The Busboy's Dilemma--Dining With a Slow Eater

I have a friend with a slow hand. A very slow hand. And a hand that seems to grow slowest of all when it is moving, fork clutched in its fingers, from plate to mouth.

I mean, this dude takes forever to eat. Everybody's mother tells him or her to chew each bite of food 32 times; this guy's mom must have said 132. I've never been able to figure out whether he eats this slowly because he hates food and has to force himself to ingest every morsel, or because he loves it so much that he wants to make his enjoyment of it last as long as possible.

Whatever his reasons, and as much as I like him, he doesn't, because of his proclivity, make the ideal dinner companion. The pacing of a meal always gets all screwed up with him. He always tells everyone else to just go ahead and eat at their own pace, of course, and sometimes everybody does--but it does feel a little funny to be munching on the chocolate truffles when somebody else at the table is still slurping his onion soup. And then, too, there's always the problem of the empty plates. The ones people who eat with him have to sit in front of for what seems like hours while he painstakingly mops up the last of the beurre blanc with his crust of sourdough--because, of course, most busboys have been taught not to clear a table until every diner sitting there has finished eating.

Or have they? My experience has been that most restaurants sanction all-or-nothing table-clearing as a matter of policy. But Toby M. Horn of Los Angeles writes to tell me that busboys who clear a few plates off while one or two diners are still eating is her (his?) pet peeve in restaurants. "These days, I just end up telling the busboy to go away and not return until I signal to him," Horn writes. I honestly haven't encountered this problem very often in restaurants--but I think Horn's solution (i.e., giving the busboy specific instructions in the matter) is a good one--and I agree with the Dear Abby clipping Horn encloses, in which the advice columnist states plainly, "The process of clearing the table should not begin until everyone has finished eating." Except when I'm dining with my friend.

I'm serious about that, incidentally. The point of rules or traditions of etiquette is to smooth social contact, to make as many participants in a scene feel as comfortable as possible. Plates usually aren't lifted one at a time because those still eating might be made to feel self-conscious, but sometimes an exception should be made--as when the finished diners, after a long enough time, start feeling downright silly sitting in front of the remains of their meal. As in every other aspect of the restaurant trade, flexibility in this matter is a virtue.

ADVENTURES IN MARKETING: The days of Spago, the Ivy, Morton's and the like are obviously numbered. A real Hollywood restaurant is coming to town. Larry Harmon, who played Bozo the Clown for years on TV and who owns licensing rights to the Bozo character, has announced plans to open a family-style restaurant called Stan & Ollie's, somewhere in Hollywood, this year or next. Stan & Ollie's, of course, is named for those late, great film comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy--to whose likenesses and screen personalities Harmon also holds rights. "Skinny prices for robust meals" will be the theme of the place, says Harmon, and diners will be surrounded by a Laurel and Hardy "ambiance" and--saints preserve us!--serenaded by Laurel and Hardy look-alikes.

And I've got just the thing for Harmon to use for house wine--Marilyn Merlot. This is real, I'm sorry to say--a genuine Napa Valley table wine from the 1985 vintage made from the merlot grape, bearing a sultry photographic portrait of Marilyn Monroe herself on the label. The name of the wine itself appears in what Robert Holder, whose Nova Wine Partners made the wine, calls "lipstick-smear" script. The label also bears a credit line for the Monroe Estate, "represented," it continues, "by the Roger Richman Agency Inc., Beverly Hills." Monroe, it may be recalled, died from an overdose of barbiturates. Using her image on a bottle of alcohol doesn't seem real funny to me.

NEWS AND NOTES: The Ma Cuisine cooking school in Newport Beach begins a new Professional Chef's Training Course next Sunday. The 24-week program, with classes meeting every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is coordinated by Cecelia de Castro and features student-participation lectures by guest chefs from L.A. and Orange counties--among them pastry chef Diane Weber, Glen Robarge of St. Estephe and Tim Dobravolskis of Prego in Irvine.

. . . Yugoslav recording star Savo Radusinovic has opened My Way in North Hollywood, featuring Italian specialties cooked by Claudio Pagano (a veteran of Gio's and Boh!) supplemented, on weekends, by Yugoslav dishes prepared by Radusinovic's wife, Biljana. . . . Philip Chiang of Mandarette reports that his plans to open a new restaurant to be called Harvest, in the new Irvine Ranch Market on Sepulveda (on the edge of Bel-Air), have fallen through. . . . And L.A.'s Four Seasons Hotel has named Michel Huchet as executive chef to replace the recently departed Lydia Shire. Huchet, a native Parisian, has worked at Maxim's, L'Archestrate and Le Vivarois in his home town, and was most recently executive chef at the Palm Court Hotel in Palm Beach.

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