Win/Fail Fridays: Yay for L'Espalier, Nay for … L'Espalier

Welcome to Win/Fail Fridays, where food editor Donna Garlough mouths off about her latest dining-out adventures.

This week’s WIN: Cocktail time at L’Espalier

One happy result of the craft cocktail boom is that scores of restaurants in town now boast superb drink lists and “signature” libations. Problem is, when cocktails are served at a sit-down eatery, they’re rarely served in graceful step with your meal (as opposed to, say, a wine pairing, where the drinks are meant to be enjoyed with the food). Servers often ask if you’d like to start with a cocktail before dinner, but the drinks rarely arrive before your meal; most of the time, I’m on sip two when the first course arrives, which leaves me stuck drinking a Whiskey Smash between bites of frisee salad — not exactly an ideal pairing. So I love that L’Espalier offers its guests the option of enjoying a cocktail before you dine, either in the salon or at your table, and that they give you a bit of time to enjoy them before asking for your dinner order. My dining companion and I had a drink at our table, and enjoyed the petite, cocktail-friendly hors d’oeuvres — on Wednesday, it was puffy gougeres and a mascarpone- and roe-topped slice of fingerling potato — that were delivered while we sipped. I can only think of three other places that do pre-dinner drinks so well, and that’s Menton, Clio, and No.9 Park. That’s sad. Does such service have to be limited to some of the priciest places in town?

This week’s FAIL: Bread bloopers at L’Espalier

OK, so the cocktail service is great. But what do you do when a server drops a warm, floury mini-baguette in your lap? This time, my reflexes got the better of me, and I caught the thing with my left hand. I can hardly blame the poor server, though. L’Espalier is a fancy place, and when they bring out the bread basket and offer you a roll, the standard procedure is to pick up your chosen piece gingerly between two forks, which they hold chopsticks-style in the same hand. But every time I’ve been there, it’s been an awkward scene; it’s like watching someone wearing mittens try to play Jenga. The previous time I was in the restaurant, a pretzel roll escaped the server’s grip, bounced loudly off my bread plate, and landed next to the award-winning cheese cart. I just don’t get the need for the theatrics. Because really: What’s so wrong with a pair of tongs?

Stay tuned for next week’s Win/Fail!