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Service Included: Four Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter and French Milk

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 8, 2008

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Back in August I wrote a negative review of Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica. I objected to his characterization of waiting tables as something along the lines of heart surgery. I felt his attitude about diners was that they were a barely necessary evil. Now comes another book about waiting tables:

Service Included: Four Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
by Phoebe Damrosch.

This one, though, opens with a Diner's Bill of Rights, betraying one of Damrosch's central ideas: that a person who goes out to eat deserves to be treated well. Damrosch's customers, in particular, benefit from superior attention, given that they're eating at swanky New York restaurant Per Se, Thomas Keller's Manhattan incarnation of the French Laundry. The prix fixe menu starts at $275 and reservations need to be made months in advance. It's certainly a rarefied eating experience, but Damrosch is unpretentious and friendly to a fault, as her very humorous interactions with New York Times food critic Frank Bruni show. There's plenty of back-of-the-house gossip in Service Included, and bizarre machinations of a four-star New York restaurant. There's also the more personal story of Damrosch's relationship with a sommelier. It's not an especially complex book, but if you're interested in haute cuisine, you'll find it fun.

French Milk sounds like it's about food, but it's actually a graphic novel with photographs representing 23-year-old Lucy Knisely's six-week Parisian vacation with her mother. The book is titled for one of the many things Knisely comes to love about the City of Lights, though she finds herself often melancholy and moody. Knisely's drawing style is accomplished and her observations of Paris are cute and whimsical. The book is especially strong at the end, when Knisely realizes Chicago's beauty is almost as overwhelming as Paris. But French Milk lacks depth. You keep waiting for Knisely to be animated by something more penetrating than the Eiffel Tower or Oscar Wilde's grave.

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