The revealing truth about how we eat now.
Photography by Fredrik Broden
(page 1 of 3)
If modern history has taught us anything, it’s that when one thing rises, another falls. History, like nature, deplores a vacuum. First, industry supplanted agriculture. Then, the car killed the horse. Then, nothing much happened for a while. Then, Facebook replaced work. Then, the tablecloth disappeared from upscale restaurants, replaced by casual culture, small plates, communal tables, and half-naked diners.
What’s happened, say East Bay restaurant folk, is that serious, even inventive food has been divorced from the formal and married to the spontaneous, casual new world, and it won’t be going back. White tablecloth restaurants won’t go away completely, but given the slow economy and a growing disdain for formality, casual will be king.
Until I encountered certain dire warnings from a source deep within the East Bay restaurant industry, I hadn’t much missed the tablecloth itself. Sorry, linen industry, sorry, laundry industry, but I’m a spiller. Sometimes, it looks like a baby ate at my place. And I have spent many a restaurant meal trying to hide stains with my arm or my plate or my napkin, then dashing off after paying the bill, my slob shame fading with each step away from the exit. So mostly I was OK with Formica or wood tables and place mats.
Of course, linen was associated with fine dining, with dressing up, with overly polite waiters “in a tux bowing down and handing you things with a white glove,” says Va de Vi’s general manager, Bob Cascardo. No more. Some of the best dishes in the East Bay have been placed on my bare table by tattooed servers in T-shirts and jeans. Some meals have been handed to me by invisible cashiers roaming the backs of food trucks. An impolite monkey could slop the Burrata at Oakland’s Boot and Shoe Service down onto my table, and I’d not complain.
It was that confidential source—let’s call him “Deepfork”—who began to put me on alert to the downside of the post-tablecloth culinary world. He struck fear into my germaphobic heart with this warning:
“One thing nobody ever considers is the person who cleans tables,” Deepfork tells me. “The little towel he uses, he also wipes the floor with it, his shoes, other things.”
Other things? What other things?
“Nobody takes that stuff into consideration.”
“If you look under a special lamp,” Deepfork tells me, “it will show how much bacteria is on the table.”