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NEW YORK CORNER: GUSTO by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: When in Liguria Drink as the Ligurians Do
by John Mariani
WHO GETS WHAT? To Tip or Not to Tip
by John Mariani
Nothing, save drinking the water in Tijuana, causes travelers more anxiety than the vagaries of tipping. I have sat across dining tables with some of the best-traveled, most sophisticated people in the world who start to tremble when they have to write in a gratuity on the bill. I’ve seen CEOs who barely shrug when faced with a Senate sub-committee investigation in the afternoon go to pieces contemplating the tip at dinner that evening.
I admit, tipping is a tough business. And a completely stupid one, defended on the one hand by those who choose not to pay a decent wage to their employees, and on the other by those same employees who both need the money and who love the feel of straight cash in their pocket. (For the record, I have waited tables and loved the cash, too.) But why do we tip waiters, porters and valet parkers but not salespeople at a shoe store, check-out workers at a supermarket, or attendants at a full service gas stations--none of whom makes much more than minimum wage? There seems no rhyme or reason to it, except entrenched tradition.
( By the way, the word “tip” is not an abbreviation for “to insure promptness.” “Gratuity” precedes “tip” in print by two hundred years, around 1540.)
The rules have been changing. It used to be in the U.S. that you didn’t tip a full 15% on beverages, now it’s expected. The question is, if you can afford to spend $500 on a bottle of wine, would you balk at a $50-$60 tip on that bottle? Most of us don’t drink that high, so the tip on the bill is somewhat easier to swallow.
For the most part, we have only ourselves to blame, because American tourists, goaded by naiveté and misguided travel writers, tend to tip everyone within fifty yards of a hotel, restaurant or car park--even when the service is included.
Let me try to help by giving some reasonable guidelines that still make sense around the world.
Restaurants: For good service 15% is still the norm, for superior service, 20%. Only if the wine steward has performed exceptional services, like choosing several wines for a multi-course meal or decanting old vintages, you may want to tip him $5-$20 in cash. The maître d’ is tipped upon leaving only if he provided a special service like getting you a specific table you requested, arranged for a birthday cake, or notified you that your ex-wife or current husband is in the dining room. Never, ever grease his palm upon entering, which will mark you as a patsy.
These days the coat check girl (person?) still gets a dollar per item, although I’ve been getting more generous on this score because it’s been a dollar for so long. As for parking valets--otherwise known as holdup men--tip whatever you think is enough to get your car quickly and back in one piece. In Los Angeles, the valet companies exact a charge, on top of which my Los Angeleno friends always tip extravagantly, fearful that the valet might in the future scratch their cars if they don’t.
Generally speaking, tipping is wholly unnecessary in most European countries, where “service included,” “servizio incluso,” or “service compris” appears on checks, along with a V.A.T. tax near 20%. This means that in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Belgium, and Scandinavia, you should follow the rubric noted in the Gault-Millau Guide to Paris & Provence: “French law mandates that the service charge, 15 percent, always be included in the menu prices. You are not obliged to leave an additional tip [my italics], but it is good form to leave a little more if the service was satisfactory.”
How much more? Once, while dining at one of Paris’ most expensive restaurants, I asked my well-fed Parisian friend if $15 would be a sufficient gratuity for a meal that cost about $500 (service included). “It would be more than generous,” he said. “Frankly I’ve never seen anyone leave more than $15, no matter what the bill.”
What, then, is the pour boire? It is the tradition of leaving excess change or a few francs on the table or rounding off the bill. (The term actually translates as “for a drink,” so that the server can have himself one.)
Taxi drivers do not expect a tip in Europe, though rounding off a charge of, say, 9.50 euros to 10 euros is a nice gesture. At hotels, there has been a tendency to tip porters, but a euro or two is sufficient.
GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND
The rules have in the past been closer to American tipping ritual in GB and Ireland, though the gratuities are lower--between 10% and 15% for restaurant service. Tipping used to be discouraged in British pubs until recently; now some publicans encourage it. But every time I revisit London I find more and more restaurants adding a discretionary service charge of about 12.5%, so check your bill carefully.
