Dear Vice Versa,
It all started so nicely, I thought. I first saw your listing on New York's website, with that little red check promising, well, some kind of recommendation at least. You know how hard it is to find a good, affordable restaurant in midtown, and here you were in the Theater District no less. Normally, I'd never even go near any of those places on the side streets between 8th and 9th Avenue; life's too short for one more red-sauced plate of ziti. But you, you looked different.
My friends and I walked inside, and you were different. Elegant, but still casual, with comfortable chairs and just the right amount of dim lighting. A spacious bar, music not too loud. In a matter of seconds, I took all of you in and I started to feel something a little bit special about you. Like, could you maybe be that hidden gem?
We got a table right away and were given ice water, without ice cubes, which - well, slay me right here and now - was such a nice detail that I almost decided to give the waiter a hug. Vice Versa, you were getting me, you really were. Then the butter, a perfect little rectangle that was unsalted (yes!), cultured (yes!), and totally fresh (impossible!). Do you know how much I usually hate restaurant butter that inevitably tastes of the fridge? And half the time is salted? Hate, hate, hate. Best of all, when we opened our menus, I was confronted with a conundrum I haven't had in a very long time: Literally not knowing what to order because too many things sounded like just the thing I'd want to have for dinner. Maybe I'm picky or maybe I'm just a pain, but that hardly ever happens, really.
All of this to say that within the first 10 minutes of coming inside, I was thoroughly, totally impressed and maybe even a little surprised. I hadn't expected something this good. We even had a charming waiter. (And nice bathrooms!) Vice Versa, could it all be too good to be true? I didn't even ask myself that, I was too busy digging my cold, iceless water, and my crusty little roll with clean-tasting butter, and the fact that I liked the music playing but could still have a conversation with my friends, and that there was an outdoor garden for upcoming summer months, and most importantly perhaps, that I could smell - faintly - the food from the neighboring tables and everything smelled...right.
I ordered spaghetti alla chitarra with jumbo lump crab. It came a little too quickly for my taste, but I didn't really care about that. We were hungry, after all. I could tell, as I chewed, that the spaghetti were homemade. They were perfectly cooked, just right. Those spaghetti could give the the cooks at Otto a lesson about texture and, man, do I wish they would. The crab was sweet and fresh and it was just the right amount, little shreds and bigger lumps among a good tomato sauce studded with small pieces of olives that added just the right amount of briny balance. It was a meal that I could have been eating by the beach in Pesaro, which is saying quite a bit, I think you know. I was happy, already thinking of the times I'd come back, bringing Ben and friends and ordering all the other things on the menu that sounded delicious. My friends Ron and Dave ate their rigatoni with tiny lamb meatballs with gusto and all was right with the world.
And then it all came to somewhat of a screeching halt. I hate to be so abrupt, but it really was a bit of a shock. I couldn't entirely finish my plate and left a small tangle of spaghetti in the plate, as Ron and Dave were finishing up. Dave was wiping a slip of sauce up with his bread when a busboy grabbed my plate, without asking, I might add, and then loudly started piling my bread plate and my silverware on top of the dinner plate, right there, tableside. Now, far worse than bad butter at the table is when a waiter clears one diner's plate before her companions are finished. I think this is the rudest, most annoying thing that can happen in a restaurant. I hate to be a pedant about it, but come on. Seriously? Are your dishwashers that impatient to get going on my plate? We'd hardly been sitting at our table for more than 20 minutes and it's not like there were people waiting at the door. And anyway, that's beside the point. You're a classy place, so clear our plates when everyone is done, please. Is that so hard?
Sadly, Vice Versa, it gets worse. Dave was still working on his plate, bread in hand, when the busboy moved to his side of the table, and Took His Plate Away. While Dave Was Still Eating. Obviously Still Eating. Bread In Hand. Dude. Vice Versa. This is Not Cool. Not cool at all. Dave, because he is a prince and a gentleman, gently dropped his bread into the plate, now hovering over the table and let the busboy get away with it. But I sat on the other side of the table and fumed. Suddenly we had a few more men clearing our table, as if there was a house on fire somewhere and we had to evacuate the premises immediately. Vice Versa, what was the rush? I really wish I knew. Our original waiter came by with dessert menus, oblivious to the rude ending of our meal. We declined to order dessert or coffee and got a distinctly haughty response. Was it something we did? Or said? I'm so confused.
Vice Versa, I was loving you, I really was. And then you made it so hard for me to keep loving you. I want to come back and get to know you better, and maybe I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, because it's not really fair to judge you on one visit, I know. But I won't let down my guard so fast next time. Now you've got something to prove.