Occasionally, what you remember most about a dining experience isn’t the food. Sometimes you remember the decor of the restaurant, sometimes a particularly bad or particularly good server, sometimes the conversation, and sometimes the stupid stain on the stupid white shirt that you stupidly wore when you ordered stupid red sauce. Oh, the food was good — even great — but in the end, your brain was simply more interested in something else.
Take, for example, the trip to La V that Mr. HungryPelican and I took a few weeks ago. La V is a new Vietnamese fusion restaurant on Central, and when we visited, it had only been open for a couple of weeks.
Was La V’s food good? Indeed. Mr. HungryPelican and I ordered Phở Tá (sliced beef noodle soup), Bún Tôm Càng Nướng (grilled prawn over rice noodles), and Bò Nướng Mè (sesame beef Bánh Mì). An odd combination perhaps, but we were (a) hungry, and (b) interested in trying a variety of dishes at this new restaurant. Blame this in part on La V’s prices. Every dish we ordered was under $10, a fact which enabled our gluttony.
|The Hungry Pelican loves Vietnamese fusion
and revolutionaries, but doesn’t love dealing
with 10 different servers and tables
smaller than her beak.
The Phở Tá in particular, stood out. Noodle-y, sweetened with delicate thin slices of rare beef and wrapped in a broth fit to warm the cockles of this old bird’s heart, it hit the spot and was generously proportioned enough for leftovers. (It hit the spot the next day, as well.)
The couple next to us, who were finishing their meal as we arrived, said that the Phở they’d just finished eating was the best Vietnamese they’d found outside of Washington D.C. When strangers feel compelled to rave about a dish to me, I figure it must be good.
La V’s food is tasty, comforting, and reasonably priced (maybe even underpriced). Whenever La V crosses my mind, though, I think of the following things before I think of the food:
1. The Case of the Tiny Table.
We were seated at the Smartcar of tables. It was as though a table for one got tired of hosting sad lonely diners and promoted itself to two-top. My sense was that the La V management or design team had tried to fit as many tables as possible into its dining room, and that the tiny table was an intentional part of that effort. Unfortunately for us, that meant that we had to pile our drinks, three large entrée dishes, side dishes, and an array of glass sauce containers onto a table designed to hold perhaps no more than a mug of coffee and an iPad.
The tiny table dilemma was compounded by the fact that the tables in La V were placed so close to one another that, when we were first seated, it looked and felt like we were sharing a table with the couple from Washington D.C. mentioned above. They seemed as surprised as we were to find themselves essentially sharing a table with strangers. They seemed friendly and good-natured, but we were glad when they got up. We’re a little territorial at feeding time.
2. The confusing array of servers.
Shortly after we were seated, a woman came over and sat down at our table (our Smartcar table; this woman was practically in my lap). She didn’t introduce herself; she just said “Hi! How are you guys?”. I was confused. Do I know this chick?, I wondered. From context clues, I eventually deduced that she was a server. She told us that La V’s style of service is essentially that ”You don’t have one server; it’s like a family — everyone serves every table,” which sounds nice in theory, sort of homey and communal, but has a few glitches in practice. For example, because “everyone” was responsible for serving us, “everyone” seemed to assume that “someone else” was serving us, meaning that no one served us anything. No one took our food and drink orders until we used our semaphore skills to signal “thirst! hunger!” at the waitress leaving the table next to us.
On the other hand “everyone” serving our table also meant that we occasionally got more service than we’d bargained for. Five minutes after we ordered, another server stopped by to take our order. We told her that we’d already ordered, but she made us repeat the order to her anyway.
A different person brought our drinks. Yet another person brought our food. Yet another person came by to ask how everything was. It was great; but could we have a couple of extra napkins? Sure, she said. No one brought us napkins; I suppose that this server told one of our other servers, who maybe told someone else, and so on down the rabbit hole.
I think the problem with this style of service is that, unless ALL of the servers are super communicative and terrific at their jobs, it doesn’t work, because the incentive to slack and probability of non- or miscommunication is so high. Don’t feel like running the appetizers to table 2? Let someone else do it! Don’t have time to bring extra napkins? Assume that someone else will do it! When “everyone” is responsible for each table, no one really is.
I do hope that they work out the service issues, which may only have been the growing pains of a baby restaurant, because the food really was tasty.
Most memorable of all, though, were
3. The revolutionaries at the table next to us.
After the Washington, D.C. couple left, the nearest diners to us were in a group of about ten. They looked like they could have been a small convention of Iowan high school teachers. But looks can be misleading, because:
They were revolutionaries!
Mr. HungryPelican and I were quiet for most of our meal because we couldn’t help trying to eavesdrop on the revolutionaries’ conversations. Sadly, all we could gather was that there is a revolution, that this group of people next to us is a part of it, that the loudest guy at the table quotes Marx inaccurately, and that the guy whose birthday they were celebrating is some sort of leader in their group.
I guess I’m all for revolution; I mean, that’s how the good old U.S. of A. was born, right? But members of this group were talking (somewhat garbled) Marx, which implies class struggle and the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and the owners of the means of production, et cetera. So I’m confused about the birthday celebration part. Aren’t celebrations of individual births, complete with gifts and feasting and cake-candle-wishmaking, hopelessly bourgeois and decadent?
In the final analysis, whether or not they were hypocrite revolutionaries matters little. What matters is that they made our time at La V extra memorable. La V: go for the food, stay for the revolutionaries.
441 Central Ave.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701