We’re still sitting in the Bergen airport, awaiting for our flight home from a packed trip with my parents. Jim and I took a day to decompress in this laid-back city by ourselves, which was a much-needed reprieve from the cruise we took–a vacation from our vacation, like they say.
I’m not sure the 24 hours here was enough–the city has four art museums all in a row, and a pile of beautiful public spaces to hang out in, as well as a lot of interesting architecture to discover and some great people-watching–but something happened last night that I’m still turning over, and I wanted to share it with you and see what you thought.
We ate out last night at L——–, a restaurant I won’t name here. It has a solid multi-course tasting menu helmed by a guy who’s put in time at some other restaurants we’ve eaten at and loved, so we were excited to see what he would do with food from his native Bergen.
The décor is reasonably stark, naked bulbs and good design. It’s in one of Bergen’s KODE art museums, in an older building, so that loans it an air of coziness. Fresh peonies were on some of the tables, for a mildly Rococo sensitivity.
I won’t bore you with the details of the whole meal, because this is not what this post is about.
This post is about our young waiter, which is why I won’t name the restaurant. He’s in some of their social-media posts, and this isn’t a witch hunt. When we sat down, he immediately asked what we wanted to drink. “I need a few minutes to look at the wine list,” I said.
“I’ll make it easy for you. Sparkling or still?” he returned. It took me a minute to realize he was talking about the water.
He was deadpan; he gave off the impression that we were lucky to be stepping through the restaurant’s rarified doors. He dropped food off quickly, spit-firing a bunch of terminology and explaining it quickly, not waiting for us to digest the information, as if it needed to be explained; making me feel like I wanted to resent being explained to. And, in fact, I did resent it.
Later, even as the space between our 7 courses slowed down (timed exactly so, he assured us), he rushed through things.
During one super-awkward exchange, he started to step back from the table, but I had a question about the ingredients, so he had to stop from stepping away. Instead of stepping forward again, though, he just stood there, causing me to be half-turned in my seat, cranked around to talk to him.
I think, as a result of my perception of him–or the attitude he was giving off–every joke he cracked landed flat:
“Anything else? No? Fine, I’ll just tell the chef you thought everything was terrible.”
“Beer? No. We absolutely don’t serve that.”
And every comment he made seemed like a sneer. Jim asked for the menu back, so he could send a photo of it to his father. The waiter laid it on the table like it was a page out of the Gutenburg Bible and said, “Do you want two? No? Are you sure?”
When the time came to close out, he took a few minutes to chat with us, telling us about how he travels. How he goes to all the better restaurants, and his dad wants menus from all of them. How, even in Tokyo, where his father couldn’t read the menu, he wanted to get a translation from Google.
It was a nice attempt to connect with us. But the ship had sailed for me.
Tipping isn’t part of the culture in Norway, but we’d heard that it’s always appreciated, and that it’s becoming more expected at higher-end restaurants, so we’d planned on giving our waiter the last of our Norwegian cash. But I balked, hard. When I unfolded the bill and laid it on the plate, I gave it an extra-sharp crease.
And last night, I found myself turning over the interactions in my head, wondering what about the whole sequence was so off for me: Was it that I found myself reacting in such a bad manner to his supercilious ways? Was it that I found myself judging him immediately for everything that came out of his mouth?
Or was it that his colleague, the greeter, delivered this witty parting shot as we left and wished him a good night?
Jim wants to go back to the place. He loved it.
I found the food ethereal in places: well thought-out, with flavors of my mother’s own kitchen (the place uses Asian influences frequently, our waiter said) mixed in. I found it earnest in others. The Minke whale triggered my gag reflexes for its fishiness and gaminess, but I ate it.
I enjoyed meeting one chef’s interpretation of his native cuisine.
But I hate the restaurant, and this rankles, because I’m reasonably sure it’s because of my very personal reaction to this one server. I’m annoyed at myself, and wondering if it is possible for me to separate: if I can manage to enjoy part of one experience while hating another part of it.
Restaurants are funny places. They are equal parts service and product. Some might even say that the service is part of the product.
What about all of you? Do you have experiences like this, where you can’t compartmentalize?
I know this is something I’ll be watching about myself in the future. Tell me about your experiences below.