Posted 14 October 2005 - 07:30 PM
We went this past Saturday night and turned up just as the largely Islamic clientele was breaking its Ramadan fast. Our, like every other table, was presented with the traditional platter of bread, dates, and fried, coiled, honey-soaked dough (I forget the name- think of Greek thiples...) for a "sweet" segue into a more savory meal. We were all also given cardboard coffee cups filled with a banana fruitshake libation of sorts.
The floor was fairly dirty and the blanquette we sat on along with the numerous pillows that adorned it were quite soiled. We didn't let this bother us as the very spirited owner (whose white chef's coat was pretty filthy come to think of it) and his meager staff scrambled to get what we were told were complimentary bowls of harira soup on the tables along with glasses of water and pots of tea. The families who were seated next to us admired our toddler and we exchanged pleasantries and in general it felt like we were eating in a very hectic household of a friend somewhere in Morocco. Things were going well. About 30 minutes had passed and all that we had had was the fast-breaking platter that was brought to us upon our arrival. My husband, who had a slight fever, was in desperate need of water and none had come yet. He was beginning to lose interest. I very kindly spoke to one of the over-extended waiters and water and tea and soup appeared instantaneously ( no spoons or napkins though- service really needed some ironing out...) We received two glasses of mint tea upon which the pot was removed from the table- we've always had a whole pot in other Moroccan places...Our waiter was extremely friendly, very engaging with our son, flattered that we knew and appreciated Moroccan culture/cuisine. He suggested we have an order of chicken bisteeya ( 3.50) mixed cold Moroccan vegetable salads ( 6.00) and a Vegetable tagine ( 9.50). It sounded perfect ,and considering we had had a huge West Indian take out lunch hours before from Singh's, it was the perfect amount. Everything, incidentally, arrived at once and was delicious.
Our waiter continued to visit with us and somewhere in the middle of what had begun as a lovely, off-beat meal...it began to get...well...strange...It was almost as if he had been drinking. His stories began to get a bit ribald, he spoke loudly, dropped the f-bomb multiple times in describing how idiotic most Americans (not us of course) are in their perception of Morocco ( can't say I disagree) told us the private suites at La Mamounia were a mere $100 a night ( absolute rubbish!!!) and most importantly shared that he wasn't even a waiter at the restaurant, that he just lived in the nabe and his family was friendly with the owners in Morocco and he decided to help out the overhwhelmed staff- that he was really an off-duty police officer. It was sooooo odd. We listened politley and nodded our heads a lot and hoped he would go to other tables that were in desperate need of service.
Finally we requested the bill and this guy proceeded to do the Dominick's thing that I so loathe...he began to eyeball the dishes (exactly 3) mumble numbers, squint his eyes as he did "intense" mental math and then said 37 dollars! At a place like Dominicks where there are no posted prices, this could have worked, however we knew what everything cost from the menus. My husband gave me a curious look and whispered that it was way off in the two seconds that our waiter had his back turned. Then it got really weird.
The waiter actually began to rush us as my husband got his wallet out, telling us to pay cash. He said that he was on his way out. He could sense that we knew something ws wrong and was intentionally crowding us and prattling on endlessly and not allowing us to speak to one another. I really can't describe it properly, but it was Twilight Zoney. My husband, so poilte, said " We had a great meal and I don't mean to question your calculation, but I don't think this is the right price." The guy, without missing a beat replied almost menacingly at this point, "Okay just make it 35 bucks then." At which point, I ,who was getting really annoyed because I knew we were being taken for fools, asked how our three plates could have been 37 dollars...He was flabbergasted and just looked at us for a few seconds. Finally he mumbled something about the Ramadan platters costing money...Whatever. My husband had had it and just put the money on the table and decided it was time to leave. Poor guy's hectic trial sched was finally catching up to him, he was getting the flu, and he decided it just wasn't worth it.
As we packed our son up, we observed our waiter walk to the front exposed kitchen area, confer with the owner (our money still in hand) point to our table, hug him goodbye, exchange a lot of laughter, and then leave with the money still on him. On the way out the owner tousled my son's hair, apologized for the rushed service and told us to come back again when he could "pay more attention" to us.
Outside the restaurant, as we were putting our stroller in the car, one of the Moroccan families who had sat next to us and apparently overheard our waiter stopped us and told us that we had been "thieved" ??? They said that there was absolutley no charge for the traditional fast-breaking plate (they compared it to a basket of bread in a diner :)) or the harira during Ramadan.
Very shady and quite disappointing as the food we had was well-prepared.
Wonder if the owner was in on it or just made the mistake of letting a knave help him out.
Won't be going back to Jour et Nuit anytime soon.