Southern California are so determined to be casual that the only dress code to decipher is “come as you are.” If that means wearing an undershirt, be sure to pair it with dark glasses. These days, more men are doffing baseball caps than tipping hats. At Houston’s, 320 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, (626) 577-6001, they ask only that men wear shirts with sleeves.
ONE WAY TO SAY NO
When a child falls off a high chair, mom will sooth with a “there, there.” While a grown-up will never be given a chance to fall off a bar stool at King’s Row Gastropub, 20 E. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena, (626) 793-3010, you may hear the mellifluous tones of bartender Sonny Turco telling a patron they’ve had enough. Turco’s technique is to gently try to get tipsy customers to believe stepping away from the bar is their own idea. “I talk to the person like I would a friend, somebody I care about, and I do,” he says.
Way back when, at the Langham Huntington Hotel, 1401 South Oak Knoll Ave, Pasadena, (626) 568- 3900, a friend of mine was once refused admittance to the bar because “we have no provision for denims, sir.” Today, while sipping tea in The Terrace, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a young woman with a tattoo flirting from underneath the waistline of her low-rise jeans.
I could love a Dungeness crab if only it didn’t play so hard to get. Should one go at it with hammer and tongs with great force, violence and attendant clatter? Not at McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant, 111 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena, (626) 405-0064. Here, they’ll teach you the rules of engagement: First, take the hinge-like piece of flesh that connects the shell to the body, and tug easily until the shell comes off. Next, break the crab into two big chunks. From there, twisting off each leg is a snap.
It’s against the law to let dogs into restaurants, even if they are meticulously dressed. But at Il Fornaio, 24 W. Union St., Old Pasadena, (626) 683-9797, managing partner John Beeman says, “When customers tell us it’s an assistance dog or other assistance animal, we welcome them.” Still, he says he will often see a stowaway puppy peeking out of a tote bag. Years back, says Beeman, “a woman kept trying to bring in a big dog, finally threatening legal action. At last, one day, I said, ‘Miss, the dog can come in, but you can’t.’”
Other customer complaints are handled on the spot by charming and skillful servers like Il Fornaio’s Nancy Ratliff. If soup is served at 140 degrees Fahrenheit and someone wants it at 210, she’ll have the kitchen reheat it a little and the problem is taken care of. Only if a steak is first “undercooked” and then “overcooked” will she come to me directly.
The salad fork is the smaller implement set next to the dinner plate.
In formal dining, the knife is used to push food onto the fork.
In a Japanese restaurant, it gives no offense to drink soup from the bowl. But elsewhere, I miss seeing the Emily Post-style spoon outward then upward and parallel-to-the-mouth movement. And I weep to dehydration watching people with their faces down in the bowl as if it were a trough.
If noodles keep dangling from your chopsticks like wet streamers after a party — and you have trouble eating with any decorum — ask the waiter at Noodle World, 24 W. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena, (626) 585-5885, for a fork. Then, using a provided spoon as a fulcrum, twist just a few strands at a time. Try too many, and you’ll soon have to revert back to bobbing and slurping.
CELL PHONE RULES
No longer enforceable.
With a cup long emptied and nary a crumb of food on the table, a customer who uses a coffeehouse as office space should be fired.
“When customers talk down to us like we’re servants, all we can do is nod in agreement and breathe easier when they are gone,” confesses Ryan Choi, owner/waiter at Teri & Yaki, 319 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, (626) 683-9865. Waiters in fancier places tell me they absolutely hate responding to “ahem” and its less-throaty cousin, “psst.”
If you notice that persons across the table have leftovers on their faces, keep blotting your mouth or nose until they take the hint and do the same. Everybody knows that.
It’s handy and proper to pick up sushi with your thumb and forefinger. Sashimi, however, requires chopsticks. On a communal platter, reverse the chopsticks to bring morsels to your plate. Seeing this, those at the next table who understand classic etiquette will hold you in awe. It’s a tactic seldom seen these days.
If piped-in music is too loud, I remind managers that throughout history, trumpets were used to gather people together in wars so that they might go to battle.
At fast-food to-go counters, dimes and pennies in a tip jar do not make for much of a wishing well. Once in awhile, it pays to slip it a dollar bill, but only if a regular barista is watching. At Starbuck’s in Eagle Rock, it gets me extra shots of espresso.
PARDON MY FRENCH
If worried about getting wilted glances from French waiters when mispronouncing an order, the book “Food Lover’s Companion” will help you out. Using a “sounding out” phonetic method to pronounce foreign food terms, the maize mushroom “huitlacoche” becomes (whee-lah-KOH-chay). If you can’t find the book, visit Crème de la Crêpe Café, 36 W. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena , (626) 844-0007, where they serve fine food but aren’t too fussy about how it’s ordered.
Also, in Vietnamese restaurants, where French is often spoken, remember that it is not “pho” as in “friend or …,” but “fuh,” as in “what the …”