I was on the Urban Rush television show again today and hosts Michael Eckford and Fiona Forbes were ribbing me about working two nights a week as an expediter at Gastown’s L’Abattoir (if you didn’t already know, I’m there researching for a Vancouver magazine story on restaurant service that is due this Spring – please be sure to say ‘hi’ if you come in). Anyway, I didn’t take offense. They were just kidding around.
Still, having invested a bucket of my own sweat in the place since opening night nearly two months ago, I’ve grown quite proud of the restaurant, especially the people who work there. So when I heard that both my colleagues at the Globe & Mail and the Vancouver Sun had come in for reviews while I was off traveling, indulging in my real job (the same as theirs), I couldn’t help but feel nervous. What if it’s bad? What if it’s fucking terrible? Oh my God, I thought. We’re going to get anally raped and crucified.
Since many of you aren’t restaurant wonks (please don’t change), let me tell you about Alexandra Gill, Vancouver’s food critic for the Globe & Mail. Of the five or six paid restaurant reviewers in town, she is by far the most feared. I’d put the number of people in the local trade who like her column at about 17 out of 40,000, and I’d wager that 10 of those are either drug addicts, liars or probably both. But they all read her.
She might pen a dud every few months (most weekly critics do), but damn it if there isn’t always an entertaining flick of the knife, a slash that leaves a mark. When she really sinks her teeth into a restaurant’s jugular, it’s the ultimate schadenfreude sundae. Even when I love the restaurant that is being torched, it’s as mesmerising as watching a cheetah take down a Thompson gazelle in slow motion. First comes the run and then the turn. Once you see the claw hitting the ankle and restaurant’s center of gravity falter, it’s all blood and dust from there. I imagine she’s exhausted after writing her best. Panting. Too spent to eat. And at the end of every read I don’t know whether to burn the paper or keep it in order to study how she does it.
While she doesn’t have the power to break a restaurant, she sure can make the people who work in them angry. She’s even made me angry at times, but only when I think she’s gone too far. For a few years – when I had a hotter head – I wasn’t all that kind to her. Why? Because – gasp – she spoke her mind, kept her own counsel and could give a damn about what anyone thought of her. I’ve written wholly reactionary words about her over the last five years, none of them nice. To be honest, I’m quite sure that some of them were downright awful.
So when Paul Grunberg, L’Abattoir’s owner, told me that she was writing the review, my sphincter involuntarily tightened. I felt the fear, the very same that most chefs and restaurateurs might feel whenever she calls to “follow up with a few questions”, only it was amplified, like ten-fold. I very quickly convinced myself that, despite the obvious merits of the restaurant (which she would ignore), she was going to take every backhanded thing I’d ever written about her and use this golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slam it all back in my dumb, smug face. Yes, and with a big fuck you and a steaming turd on top. I was a liability to the restaurant, a walking time bomb. And she was holding the detonator. How could I have ever been so plum stupid to have set the hard-working people of L’Abattoir up for this? What a total asshole.
But she’s the pro and I’m the child, given to wild delusions fed by my sometimes Herculean sense of self-importance. Of course she loved it. She wrote almost the exact same review I would have done if I wasn’t polishing the restaurant’s glassware and trying not to get in anyone’s way. She probably had no idea I was working there. She could probably give a fuck, really.
Mia Stainsby’s review comes out late tonight in Sun. Naturally, I’m convinced that it will be hand delivered by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, that it will be terrible, and that it’s somehow all my fault.