The tipping point

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Nick Roumel

I believe I stiffed a server once. Senior year, my roommates and I went to Washington, D.C. on a lark. The four of us went to dinner at a restaurant that tried to be fancy but wasn’t quite there. The poor waiter brought it on himself early.

“What is ‘Seafood Newburg?’ someone asked. The waiter looked cross. “It’s seafood prepared in the Newburg style,” he replied. I kid you not.

It went downhill from there. He served us water in a metal pitcher that tasted off, and we asked for it to be exchanged. He refused. Someone accused him of trying to poison us. Words were exchanged, and we left in a hurry, convinced that our waiter would try to do us harm.

But not before we paid. Throwing our cash on the table, we had just enough for the bill and a handful of coins over that. If I said the guy had a dollar tip, I’d be exaggerating. There was a brief discussion as to whether he should have more, but someone said that was more than enough. We scooted before he chased after us and doused us with poisoned water.

I’m sure we pushed his buttons; but sorry dude - you can’t skate with that “Seafood Newburg” answer and get away with it.

Today, tipping is being re-examined. Some restaurants have done away with it, to emphasize that servers are professionals who get paid to provide excellent service. Customers respond that they should have the right to determine the size of the tip based on the service. Regardless of the policy, I’m sure there will be people like my dad’s friend Tony, who would slip the busboy a couple bucks to make sure the bartender didn’t short him on his next pour.

In the meantime, for those of you unaware of what “Seafood in the Newburg style” actually is, here’s a recipe for your edification. It is a classic and elegant dish, with lobster, scallops and shrimp in a sherry-flavored cream sauce. This version, attributed to Boston’s Union Oyster House, has it served vol-a-vent (in a puff pastry), but you can also serve it over rice or linguine.

Seafood Newburg (Saveur.com)

Kosher salt, to taste

2 (1 1⁄2–2-lb.) live lobsters

8 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 lb. medium sea scallops

1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed

2 tbsp. flour

1⁄4 cup dry sherry

1⁄4 cup half & half

2 tsp. hot sauce

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1⁄4 tsp. ground white pepper

1 egg yolk

4 vol-au-vent

(http://www.saveur.com/article/techniques/how-to-make-vol-au-vent)

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook lobsters 5 minutes; drain and transfer to an ice bath until cold. Drain lobsters; separate claws and tails, reserving legs. Halve tails lengthwise and remove meat; crack claws and remove meat. Roughly chop lobster meat; chill until ready to use. Roughly chop legs and shells.

2. Add 3 tbsp. butter to pot; melt over medium-high. Cook carrots, celery, and onion until soft, 6–8 minutes. Stir in chopped legs and shells and 8 cups water; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook 1 1⁄2 hours. Strain stock and return to pot; simmer until reduced by three-quarters, 1 hour.

3. Melt remaining butter in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high. Cook scallops and shrimp until just cooked, 4–5 minutes; transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle flour into pan; cook 2 minutes. Whisk in reserved stock; boil. Reduce heat to medium; stir in sherry, half & half, hot and Worcestershire sauces, white pepper, and salt and cook until thickened, 6–8 minutes. Whisk 1 cup sauce with yolk in a bowl and return to pan; add reserved seafood; cook 2 minutes. Divide vol-au-vent bottoms between plates and ladle seafood mixture over top; top with vol-au-vent lids.

Serve with poisoned water.

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.

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