Funny, isn’t it, how capitalism has caught on so fast at the former Soviet republics? Meaning that everyone has his hand out in hotels and restaurants. The temptation, however, is for Americans to overtip, especially since prices are so low. Many restaurants and hotels already include a service charge, so ask. If not, 10%-15%--in cash--will be much appreciated from Budapest to St. Petersburg, where monthly wages may average $90-$150 a month.
The differences from country to country make general statements impossible and specific guidelines too lengthy for inclusion here. Ask at the local tourist office what customs suggest. In Istanbul there is always a 10% service charge on restaurant bills, with a 10% gratuity customary. Until recently in Israel no one expected a tip, but it’s now customary to leave 10% at a restaurant.
In Hong Kong a 10% tip used to be the norm at a modest restaurant, while upscale dining rooms usually added 10% to the bill. Now that Communist policy governs such things, tipping is officially discouraged as capitalist bribery. But few Chinese these days will refuse a tip (or fear jail time for such an offense); nevertheless, be careful about throwing around cash. Some modern restaurants now tack on a 15% service charge.
Singapore also frowns upon tipping, despite the fact that the 10% service charge at restaurants doesn’t always go the waitstaff. This is also true in Bangkok, where gratuities are not expected at hotels or restaurants.
In Japan, where a 10% service charge is usually on the hotel and restaurant bills, tipping is truly considered bad form and an embarrassment, so keep your hands in your pockets.
Civilized country that it is, Australia does not exact a service charge, and until recently tipping was not the norm. Sad to say, it is becoming so, so you might want to leave 10%. on a restaurant bill.
THE BIG PROVISO
Of course, never underestimate the power of the “multiplier effect,” which dictates that tipping five to ten times what I’ve recommended above will get you the best service of your life. The late New York plumbing executive John Gotti used to ensure extra special suck-up service by doubling the amount of the bill for a tip at restaurants--always obtaining the best table with his back to the wall. It was a sad day for New York waiters when the Feds sent the Dapper Don to the slammer, where his meals were provided through a slot in his cell. Servizio incluso.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
GUSTO Ristorante E Bar Americano
60 Greenwich Avenue
Photos by Michael Tulipan
It would be easy enough to say Gusto is yet another wonderful Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, but that's not the whole story. Actually, the Village doesn't have a lot of really wonderful Italian restaurants, because most of them appeal to a weekend tourist crowd whose expectations are only slightly above those who frequent the dreadful restaurants in Little Italy to the south. The Village does have some real Italian clout, like Babbo, Lupa, Il Cantinori, and Pó, and, if you want to stretch it, Il Mulino and Da Silvano. But there's very little above the ordinary in the West Village, and among these Gusto is a real stand-out.
Set in a 19th century landmark building, Gusto has a narrow dining room sleek and as bustling as Greenwich Avenue itself. (By the way, the restaurant crosses Green Avenue at Perry Street, but be aware that, six blocks away to the west, Greenwich Street also crosses Perry Street.) There's a vaguely Fifties look, mostly black and white, with a mirror behind the bar, big Viennese chandelier, and tile floors. Despite a crush of people, the decibel level is not too bad, and the tablesettings fine, although tablecloths would warm things up considerably.
The first chef at Gusto, which is owned by Sasha Muniak, was the well-regarded Jody Williams (now at the cacophonous Morandi on Waverly Place), who set the course for the restaurant according to rustic regional Italian guidelines. Now, Amanda Freitag, who established her own high rep previously at Sette and 'Cesca, is toeing the same line, and I can say with no exaggeration that she is reproducing the flavors of Italy as well as anyone in the city.
You might begin with some Italian charcuterie or a fritto misto of fried seafood. The grilled octopus (below) is wonderfully tender, served with celery and black olives, while fresh sardines with herbed breadcrumbs and lemon oil are baked to a turn and slide easily from their bones. One of the Roman specialties here is fried baby artichokes, which you can just about pop in your mouth, crunch and swallow, so tender are they.
