Last night, I went on a date with my boyfriend, who was away this past weekend on a shoot. We wanted to go to Cafe Cortadito, but it was inexplicably closed. Still hankering for Latin food, we decided to try Guayoyo. Guayoyo is in a space on 1st Avenue near 4th that was formerly occupied by a forgettable sushi restaurant and when that inevitably closed, was left vacant for a long time.
I’d been meaning to try it since it opened and last night seemed as good a time as any. It was completely empty when we walked in. Granted, it was almost 10:00 on a Tuesday night after a long weekend, but still. As ridiculous as it seems, it’s hard not to have a Groucho Marx attitude. Who wants to eat at a restaurant that will have you?
It was a muggy night and there was no air-conditioning, but I didn’t mind because the slowly rotating ceiling fans reminiscent of a bygone colonial era just made me feel like we were in Caracas. I tried to imagine a scenario in which we’d happen upon some off-the-beaten path restaurant that wasn’t in any guidebooks where we’d have one of the best meals of our lives in an empty restaurant.
But it’s hard not to be suspicious of an empty restaurant when you’re in New York City. In the East Village. But the food was surprisingly good and served in large, heaping portions. I had an excellent pabellón criollo (shredded beef, rice and stewed beans) and we shared the baby shark empanada. Unlike the Argentine kind, Venezuelan empanadas are deep-fried and very satisfying in the way that deep-fried things usually are.
To drink, I had a chicha. In many parts of Central and South America, chicha is made from maize or sometimes quinoa and fruit. In Venezuela, Chicha is made with boiled rice, milk, sugar and ice and topped with cinnamon. It was like a drinkable rice pudding or thicker horchata. I actually found it a little too thick (in the way I find Wendy’s frosties annoying for not being milkshakes), so I added a little water and it was perfect for me- really refreshing and delightful.
So we were pleasantly surprised. The food was good. The service, however, left a little to be desired. During dinner, we somehow started talking about front of the house faux pas that a lot of restaurants commit. Like many, I find it unpardonable when the server brings the bill without someone asking for it.
I mentioned a recent blog entry written by my hero Gael Greene about Jean-Georges’ newest restaurant ABC Kitchen, in which she complained about being asked “Are you still working on that?” and “Is everything to your liking?” incessantly.
We then talked about how the front of house guidelines for David Chang’s latest venture Ma Peche were leaked to Eater.com and how the management was trying to train its staff to avoid the most grating behavior a lot of servers are prone to:
“-Always visually check in with guests within seconds of food dropping, but there’s no point in asking them how they are doing if you can see they haven’t even tried the food yet.
-Do not say “enjoy” after everything. Also never say “are you done enjoying that”
-No “how is everything” unless dish is not finished”
Now, it seems unfair to use the same standards I would use to judge the service at a Jean-Georges or even a David Chang restaurant with this little joint Guayoyo, but it seemed like the waitress overheard our conversation and tried to do every possible thing you’re not supposed to just to be funny.
We were wrapped up in an intense conversation when the waitress came over and asked, “Are you still working on that?” We decided not to begrudge her the question because we both agreed that as a non-native English speaker, she probably just picked up that phrase from someone.
But before we were done eating, she plopped down a miniature galvanized bucket with a bill inside it. Though it’s common in America, I find that when a server gives me the bill before I’ve asked for it, they’re basically saying, “I want you to leave. Now.” And I find that rude. Liam and I discussed whether or not there was a polite way to give someone a bill if they haven’t requested it and I argued there wasn’t, that the very act was a passive-aggressive way to get you to go.
So we kept talking and enjoying each other’s company. The waitress came by twice to see if we had paid. I guess just setting it down on the table wasn’t passive-aggressive enough. At some point, the staff just started eating at a table in the back (our waitress included), looking up between bites to shoot us dirty looks.
I have mixed feelings about whether or not to go back. It’s only a few blocks from my apartment, pretty tasty, reasonably priced and there’s probably never a wait to get in. I just don’t feel very welcome. But I just realized that maybe that’s their trick. Like a woman playing hard to get, maybe their game is to mistreat you and act like they don’t want you so the Groucho Marxes with low self-esteem will keep trying. Well, it won’t work on me… At least I don’t think so.