Sunday, April 3, 2011

Parting Gestures

The little things are important, food bloggers have been saying lately. They can make a good meal great, a great meal sublime, or sometimes they are just notable in their own right. This post is dedicated to two restaurants where the parting gestures were the most memorable aspects of the experience: Can Can Brasserie in Richmond, VA, and Corduroy in Washington, DC.

Pay them a visit; Orbitz promotional codes are available if you are out of state.

Can Can Brasserie

After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, which I happened to see in Richmond, I proceeded directly to dine at Can Can Brasserie. I could think of no better place to prolong the illusion of being in 1920's Paris. Can Can, after all, is all about illusion: it is a copy of Balthazar in New York, which in turn is a replica of countless Parisian brasseries. In the heart of the simulacrum, I could pretend that I was in a world in which dining was a significant cultural event, and in which the highest culinary standards were maintained. Can Can recreates the setting so well that it is hard to claim that the food is mediocre and overpriced. Under the spell of Meryl Streep's Julia, I was unable to do so, but after a second, more clear-eyed, visit, that was my regrettable conclusion.

Yet there was one unusual standard that was maintained. I had once been told that the mark of a superior restaurant was that if a diner requested that left-overs be packed up to take home, a "doggy bag" should not be delivered directly to the table. This would force the diners to contend with an inelegant plastic bag while they were trying to enjoy their coffee and dessert. Even the by now hackneyed silverfoil swan is considered to be an intrusion on the procession of the meal. Rather, diners should be given their to-go bag once the meal is concluded, the check paid, and they are ready to depart the restaurant.  Since hearing of this standard, however, I had only ever found one restaurant which upheld it, and that was Babbo's in New York. So I was surprised and impressed when I found that Can Can, too, eschewed the doggy-bag for a discreet claim check, to be presented to the hostess on the way out. If appearance is everything, then Can Can takes this very seriously indeed.


I visited Corduroy in the dog days of summer, a time when the D.C. political class empties out for vacation, the traffic calms down, and restaurant reservations are unnecessary. The good part about this lull is that we year-round residents finally have the place to ourselves, including easy access to usually brimming restaurants. But is it worth it if the top chefs similarly decamp? This is what I found myself wondering at Corduroy, which on that August evening seemed sleepily formal and lacking in verve. I don't know for a fact that the kitchen had been handed over to the farm team, but  the signature cuisine that has been praised as exciting yet simple never materialized. Like the elderly clientele, the food was well turned out but subdued.

On the other hand, the waitstaff was as attentive and knowledgable as could be. And at the end of the evening, the edge was taken off our disappointment about the food when our waitperson escorted us to the street, hailed a cab, and gently saw us into the waiting vehicle. Apparantly this cradle-to-grave attention is a routine part of the service: Tom Sietsema reports that a waiter insisted on escorting one in his party to the restroom. While that seems a little stifling to me, the cab service was a nice touch, a parting gesture that sent us on our way on a sweet rather than sour note.

Can Can Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Corduroy on Urbanspoon

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