Pastas are very true to form, with no silly flourishes, so that half-moon ravioli with black truffles need nothing but a little butter, the pappardelle with braised oxtail is lusty and delicious, and the risotto with lemon perfectly balanced in aromatic citrus and the saline taste of Parmigiano. Pasta con le sarde (below), with sardines, packs a lot of flavor in every forkful.
If you want a simply grilled fish it will be expertly done, glossed with olive oil and lemon, and pork loin is wrapped in pancetta with a pig's feet and artichoke stuffing. By all means try the Sicilian-style meatballs with pinenuts and lightly sweet raisins--as homey and good a rendering as any I've tasted in Palermo or Catania. There are also specials each day of the week that range from suckling pig to grilled lobster and sweet-and-sour duck.
The only reason to skip dessert is to avail yourself of the fine cheeses arrayed here, including Gorgonzola dolce latte and the rarely seen La Tur, from Piedmont. But at least share a slice of the traditional tortino of bittersweet chocolate and pinenuts or the almond tart with sweet ricotta and honey. The almond milk pannacotta is also a delightful surprise.
Actually, the surprises at Gusto are to be found in the respectful renderings Freitag does of regional, mostly southern, Italian food, and, unlike chefs who feel the need to create endlessly, she seems content to reproduce the endless screed of dishes available to her from the regional menus, using the best ingredients she can find to do so. In that she is more than admirable, she is to praised for her commitment, and Gusto is one of those rare restaurants where the abused cliché about its "like being in Italy" really is true.
Gusto is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., brunch of Sat. & Sun., and dinner nightly. At dinner antipasti run $8-$16, pastas (full portion) $16-$19, main courses $16-$39. The winelist is extremely well matched to the food here, and there are plenty of bottles under $50 that have obviously been chosen with care.
MORE EVIDENCE THAT AT THE L.A. TIMES ENGLISH IS A SECOND LANGUAGE
"Then there's "That 'Cobb' thing everyone loves." (Flashback to Hamburger Hamlet in the early '70s. Remember "Those potatoes" and "Eat the sides, I pray you"?) Here that Cobb thing is a deconstructed salad: dainty rows of chopped tomato, egg, bacon, avocado, blue cheese and chicken, then next to that a pile of dressed, shredded lettuce. A cute idea, but then what? Mix it all up? Just add a little of this and a little of that? Take tiny bites of bacon, then egg, then tomato? Who knows, but it doesn't really work — none of the elements are interesting enough tastes on their own, nor does Reidt give them any original spin."--"The Penthouse: Beachy-chic with a view," by Leslie Brenner, Los Angeles Times (June 20, 2007).
This summer General Mills will introduce into the
* Saturnia, Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort in Tuscany, Italy, offers a “Mediterranean Lifestyle Package,” with rates beginning at €2,974 ($3,998) for double-occupancy for 4-nights in a jr. suite, incl. Breakfast; one spas treatment, use of thermal pools, Roman Bath, tennis court, golf-driving range, bikes, gym; tour to surrounding towns in Tuscan Maremma; Guided morning hikes; dinner with wine at the restaurant All’Acquacotta; Airport transfers. Visit www.termedisaturnia.com or call 011-39 0564 600111.
* For the fifth year in a row, every bottle on every wine list at each of LarkCreek Restaurant Group's Bay Area restaurants will be offered at half price for brunch, lunch and dinner throughout the month of July. Participating restaurants incl. The Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur (415.924.7766); One Market Restaurant (415.777.5577) and LarkCreekSteak (415.593.4100) in San Francisco; Lark Creek Walnut Creek (925.256.1234); Yankee Pier in Larkspur (415.924.7676) and at Santana Row in San Jose (408.244.1244); and Parcel 104 (418.970.6104) at the Santa Clara Marriott (Friday and Saturday only). Visit www.larkcreek.com.
* To celebrate 1967, Ventana Inn in
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