Ian revisits that vexing question: Who does cut the cheese?

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Ian revisits that vexing question: Who does cut the cheese?

In this week's review I mention a "noticeably delayed" lunch. This doesn't fully convey the drama. As I sat waiting, working my way to the bottom of my basket of tortilla chips, my server stopped by my table. He was clearly flustered.

"Sorry for the delay," he said. "There's a fire on the stove."

Well, sure, there's a fire on the stove, I thought. That's how it cooks things.

Of course, he meant that the stove was on fire. It struck me as a reasonable explanation for a tardy torta. But it also reminded me of my favorite story of a missing dish and a server's chutzpah.

One evening my wife and I were having a glass of wine at a St. Louis restaurant. This happened a few years before I was the Riverfront Times restaurant critic, so I won't name the place in question. Suffice it to say, it's a well-known joint. An institution, even. At any rate, we had dinner plans later, but we were hungry, so we ordered a cheese plate to accompany our second glass of wine.

The wine arrived. The cheese did not.

As I said, this is a well-known spot. And it was busy. We figured our server was so overwhelmed that he'd forgotten to pick up or maybe even to place our order.

Unfortunate, but no big deal. Things happen. We're not ogres. We would understand — though as the time since our placing the order neared 30 minutes, that understanding diminished.

Finally, when it was clear our server wasn't going to remember our cheese plate without prompting, we flagged him down. He said he'd see. He returned promptly and said, with a straight face, "Our cheese chef was on break."

The cheese chef. Was on break.

What was he doing? Milking the cows? Straining the whey? We were so startled that we could only nod. Of course the cheese chef was on break. Most restaurants overwork the hell out of their cheese chefs. Not only was this a well-known St. Louis restaurant — this was a progressive joint.

I think I tipped the waiter extra, just for having the balls.

Are you opening a new restaurant? Know of a place that has closed? Something else for Ian to chew on? E-mail [email protected]. And check out this column's virtual doppelganger at http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/gutcheck.

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