Every so often, I wake up dreaming of a restaurant. Not different restaurants, but a single restaurant. This has been going on for years, but only recently did I realize the restaurant doesn’t really exist. Yet in the course of my dreams the details have been fleshed out, which is how I’m able to tell you about it in such detail. This must be my ideal restaurant, though I’ve never thought about it consciously.
The premises is mainly outdoors in an area of rolling wooded hills, and there are 20 or so tables, but not picnic tables. These are real tables with chairs that have padded seats with backs. When the weather is warm, these tables are open to the sky, but a retractable transparent dome can be lowered if it’s cold outside or inclement weather threatens.
I realized at one point that this dream of a restaurant is partly based on Los Angeles restaurant Salazar, and indeed, an outdoor grill stoked with charcoal is one feature of the dream restaurant, along with a pavilion where drinks are dispensed from a full bar. But the alcoholic emphasis of the restaurant is ciders from around the world made with various fruits, mainly apples. Ciders are made here, too, in a brightly colored shed, some with low alcohol content or none at all.
I’m pretty sure that the menu emphasizes charcoal kebabs. I know this because whenever I have the dream, I wake up chewing on a kebab, usually lamb rib. This would not be the totality of the menu, but the core of it would be the kind of brochettes found at Uzbek restaurants like Cheburechnaya or Farida. There would be many vegetarian kebabs, too, including things like Chinese wads of gluten, French haricot vert dipped in olive oil and grilled only briefly, Jamaican breadfruit, and chiles from Hatch, New Mexico, both mild and hot.
There would also be salads galore, because people love salads. These would not be listed on the menu. Instead, staff would carry the salads around the restaurant in huge transparent bags, dispensing them to diners with tongs. Some, like Thai papaya salads would be pre-dressed; others, such as a tossed green salad, would be dressed via spray bottles that hang from the waiter’s belt after the serving is put on the customer’s plate.
Did I mention these plates have compartments, like those used by small children? The plates would have to be big enough to accommodate a large serving of green salad, so presumably the compartmentalized plates would be way bigger than usual. The restaurant might be called Big Plates.
Another curious feature of the restaurant is that it has a uniform for customers, but the service staff can wear anything they like, which makes it easy to identify the customers. This costume is flannel pajamas, which are comfortable and easy to wash. The customers can arrive at the restaurant wearing their own, or they can get them as a loaner set from a window near the front entrance, much as one gets bowling shoes from a counter at the bowling alley.
I realize that maybe the pajama part is a result of me having dreamed this restaurant while I was in bed, but the loaner pajamas are a good idea anyway, especially for people like me who spill food all over their clothes whenever they eat. Another aspect of the restaurant is that it has to serve the best french fries in the world, fried in peanut oil or duck fat, depending on whether they’re vegetarian or not. And they’d be topped with plenty of coarsely ground salt, maybe Long Island salt for diehard locavores.
In the course of many nights of dreaming, I’ve developed workarounds for many restaurant problems that could be tried at this restaurant. One of those dilemmas is having a pastry chef to develop an aggressive dessert program and then having customers arrive at the end of their meal no longer hungry; dessert so often gets skipped. Not at this restaurant, because desserts are served at the beginning of the meal. Who wouldn’t want a small serving of strawberry shortcake, butterscotch pudding, or chocolate cake as an amuse?
The most frequent question I’m asked as a critic is, “Would you ever open your own restaurant?” Usually, my response is, “Are you kidding?” But now I have a better answer.