Of all the twists threaded into this week's premiere of Downton Abbey's second season, none shocked me more thoroughly than the pre-show announcement that the episode was two hours long. I'd already plotted my sleep schedule around an hour-long run time, and - like Mr. Carson - I don't like surprises.
Had I bothered to read up on the broadcast beforehand, I'm sure I could have easily learned the length of the show. Television and movie producers are spectacularly good at telling audiences exactly how much time they'll have to commit to their creations. Filmgoers know The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a two-hour, 38-minute obligation. They can count on the movie not running over by an hour or two.
Other cultural consumers aren't so lucky. A reader, for instance, can assess typeface size and number of pages, but it's impossible to accurately evaluate a book's intellectual density or determine whether it will hold one's interest. It might take two hours or two days to finish a 300-page book, which is why I wish books were stamped with suggested reading times.
Restaurants also pose timing mysteries, as I was reminded during my two visits to Altura, the subject of this week's review. I hate to describe a meal at Altura as slow, since that implies something's amiss, but it is certainly long. I typically figure on about 30 minutes per course: While it might take less time to receive and eat a bowl of soup, a half-hour is a pretty good course average for meals taken in restaurants serving raw oysters or foie gras.
Altura typically meets the 30-minute mark, but dinner here isn't an appetizer, entree and dessert proposition. Most diners order four or five courses. Hungrier customers - like me - order more, so dinner stretches out over three-plus hours.
To be clear, I'm not opposed to long, leisurely meals (although they're way more fun when they're not consumed on the clock: By the third hour of a review, I'm so focused on not forgetting my impressions of a long-ago amuse that I'm barely talking to my dinner companions.) Still, it would be helpful - especially for us working eaters - if such experiences came with warnings. Going into a restaurant, I have a general idea of what's on the menu and what I'll be expected to pay. But I don't have a clue how long I'll be there.