How do You Define Restaurant Hospitality? Take it with a Grain of Sea Salt

Steve Beckta 2Continued from Part 3: Steve Beckta Restaurant

At 5:30 p.m. Beckta greets the first guests, chats amiably for a few minutes, and then hostess Anique Montambault escorts them to their seats. Soon, the early guests are floating through their conversations on their first glass of wine.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the first wave of canapé and appetizer orders hits Macmurdo.

The servers buzz around her “pass,” the eye-level counter where she puts up the amuse bouche canapés and salads as they’re ready. It’s the narrowest point in this river of activity where the pace either flows or chokes.

Ripples of nervous excitement swirl upstream to the main-course stations, but mostly these cooks look on as if watching a disturbance still far out on the ocean.

Vardy, who works wherever help is needed, stands beside her mincing garnish. Durling is assembling the salads.

“What makes this so creamy?” Prevost asks Macmurdo about the elegant amuse bouche that looks like a miniature sculpture.

“Crème fraîche,” she responds. Benesultana brings over a handful of ladles and sticks a few into some pots, the rest in a holding cup.

“Someone’s been messing with my knife,” Jacob Monsour growls, picking up the foot-long serrated blade. It looks like Darth Vader’s light saber, as though it could easily slice you in half.

Monsour himself, who has the curly tussled hair and perfectly sculpted features of Michelangelo’s David, makes even the twenty-something staff look middle-aged—he’s only sixteen.

His father used to own the Ritz before he retired, and someday Monsour plans to have his own restaurant too.

For now, though, he is a “back waiter.” He presents the three freshly-baked breads to diners like a jeweler describing diamonds.

On his first night, when Prevost found him holding a butter dish in his hands, he told her he was “tempering the butter” because it wasn’t quite the right consistency for the bread.

Beckta Dining Room interiorBack in the dining room, Beckta seems to glide from table to table, chatting, laughing, pouring wine. At the heart of the restaurant’s stellar service is Beckta himself.

Some might peg him as inhumanly happy, a pitchman for Prozac. But Beckta is more than that: he’s always ready to be delighted by people, to marvel at their talent and to relish their goodness.

And this is his vulnerability too, as it sets him up to be disappointed and hurt by a few people.

Beckta started his own brand of one-plus service before the restaurant even opened. He asked the staff to go on a neighbourhood scavenger hunt.

They were to find the nearest dry cleaner, florist, leather repair and other services so that they could help diners if necessary.

The sidewalks were still icy, and so later that afternoon, one server sprinkled salt on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant as well as the neighbouring buildings in the spirit of community service.

It was only later that Beckta discovered this—and the fact that she had mistakenly used organic salt from the Red Sea that cost $20 a pound.

When the restaurant opened, Beckta set the service standard by literally giving diners the shirt off his back.

“I haven’t worn my blue dress shirt in four weeks because I keep giving it to customers who spill wine on themselves. It comes back laundered and then someone else needs it,” he laughs.

I experienced Beckta’s generous spirit a couple of weeks after the restaurant opened, when I dined here with several girlfriends.

We were bound for the ballet and intended to leave at 7:30 p.m. We had plenty of time, but we were so enjoying the theatre of the table that we told Beckta we’d skip the ballet.

Without missing a beat, he asked if he could give our tickets to an elderly couple, dressed up for a night out, who were just leaving.

We were delighted not to waste the tickets. Beckta gave us credit for the idea, and the couple came over to our table to thank us. We felt like heroes when all we were really doing was drinking too much Shiraz.

One of our group suggested we order the cheese tray before dessert, and we asked Beckta to mix local and imported cheeses. After forty-five minutes, he arrived with the tray, looking a little winded.

As he served the cheese, we jokingly asked whether he had milked the cows himself.

“Well we don’t have a cheese tray yet, actually,” Beckta replied sheepishly. He had run down to The Arc restaurant in the market to buy one of theirs.

And recently, my husband and I decided to bring our four-year-old son Rian for an early dinner.

“Can I get chicken nuggets and fries?” Rian asked doubtfully.

“Absolutely,” Beckta said heartily. He asked the chef to debone, segment and lightly batter a Cornish hen, and pair “nuggets” with steak frites.

Continue to Part 5: Steve Beckta Restaurant

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