After expending 1,300 words on a restaurant, I often find myself without a leftover syllable for my Reviewing the Review column. There isn't always a bonus behind-the-scenes experience worth sharing.
Notice I'm not in this picture.
So bless you, Bako, for supplying more strange service interactions than I could possibly squeeze into my review this week. There was so much chaotic weirdness at the Cantonese-style small plates lounge in Capitol Hill that I was ready to Review the Review even before the review was written.
But of all the odd moments that could qualify for Reviewing the Review treatment, none better encapsulates the bedlam at Bako than the time I was asked to leave the bar.
On my second visit to Bako, I showed up 45 minutes before my reservation, hoping to spend time observing the bartender and exploring the cocktail list. Bako is justifiably proud of its cocktail program, and I always try to familiarize myself with whatever a restaurant thinks it does best. That's why I obediently follow server's recommendations, and order whatever's underlined, bolded or starred on the menu. Although I certainly don't confine myself to stated specialties, I believe in giving a restaurant a fair chance to impress.
Although I was the only patron at the bar, the bartender was slow to offer a cocktail list. When I asked for a copy, he requested my ID.
I've only once before been asked for my ID while reviewing a restaurant. At The Coterie Room, a server asked to see my ID because my credit card wasn't signed. I don't have fake IDs to match the aliases on my credit cards - unlike credit cards issued in made-up names, fake IDs are illegal and expensive - so I didn't have a quick answer. My husband jumped in with an explanation that sounded believable because he's a banker and dresses like one: "It's an alternate signature card," he told the server, who nodded as though he regularly dealt with such cards. (Alternate signature cards don't exist. As a non-banker, I had to ask.)
Since there's no surer way of outing yourself than handing a server a driver's license with your name on it, I told the Bako bartender that I'd forgotten my ID. That didn't satisfy the bartender, who I hope got a gold star in his ServSafe class. He told me I couldn't sit at his bar.
(By the way, this is the story I now cite whenever people ask whether I'm recognized at restaurants. While service at Bako is often topsy-turvy, I can't imagine any restaurant would knowingly banish a critic from its bar.)
I offered to sit on a stool near the front door, but the bartender instead offered to lead me to my table, where I could have a drink. We made a full circle of the restaurant, finally alighting on the table apparently meant for my soon-to-appear party of five. There was even a silver-plated "reserved" sign atop it. But as I pulled out a chair, a hostess arrived to chide me and the bartender. "That's not their table," she said, motioning at me.
The bartender finally found me a spot in a snug booth opposite the bar. That's where I was sitting, drinking a Manhattan, when a server approached me to say there was a mix-up with our reservation. Our table wouldn't be ready at 7, as requested. But it was OK, he assured me: Until a table was open, "you can all sit at the bar."