This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
And yet, after all, perhaps the bartender of the preceding instance gained an insight of the restaurant business through the practice prevalent in some cities of serving a roast-beef and-trimmings lunch free to patrons of the bar. New Orleans is called the original home of the free lunch, and it is true to-day that the best lunch obtainable in that city can be had at the barrooms; not free to all, but upon payment of fifteen cents for drinks of some kind at the counter. There is a soup, fish, roast beef of the very best quality, salads of beets and potatoes, and bread. The best cooks find easy employment on these hot lunches and similar midnight suppers. The excellence of the repasts furnished at such merely nominal rates has much to do with the making New Orleans the poor hotel city it is known to be. The stranger in . the city who does not know of the free hot lunches at the liquor palaces knows nothing. New Orleans has been famous for its restaurants, also, but the reports vary according to the humor or the good or bad fortune of some visitor who writes about them.
To avoid going over old ground, to show that restaurants are the same the world over and that the same complaints fit St. Petersburg that would apply to New Orleans let us append this growl of an Englishman in A RUSSIAN restaurant:
"If, however, you wish to attempt one of the fashionable restaurants in the Great Morskaia, two hospitable houses on either side of the way open wide their tempting portals. Which shall it be? Desseaux on the right, or Borel on the left? Scylla over the way, or Charybdis on this bide? For surely neither Scylla nor Charybdis ever seized the unwary traveller with such irresistible force, or devoured him to such good purpose.
"Entering Desseaux's 'Restaurant des Nobles,' you are received with civility amounting to obsequiousness. One small waiter relieves you of hat and stick; another, a little larger, removes your greatcoat; and a third, quite full-sized and rather fat, awaits your instructions with a winning smile and many low bows. 'Nyet Russki' should be your first remark; and the fact of your being a stranger being thus ascertained, No. 3 disappears and fetches the linguist of the establishment, a very portly man, who asks you for your orders in fair French. An habitue would reply, 'A plain soup, a mutton cutlet done on the grid, a roast gdlinotte and salad, Russian beer;' but you, a stranger, overawed by the stout linguist, by his magnificent shirt-front, and above all by the morocco-bound, gilt-edged, brass-clasped bill of fare, as formidable as a family Bible, which he holds out for your inspection, will not think of ordering so simple a dinner. And if you have an inclination that way, the sight of three huge champagne-coolers, containing long-necked bottles, which grace a table occupied by a couple of young Guardsmen in their gorgeous uniform, will remind you that you did not come to Desseaux's for a chop and a glass of beer, and that more is expected of you, although you don't know what to order.
But some feeling akin to pity, some recollection of the days when he too was a stranger in a foreign land, seems to stir within Mezzofanti's broad bosom. For instead of allowing you to flounder hopelessly through fifty-eight stiff pages of the bill of fare, he kindly helps you by suggesting that perhaps you would like le diner du jour; and at the same time he produces an elegant menu, printed in dark-blue on cream-tinted paper with a flowery pink border. The cream-tinted paper appears to you like the flag of hope; it is the traditional straw at which the drowning man clutches, and you gasp ' Oui, oui,' hysterically. Thus you have chosen - you must eat, not what you like, but what suits Desseaux's pocket; and you drop down on one of the comfortable sofas in the pleasant dining-room, and hear the young Guardsmen exchange opinions (in bad French) about the last new dancer at the Theatre Berg, till soup arrives, and v-ith it another magnificent volume - this time the wine-list, naturally open at the page containing champagne at six roubles and upward. But you are not to be taken in, and turning back, select a pint bottle of St. Julien at two roubles - a good, safe wine, you inrglne you know.
After the soup (which is good, but enriched with too many quenelles, croquettes, etc.), and the inevitable petits pate's, you get stewed beef, which you recognise as first cousin to the Rindfleisch of Germany and the bouilli of France; only the latter costs sixpense a plateful, while his Russian relation is more expensive and more stringy. To console yourself, you turn to the St. Julien. What is your horror at finding a sweet, fiery compound, of which the curious astrin-gency evidently proceeds from sloes, and which has nothing common with French wine except its color! You proceed naturally to sterlet (a small fish of the sturgeon family) a la Russe, which perhaps you will like. But after this rich dish you feel the want of a little good wine, and therefore rather indignantly have the pretended St. Julien removed, and order half a bottle of Margaux. Calf's head stewed a lafinan-ciere follows, and would be good in its way if it were not too rich, like all Russian dishes. The Margaux now arrives, and proves to be a little more fiery and a little less sweet than the St. Julien, but no more like claret than its predecessor. However, it drinks better when diluted, or perhaps you are getting used to it.
God forbid the latter! for then your palate is hopelessly blunted, your taste gone, and you will never again appreciate the Sauterne of the Maison Doree or the delicious Lafitte of Bignon! However, a dish of intensely green peas now appears, and you only find out when you try them that they are preserved, and very badly preserved, too. As last comes the roast, and if Desseaux does his duty it will be fowl, and not game; for the former is much more expensive, and therefore considered more delicate. Desseaux does his duty, and you have the pleasure of carving a chicken about the size of a large sparrow, and consisting of skin, bone, and a few stray feathers. This fine bird is accompanied by pickled cucumbers, but as both your own aversion and your doctor's orders prevent your partaking of this Russian substitute for salad, you feel that you have hardly dined, although you have finished dinner. You order a little cheese, then coffee and liqueur; and when your bill is brought, you philosophize on how much a man can spend on his dinner without getting enough to eat or anything fit to drink.
Here it is:
40 or£ 1 7s
And, let it be added, Desseaux, is not by any means the dearest restaurant in St. Petersburg, nor the worst"
An odd coincidence! That sketch of a St. Petersburg restaurant brings us back to Manhattan Beach and the great bill of fare. There is the same soup, the same something a la financiere; the same diner dujour - d nner of the day - with perhaps the same five entrees; the same frontage and things at about the same prices and the same wines. The restaurants of that class are all el ike.