The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2011

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Page 68 of 124

MERRILL SHINDLER’S WORD OF MOUTH Miss Manners? T WE DO. MERRILL SHINDLER EXPOUNDS IN EXTENSO ON THE RETURN OF THE TIE here was a time, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, when men dressed for dinner in a fine dining restaurant, wearing ties, jackets and well-polished shoes made of fine leather that would last for years. They were freshly shaved; their hair shone with pomade. Women wore dresses and hose, and had their hair and nails done. When those same people went to the theater, it was an event of epic proportions—they wore their finery, beginning the evening with a proper cocktail and dinner, and ending it with an après-theater libation. Back then, if you showed up at a restaurant lacking tie and jacket, you were either turned away, or offered an outfit from a closet filled with clothing that made you look like Bozo the Clown on his night off. You were given a tie that looked like a lobster bib. If you were short, you were given a jacket that was extra long. If you were tall, the jacket was extra short. It was often madras. The humiliation usually worked; you didn’t show up poorly dressed again. Back in those seemingly lost days, I recall showing up at a neighborhood Chinese restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village—the Boho Capital of the Universe—wearing khakis and a chambray work shirt, and being told I’d need to wear a tie and jacket to eat my lo mein. I recall putting on my very best double-breasted gray Kent & Curwen suit to have a cocktail at the 21 Club—and being glared at by one and all. No one was wearing anything as wild as . . . gray. And then, things changed. I remember going to Ouest on New York’s Upper West Side—and finding myself the only person wearing not just a tie, but a jacket as well. More recently, I had dinner at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas. Only the maître d' and I were dressed; the rest of the room felt that flip-flops and shorts were fine for an evening of the finest foods and wines in the world. (As the maître d’ explained, when I asked about the lack of proper dress: “When a customer has lost $25,000 at the tables, you don’t tell him to wear a tie.” Yes . . . but how about shoes?) Is there actually a connection between wearing a tie and common decency? Perhaps—and perhaps not. This may be a classic example of reductio ad absurdum, but it was no less a luminary than Mark 66 / the tasting panel / april 201 1 Twain who observed that, “Clothes make the man.” (Actually, that much is Shakespeare; Twain’s full quote is: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”) Can it not be argued, fairly, that in a society where the social contract is intact—where we agree to dress well for a lunch at, say, Marea on Central Park South, where a recent table was attired in worn jeans, t-shirts and sneakers—that manners (and the corollary of common decency) will be observed, even venerated? And there is evidence that the times they are a-changin’—yet again. On a recent trip to The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas (see our story on page 88), I was heartened to find diners actually dressing for an evening at José Andrés’s Jaleo, and at Costas Spiliadis’s Milos. Not everyone. But enough that it could be discerned. Diners dress for dinner at Per Se in New York, at Gary Danko in San Francisco, at Mélisse in Los Angeles, at the Fountain in Philadelphia. Slowly, ever so slowly, elegance and propriety are making a return. And well they should, for we are in a state of crisis. We have reached a point in our civiliza- tion where manners that flow naturally from proper attire are a forgotten virtue. It is, I would hope, not too late. The trim tab is small—but it can change the course of a mighty ship. My sugges- tion: Go into your closet, take out a clean white shirt, knot a tie, slip on a jacket. Then, go out to dinner. You’ll be amazed by how empowered you feel. A simple sliver of silk may be all it takes . . . to save the world.

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