Jared Wentworth remembers the day that Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide, strolled into his restaurant — anonymously.
"He didn't give his real name," says the chef of Longman & Eagle in Logan Square. "But we get a pretty local crowd, and in walks a guy in an Armani suit, speaking perfect English in a French accent. And I'm like, 'I think I'm going to cook this order (myself).'"
The lesson of this story has nothing to do with wearing an Armani suit to a casual restaurant. The lesson is, make a restaurant think you're a restaurant critic, and good things can happen.
Personal attention. Generous portions. Foot massages.
(This never happens to me, of course, because I don’t want special treatment; I want the same experience that every other diner receives. Plus, I’m a master of disguise; heck, most chefs in town don’t even know about my facial tattoos.)
A few weeks ago, a restaurant's internal how-to-spot-a-critic guide made its way to the Twittersphere. It had some nuggets of semi-useful tips and some oddities (such as the undoubtedly dubious assertion that Michelin inspectors are required to clean their plates). Missing, however, were surefire tips on how to be mistaken for a restaurant critic. Which I'm happily able to provide.
* When the sommelier presents your wine, take a tentative sip and declare that the wine is "lacking in the midpalate." It doesn't matter that you don't know what that means. The somm will know, and he/she will alert the kitchen to your presumed sophistication. Plus, the sommelier will bring out a better wine.
* Ask ridiculously detailed questions, such as whether the asparagus was grown on a north-facing slope.
* Write down stuff at the table. Maybe it's your grocery list. Just act like you're paying attention to every single bite of food.
* Wear a fake mustache. Even if you're a woman. Especially if you're a woman. Of course it looks fake; that's the point.
* Bring a tape measure to check the dimensions of your table and its height from the floor. Look puzzled; measure a second time.
* Compliment the food to the waiter in absurd ways: "If my bouche were any more amused, it would whistle!"
* Order wine by the glass, and when it arrives, pour the contents into a graduated cylinder and see how many ounces you actually get. (Disclosure: I've actually done this.)
* Photos, photos, photos. Take pictures of every dish. The flatware. The butter. If you have a camera phone, hold the entree to your face and take a selfie.
* Critic-y vanity license plates: ICHEW, STRZ4, CRITIK1, YPITSME.
* When the check arrives, peruse it with a jeweler's loup. (Note: Carry a jeweler's loup.)