In theory, I love OpenTable and online reservations. I love making plans, thus I love making reservations. I loathe talking on the phone, thus I’m happy to use a website to book a table. But time after time, OpenTable in particular has proven to me that making an old fashioned reservation over the phone is the best bet (when possible). I’ve been seated at clearly the worst table in the restaurant, more than once, using the system. At this point, if I use the system, I specifically write in the Notes that I don’t want a table near the door or the restroom. I’ve logged on the moment reservations are available to only see tables at 5:15 or 10:45 or to see that there are no tables available—it’s possible but highly suspect for everything to be gone immediately. Restaurants don’t seem to respect the service all that much either if they’re giving users the worst seats or not making all tables available. A necessary tool in the industry perhaps, but not one I like to use when reservations are essential or hard-to-get. I try to only use it for booking a work lunch at a generic place or at old standbys that people tend to forget about.
But I get lazy. And when I’m doing my travel research in front of the computer, it’s easy just to click on the Reservations button instead of picking up the phone. So, I made my two NOLA reservations via OpenTable and hoped for the best in terms of seating. One was for lunch on my last day at John Besh’s Restaurant August. Despite my fondness for knowing that my Grandma Ruby used to love watching “Emeril Live!” late at night, I was not going to make him a priority on this NOLA journey. John Besh, however, that lovable, floppy-haired, blue-eyed gentleman who shows up as a symbol of NOLA dining and cuisine as often as Mr. Lagasse, is a celebrity chef whose food I was interested in trying. I can sometimes be a sucker for someone who always seems to wear a genuine smile. August appears to be the flagship restaurant within the group he oversees. It only offers lunch on Fridays, and a Friday lunch is exactly when I had the time to visit. Leisurely Friday lunches are celebrated in NOLA—it is considered the best time to visit historic Galatoire’s—so, I was excited to take part in this local pastime. Until I learned that I would have to leave much earlier for the airport than anticipated, meaning my reservation was going to be too late. When I called August (three days in advance) to see if I could come at an earlier time, there was no record of my OpenTable reservation.
I had a confirmation number, but the girl on the other end of the phone could find nothing with my name. My anxious nature meant that I got short with her quite quickly. What was her solution? What would have happened if I had just shown up at my reserved time? Shown up after having made a reservation well in advance because I wanted to dine at Mr. Besh’s revered restaurant? (I like to be dramatic when the opportunity arises.) She curtly told me she would phone me back in 10 minutes. An hour later, I had to call her back to get the solution: After much Tetris-ing (her words) of the tables, they could accommodate me at an earlier time and would “take good care of me.” Easily flattered, all dramatic thoughts dissipated, and OpenTable became the enemy again.
I’m not sure if I was taken care of better than anyone else in the restaurant that afternoon, but I was taken good care of. If only by the fact that I got to sit in the beautiful day lit-front room of the historic French-Creole building and not tucked away in a corner like solo diners often are. The captain who took care of me presided over the room and discussed the menu as if everything was his, reminding me of the existence of a genuine hospitality and pride that is often overshadowed by snobbish indifference in NYC.
The food overall was good, and I had started early enough to have a leisurely meal before the hassle and hustle of an airport. The custard amuse was smooth and creamy; the lobster one, unfortunately, tasted only of sea salt. The fried green tomatoes were the headliner of my appetizer, but the ample amount of accompanying tender shrimp and sweet crab made me wonder if the dish should be retitled. Same with the “crispy pompano,” which was well-cooked and delicious in its pool of brown butter, but I was presented with fish skin that was more like, chewy. My dessert, a deconstructed banana pudding, was perfect. The colour of real bananas may suggest pablum, but the flavour beats anything that comes out yellow. And the inclusion of the bruleed bananas with cold ice cream also seems reminiscent of the local favourite Bananas Foster. I could see myself wanting to visit the bar late at night just for that plate.
I wish I had learned something about why my reservation went missing to prevent it from happening again. Right, I didn’t learn anything. I was reminded of something: Picking up the phone is always best. (Kisses to all my faraway friends who never hear my voice!)