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Phoebe Damrosch – Service Included

March 19, 2013

16. Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch (2007)

Length: 228 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Started: 23 February 2013
Finished: 27 February 2013

Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? I do love a good food- and restaurant-based memoir.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 09 November 2012.

Waiters are people
too, even at a super
fancy restaurant.

Summary: Phoebe Damrosch worked as a waiter to support herself, until she realized that she wasn’t there until she could find something better, she was there because she loved the food and the restaurant life. Before long, she was working as a waiter in Thomas Keller’s new four-star NYC restaurant, Per Se. Damrosch provides readers with a look behind the scenes of fine dining, how restaurants prepare for opening, and for the visit of important critics, and provides tips for diners. She also talks about her love affair with good food, her love affair with the restaurant, and her love affair with a sommelier from her restaurant.

Review: Kitchen Confidential was the book that convinced me that I didn’t hate memoirs, so I picked up this book looking for more of the same: a behind-the-scenes look at what’s really going on when I dine out, only from a front-of-the-house perspective instead of from a chef’s perspective. And, I’m pleased to say, that’s mostly what I got! Damrosch’s writing is easily accessible, and while she doesn’t quite have Bourdain’s level of snark, the book is still quite funny, and generally fun to read.

The parts that I thought were most successful were – no surprises here – the parts in which Damrosch is dishing about what really goes on in restaurants that diners either don’t see, or don’t recognize. Reading about the involved preparation that went into opening Per Se, the whole section on preparing for and serving a visiting restaurant critic, the occasional bits about what’s really going on during waiters’ minds during service, and what’s going on before the diners get there and after they go home, all of these were the parts of the book that I found the most interesting. Of course, the foodie in me also loved the description of the Per Se menu, and the discussion of the thought that went into its ingredients and its dishes. Given that even the most modest Per Se meal is probably beyond my price range at the moment, I definitely enjoyed Damrosch’s ability in bringing the dining experience there to life (although I must admit it was enjoyment mixed with a twinge or two of jealousy). I was less interested in the sections of the book involving Damrosch’s personal life. They weren’t bad, or poorly written, or even particularly intrusive or anything; they just weren’t why I was there. But the book as a whole is light and enjoyable and quick-moving enough that by the time I would start thinking “yeah, yeah, get back to the restaurant,” she would. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of Kitchen Confidential and similar books are the most obvious recommendation, but I think anyone who likes to read about food and/or enjoys day-in-the-life style memoirs should have a good time with this one.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Ace and Hoser Blook, A Gaggle of Book Reviews
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I usually skip introductions and plunge right into the first chapter.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 29: “The thought of quickly poaching quail eggs, placing them on small soup spoons with the requisite smoked bacon (for a dish called Bacon and Eggs); running back to the kitchen to grab the oysters in a sabayon of pearl tapioca and spoon caviar on top; race back to rescue the agnolotti from the pot before they become gummy; sear the bass; carve the lamb; scoop the sorbet before it melts; and drizzle, dot, and sprinkle the dessert into shape left me breathless.” – a dessert or sweet sauce made with egg yolks, sugar, and wine beaten together over heat till thick: served either hot or cold; a kind of ravioli typical of the Piedmont Region, made with small pieces of flattened pasta dough, folded over with a roast beef meat and vegetable stuffing.
  • p. 48: “The mignardises that follow are completely optional; tiny pots de crème and crème brûlée, shortbread, macaroons, and chocolate truffles.” – tiny, bite-sized desserts sometimes served at the end of a meal.
  • p. 84: “André had readied the champagne in the ice bucket, the chef fired gougères in the kitchen, and I polished two more menus.” – gâteau avec du fromage; a baked savory choux pastry made of choux dough mixed with cheese.
  • p. 105: “It is common knowledge in most restaurants that when fish is past its prime, when the baker burned the bread, when the entremets boiled instead of parboiled the risotto, it goes to family meal.” – the dictionary definition is a small dish served between courses or simply a dessert, but she seems to be using it as a term meaning prep cook.
  • p. 111: “And I would argue that the luxuriously rich oxtail marmalade, with its brunoise of carrot and onion, is not only manly, but the truly memorable part of the dish.” – a culinary knife cut in which the food item is first julienned and then turned a quarter turn and diced again, producing cubes of a side length of about 3 mm or less on each side. The diced vegetables are blanched briefly in salty boiling water and then submerged in salted ice water for a few seconds to set the color.
  • p. 132: “From my perspective, the review would be about the food; there was only so much spin I could put on a lukewarm cobia or the world’s best scrambled eggs.” – A large food and game fish (Rachycentron canadum) of tropical and subtropical seas. Also called sergeant fish.
  • p. 142: “There was a jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot and the largest tin of caviar I have ever seen.” – a wine bottle holding the equivalent of four normal bottles (approximately 104 ounces) Also called double-magnum.
  • p. 163: “In a time where local farmers find they can no longer survive selling the products they have relied on, creating a reverse AOC might be their only hope.” – appellation d’origine contrôlée, the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products.
  • p. 223: “MÉDAILLON DE RIS DE VEAU: Honey-Braised Cranberries, Glazed Sunchokes, Pissenlit, and Veal Sauce” – French term for dandelions.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2013 7:08 pm

    Interesting! I went to my first legitimately fancy restaurant recently — an experience I can afford probably once every few years — and it felt really weird. I kept wondering what the waiters were thinking. I was anxious about it.

    • May 14, 2013 12:12 pm

      Jenny – I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a legitimately fancy restaurant. Mid-level fancy, but not legitimately fancy. But based on this book, I think as long as you’re not being obnoxious or rude, the waiters are probably fairly forgiving about some fancy-dining ignorance.


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