Café Margaux, New York, USA
5 West 8th Street
by Séggolène Royal
New Yorkers are a demanding lot.
I say this with affection, because as a native New Yorker they are my lot. It’s a loud, dirty place with tiny living spaces and the potential for atrocious weather that still retains much of the grit Giuliani and Bloomberg tried so hard to scrub off. Given this, New Yorkers feel that they are entitled to receive whatever they want, whenever they want, to make up for the fact that they are tethered to the “island that is their lives’ predicament,” as Maeve Brennan once put it. Nowhere is this entitlement more in effect than in a restaurant.
I feel bad for wait staff in New York. Not only are they probably the next Sir John Barrymore and Vanessa Redgrave waiting on me, but they have to wait on all those demanding New Yorkers, who demand to know if there is gluten, dairy, raw eggs, nuts, or whatever the latest bad thing is in what they want to order. And they want this on the side and they want to hold that and so on and so forth. They’ll tip you well for it, though. Visiting from Paris I remember with a jolt when I get the bill that my meal or drinks costs 20-30% more than I thought it would because of the generous apologetic tip at the end. And if you’ve been an easy table, if you haven’t asked for the sun (hold the moon) on your plate, you’re still a scheister if you don’t pony up.
As a native New Yorker I occasionally like to take this privilege for a ride. This morning at Café Margaux at the Marlton Hotel in Greenwich Village, I ordered oatmeal with almonds, cranberries, and pomegranate seeds. But I was concerned that the oatmeal wouldn’t be sweet enough - I usually like it with maple syrup. Hey, it’s New York, I thought. I can have maple syrup if I want it. So I asked the waiter if I could have a little on the side. He hesitated, but was duty-bound to give it to me, and said he would look for some in the kitchen.
When he brought the oatmeal, it came with what looked like honey on the side. “Is that honey on the side?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “Oh ok, then I don’t need the maple syrup,” I said, as he was about to pour me my coffee. “Oh!” he said, and stopped pouring the coffee. “No I did want more coffee please yes please,” I said, to get him pouring again, and he said “Yes, I just have to go tell the kitchen right away that you don’t need the maple syrup,” and fled. When he came back he finished pouring the coffee.
I dressed my oatmeal in honey and it was delicious, though the kitchen had been a bit stingy about the pomegranate seeds. Halfway through the meal, a little dish of maple syrup arrived, borne by a busboy, by which point I didn’t need it, but I poured a little in just to be nice.
Meanwhile there was the coffee. It was delicious, but the milk they brought with it was skim milk. Even though that’s what I grew up on, having been raised by New Yorkers, I have since gone off its tasteless watery whiteness. But I felt I had made enough of a fuss over the maple syrup, and so I accepted the skim milk as meekly as an out-of-towner.
Malcolm enjoyed his salmon but complained that his scrambled eggs were overdone. “That is standard scrambled,” I told him. “An American would react with horror and salmonella fear if they were served runny. But they’re entitled to their overdone eggs; it’s our responsibility to remember to ask for them the way we like them.”
There are some things, however, that a New Yorker should not be able to order. The menu included scrambled eggs with chicken, and this is one of them.