Tuesday, March 4, 2008

At the Lost Table (Time Cafe, 44-18 Broadway)

Sometimes it happens: You become the Lost Table. You don't get menus; you don't get water; your beverage order isn't taken. Patrons who came in after you are served promptly while you languish, forgotten. Surrounding tables get water and coffee refills while you stare into space, dehydrated, wondering what you did to piss everybody off. Does the waiter not know you're there? Did the hostess neglect to inform the staff of your presence? Does every server assume another staffer is responsible for you? Whatever the reason for the neglect, once you're finally noticed, your server realizes she has no incentive to rectify the wrongs already perpetrated. In her mind, the tip cannot be salvaged, so she continues to ignore you, giving her attention to the Favored Tables.

At Time Cafe, we were the Lost Table. We went in for brunch, expecting a pleasant experience, based on this errant post from the usually reliable Joey in Astoria. The smooth jazz -- playing not over the radio but through a digital cable music-on-demand channel -- was the first sign of trouble, but we persevered. And waited.

And waited.

We're easy customers. Actually, on the walk over to Time Cafe, one of us mused aloud whether we were too easily pleased -- of all the restaurants we've visited on our mission to eat at every restaurant in Astoria, there's only one we've given a blatant thumbs-down (El Olivo). Were we not discriminating enough? Were we passive diners, willing to excuse lackadaisical service and mediocre food to allow for a cheerful experience? Are we too pleasant for our own good?

At Time Cafe, our easygoing disposition was exposed for the liability it can be. We continued to be ignored while the tables around us were getting the mini-muffins promised on the brunch menu (not that we found out about this perk until later -- it took 15 minutes for us to get menus, which only happened after we flagged down the waitress). But codependent diners that we were, rather than get indignant, we wondered what we had done to deserve this.

When we finally did order, it took an unreasonable amount of time for the food to arrive -- by this time we were resigned to our fate -- and when it did come it was clear it had been sitting a while under the heat lamp. The mushroom-pepper-fontina frittata was serviceable, in the way that anything coated with a layer of cheese would be. But the only thing scrambled in the sausage and egg "skillet scramble" was a wasteful pile of at least a half-dozen eggs, served alongside three brown-and-serve sausage links. And nary a mini-muffin in sight.

Time Cafe helped us break the cycle: At just the point when we wondered if our enjoyable dining experiences in Astoria were authentic, Time Cafe stepped in to show us that it's not us, it's them. We entered this relationship with the restaurants of Astoria not out of a desire to inhale food mindlessly, but because, by and large, our local establishments are pretty good.

Time Cafe is not.

Price: Can't put a price tag on awful.
Will we go again? Answering this dignifies the question.

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