Now that the summer riffraff has departed, the rakes and the renters, we can dish about the most popular summer sport in the Hamptons. No, not pickleball. Not kadima. Not cursing a mother-truckin’ blue streak while stuck in traffic at the great Water Mill bottleneck. No, we are referring to a sport for all races, creeds, religions, genders, and political stripes: Kvetching About Restaurants (KAR).
From shoreline to receding shoreline, Hamptons restaurants are infamously unsatisfying. One rarely gets what one pays for and never the table you requested. Spicy means mild and share means small. Kvetching is the only reasonable response to the timid food, spotty service, reservation deposits, crushing noise, silly prices, serpentine lines, bread charge, and the 5-percent add-on for credit card usage.
The beauty of KAR is that you can carp about all levels of cuisine, from truck grub to takeout to catering to haute cuisine. You can Kvetch about Eatery A whilst eating at Eatery B and/or reserving a table at Eatery C. And you can rail on site, on Yelp, on the beach, on Insta, on the phone, on TikTok, on X, or in the local newspaper. A bonanza for the Professional Kvetch!
Stay at home? Fire up the barbie? (No, not that Barbie.) After years of lockdown, it’s a pleasure to be out and about. After days of 90 degrees, it’s a relief to have someone else sweat over the stove. After reading about Sir Paul and Queen B and The King of All Media, it’s a kick to be star-gazing and people-watching again. Despite humiliation or inflation or Montauk Highway Robbery, the seasoned Kvetch will continue to dine out: No quitting, no calling in sick, no blaming house guests or the friggin’ helicopter on the fritz again.
I count myself among the Amateur Kvetches, and we barely register on the cavil scale. We venture out on weekdays only, leaving the weekends to foreigners, flagellants, and the Professionals (PKAR). No one asked, but here is a brief list of “sporting” events I experienced in the summer of 2023. We shall drop a few nouvelle bread crumbs along the gossipy way while withholding the actual names of the establishments.
A) One Wednesday, we went to a well-known, if oddly spelled, Italian restaurant for the fabulous spaghetti alla carbonara. The server said the carbonara was so popular that it had been removed from the menu.
Mi scusi, non capisco.
“Each chef at each location prepared it differently, so many customers were disappointed, and our only solution was to remove it from all the menus at all our locations.”
Strange: I thought Italians luxuriated in the uniqueness of each dish and no two servings of carbonara were meant to be exactly the same. Our only solution was to remove ourselves, à la carbonara, from this location.
B) On a rainy Tuesday night, my wife and I took some friends to a hotel restaurant owned by a famous chef to sample the wonderful crispy salmon sushi. Only two other tables were occupied. Restaurants tend to turn up the audio when the dining room is empty so patrons don’t notice that the dining room is empty, but this volume was ultra-disco-loud — conversation interruptus — so we asked the server if he might reduce the decibels.
He summoned the manager. The manager’s reaction was, “We set the volume at the level we select — if you do not like our choice, I suggest you dine elsewhere tonight.”
“Whoa! Say that again, please.”
“If you don’t like the music, you should dine elsewhere.”
“And if you don’t like dealing with guests,” said this guest, “you should find more suitable employment.”
But we were there for the crispy salmon sushi, not the hospitality, so we dug in our heels and refused to allow one persnickety manager to shoo us away like buzzing flies.
C) On a Thursday July night, we went to a restaurant and one of us ordered the burger, medium rare. The server silently pointed her index finger to the words on the menu that read: “Burgers served medium with B&B pickles.”
“Not rare,” said the server, “not well done and not medium well — only medium.”
“What does the chef consider medium?”
“You will see when the burger arrives.”
“We will not see because we are ordering something else . . . to go.”
The server then pointed to the menu again: It read, “In maintaining our sanitary, safety precautions a 10-percent surcharge will be added to all takeout orders. We thank you for your comprehension.”
Non capisco again. We had just assumed that sanitary conditions were always in place, and that money is actually saved by not serving the food, not setting the table, not washing the dishes or silverware or glasses or napkins. So no, sadly, we did not comprehend the surcharge for not eating at the restaurant.
D) The grilled artichokes are so delicious at one place in East Hampton that my wife invariably gets a double order as her entree. One Wednesday evening in July we ordered two salads to start, then chicken for me and double artichokes for her. When my chicken arrived, there was only an empty hand and a shrug of the shoulder for my wife.
“Bad news,” said the server. “We ran out of artichokes.”
“Hmm. Why not tell me when I ordered them?” asked my wife.
“When I put in the order, there were two left, but other guests recently sat down and ordered them as their appetizers, so first come, first serve.”
“But we were here first and ordered them first, a half-hour ago.”
“That’s our system. What would you like instead of artichokes?”
“My husband already has his chicken, so I’d be starting from scratch and the timing is all off.”
“What can I say?” said the server.
This is where the husband chimed in.
“What can you say?” I said. “Here are some possibilities: 1: We are very sorry and the meal is on us. 2: We will correct this flaw in our system and make sure it doesn’t happen again. 3: We will order more artichokes next time. 4: Your bottle of wine is on the house. 5: Try Nick and Toni’s next time.”
E) At a friendly outdoor brunch joint at a golf course, my favorite grilled cheese with fried onions on a hamburger roll suddenly, in mid-August, became too complicated and totally unattainable.
“The kitchen said no fried onions on the grilled cheese,” said the server.
“How about the hamburger roll?” I inquired.
“Kitchen said no grilled cheese on a hamburger roll.”
“What are my choices of cheeses?”
“Okay. May I please have a cheeseburger with fried onions?”
“But hold the burger.”
“Hold the burger.”
“I saw that movie. And you’re no Jack Nicholson. That’s not happening.”
“You’re sharp. What did you think of ‘Chinatown’?”
“I’m not a fan of Roman Polanski. Do you want a grilled cheese or not?”
I was famished. I caved. And as I devoured my grilled cheese on white bread with no sautéed onions, I marveled at the young server’s awareness of American cinema in the ’70s, that bygone era when hospitality glowed like “A Clockwork Orange.”
Now we are deep into autumn, traffic is sparse, reservations a cinch. We all have a little more time and space to ponder the imponderables, take deep breaths. Some eateries have closed, others open on weekends only; the choices are fewer, but the possibilities grander.
Me, I have Buddhists in my family who are quick to point out that I am starting to enjoy this sport, this Kvetching About Restaurants, a little too much, and tend to take it personally, and am inching toward the status of professional, of which the world has too many already. Caveat Kvetcher.
If I want to keep my amateur status, they suggest, I should notice that the only discernible linkage between all the above-mentioned summer missteps, disconnects, and disappointments was, in fact, me, and only me. When a pickpocket meets the Buddha, all he sees are the pockets.
Bruce Buschel lives in Bridgehampton.