Thursday, May 29, 2008

7-West -- A Restaurant Review

I don't review bars and restaurants like regular critics. I don't call and make a reservation for such and such a time and this particular table. What I've done for the last decade or so, while not writing or reading or socializing myself, has been working in service industry. I've worked in almost a hundred different establishments, I think. I've done this work on two continents and most all provinces of Canada. And so this was the last shift in another cafe in Toronto, the overnight, 11 - 8 AM. It's a cafe called 7 West. Here I am serving an empty restaurant. It's 2 AM....

Sometimes I take the little packet of sugar and just barely open a corner. I pour out all the sugar. Then I take the lid off a salt shaker and gingerly pour into the empty sugar packet until full. Then I fold over the packet and put it back, as neatly as I can, amongst the others (a little time bomb waiting for someone to put in their coffee). That should be a gauge on the "love-of-people measuring stick" for how long I've been in service and for how much I like working overnight.

Then I have a rush of late night couples come through. Let me tell you how I think about customers, from the waiter's point of view. I believe the best service is invisible. I think I've done my job correctly if I'm barely noticed, so that when the customers leave what was most memorable was their night, their company, and the space (lastly). Anyway, why should we intrude on your evening? Then there's customers who seem to want to interact with the staff (probably worked in the industry, like the Australian couple on table 9).

Then everyone's gone. You look in the mirror and everything goes blurry. The caffeinated buzz and closeness gives way. All the candles are still lit but daylight is creeping into the window, above the glass and concrete housing the people who come to this cafe and put coins in my pocket. And this our space, just a little-old brick house held by people like me (who are themselves held up by coffee and cigarettes). Maybe I should do some cleaning. The boss likes it clean (I've been in hospitals less clean than this cafe).

I suppose any proper review of a restaurant should mention food... so, what I can tell you is 7-West has great food (even the staff eats there). I particularly like the Virgin pasta (I tell customers that there's no meat in it but it's seductive anyway), the primavera, chicken penne, and the nacho platter. Every chef does these dishes a little different, but they all come out in good portions and hot. Do me a favor and don't order the chevre or the Moroccan bean soup. I have a hard time bringing those dishes to people at the tables without apologizing. It's not that they don't taste alright. They just look a bit... well... presentation is everything, right? Also, I should mention that table 10 on the first level is the choice seat in the house. Table 10 has a secret for the discerning eye (the lines I left in the drawer there reads, "If you've got a curious mind, if you've have a curious heart, if you're the kind of person who likes random writing in hidden places, then leave some words in the drawer at table 10").

And now the sun is up and my time here is at an end. The server coming in to let me go is a half-hour early (thanks Alex). That's the nicest thing about this industry. It's real and it's human and all these other servers, just like me, I've worked with over the years are still present in my mind. It's what I most love about this work, and it's just why you should check out 7-West. Delightfully urban. Staff nocturnal. Hearts and umbrellas at dawn if you've worked with us.


Cestandrea said...

hey, you should put this in your local newspaper:) ,I like the pictures of the now empty restaurant and the stories about how it is when there are "customers" in it. It must be a tough job sometimes, I did that for a while in a pub in Germany and always had to deal with the drunken boss when closing time came, oh my...

And I liked that you said you don't forget one of our coworkers throughout the years! Oh, I sure would check out 7-West and order the Virgin pasta.
Good night!

Anonymous said...

hey, me also I did not forget you! especially your patience, your humour, your help and your listening which you brought to us, especially the foreign workers!
even if I did always not understand why you slipped by behind the restaurant or the toilets sometimes? anyways
you are right it is a hard work but I think that a restaurant belongs more to the employees than the owner. they are “heart and the body”of a restaurant,in a way ...
me too I like the relation that we could have with the customers and our coworkers.
when I would come to see you I want a coffee without sugar and black!!
see you soon


ps becareful a waiter could not speak to much but he could hear and listen what you re saying

human being said...

'the best service is invisible'

years ego i heard a similar statement regarding the music which is composed for a film... it should not be heard... i liked it...this one,too...

eating can be a spiritual act... so people in this service can nourish our souls or ruin them...
this place seems so nourishing... especially table 10.

this job provides one with lots of opportunities to study people closely... one of the rare occasions people are themselves( somehow maskless) is when they eat...
and this is what a writer desperately needs...

so Jon, you are so fortunate...

if the crow happened to come to your restaurant, sure she would order Moroccan bean soup!
really enjoyed reading this review...
the pictures... breathtaking... they told us of lots of things absent in the words...

Lynn said...

Oh I want to find the writing in the drawer in table ten.
don't think I've ever eaten at a table that had a drawer.
I would leave some writing of my own, I would.
and I'd want to return a week later to see if someone *you, left something back again.
I think you can be a brat when getting bored at night...salt for sugar, shame on you...good thing I gave up sugar earlier this year!
I can tell you know how to have fun, and be nice when you want to be...
I'd leave you a healthy tip, for
good service
since I don't take sugar thank you and rarely salt my food.

sukipoet said...

The picture of a waiter's life is so vivid and well drawn. I too love that drawer. Also, a place to leave notes for assignations? Meet me at midnight on the corner of 5th and Vine kinda thing. Be well, suki

BBC said...

I don't do fancy bars and restaurants , period, they offend my soul.

I live in Port Angeles, Washington. It's about 80 miles West of Seattle. Due South of Victoria, BC.

Bobbb - Citizen of Earth said...

I may not make it to Toronto
Any time soon
So please place this question
In the drawer of table Ten
For me

“Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?”

Bobbb - Citizen of Earth said...

Nice pics
Great review

I took a big step down the path to enlightenment while working in restaurants
I had no clue at the time that was happening…

Table Ten/Table Top

I have been known to frequent
Many table tens
Over the years

There is an art gallery here in Albany
Where my band used to play
Outside on the street there is a big old fashioned mailbox
Stenciled on the side are the words

Take a poem
Leave a poem

I left some words there
And on some bathroom walls too…

There many mountains to climb
Here in NY
Some easy
Some, not so…

The most difficult peaks have no trail
You need to rely on map, compass
And your orienteering skills
To reach the top of these

Those who do
If they look around
Will find a canister
Bound to one of the stunted trees

Inside these canisters are notebooks
Containing the words of those
Who made the climb

I can tell you
It is worth a few days
Of sweat & hard work
Just to read the comments
Left by those who came before

There is
Something about climbing a mountain
That humbles you, enlightens you
Connects you to the Earth and to life
It shows deeply in the words
Left behind in those notebooks

And the only way to read them
The only way to add to them
Is to make the climb yourself

The last trail less peak
To receive comments from me
Is called

Table Top

Lynn said...

Hopper, sorry I don't have your email adddress so hope you find this note here.
Thanks so much for getting back to me about the photo. Will love putting it in my WWII quilt.
So appreciative,