Ask Mr. Gold: A Slow Eater's Sanctuary at Aroma Café
Anne Fishbein the invisible restaurant critic
Dear Mr. Gold:
I often find myself in the delightful company of very slow eaters. What are some good places to linger over a meal without incurring the passive-aggression of the waitstaff?
--Nate Smith, via Facebook
Dear Mr Smith:
I tend to eat late, so I'm occasionally that guy who nurses a bottle of Gigondas far past closing time, and I'm not good at detecting the presence of the evil eye. I try to pay early if it looks as if it will let the waiter escape before I'm through, and I'll usually overtip if it looks as if I'm inconveniencing anybody. I also try not to be the last customer to leave. But that's at the end of the evening: If you're sitting at a table the restaurant wants to turn, a waiter's charm starts to leak away at about the 90-minute mark, and turns actively hostile not long after that, and there's nothing you can do to make them like you any better. There are a dozen people whose livelihoods depend on you to finish dessert in a timely fashion. And woe be onto you if you are tying up a café table with your laptop during the lunch rush.
That being said, there may be a few exceptions to the no-lingering rule. If you eat on the late side, even a place as busy as Osteria Mozza or Son of a Gun will tend to be more relaxed, knowing that your table is unlikely to be needed again. Korean custom dictates that it is rude for a waiter to bring a check without being asked for it first, which is why many of the more unassimilated Koreatown places have call buttons installed in the booths -- if anybody's going to boot you out, it's going to be you. (I have lingered at Dansungsa an hour after closing, and nobody said a word.)
But the ultimate place to sit over a meal? I would nominate the Israeli café, where nothing short of a whack with a shovel is going to dislocate regulars from their table. The proper consumption of shakshuka or hummus requires leisure. My nomination: Aroma Café in Encino, which may not be the single best Middle Eastern restaurant in town, but is certainly the most Israeli, and its crowded, smoky patio runs practically until dawn on weekends.