I was doing some research on what Lemon Grass actually meant. The reason behind this sudden interest in lemongrass is a Thai restaurant that goes by the same name. Lemongrass Café, a restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh, serves deliciously amazing food. According to our friend, Mr. Wiki, Cymbopogon (lemongrass) is a genus of about 55 species of grasses. Common names include lemon grass, lemongrass, barbed wire grass, silky heads, citronella grass, fever grass or Hierba Luisa amongst many others.
Once in a while, my colleague and good friend, VK sneak out to this café and order our regular green or red curry with steamed rice. After a few frequent visits, Lemongrass decided to offer us some loyalty rewards. Along with the rice, came uninvited bugging behavior. A dead bug adorned the rice plate. Unfortunately, being non-bug eaters, we brought this to the attention of the waiter, a clean shaven headless fellow. Oops … I meant clean shaven throughout the face including the head, but headless might not be a wrong adjective in the given circumstances. He had almost certainly fought with his wife or girlfriend, and had been kicked in the wrong place. Frustrated with issues like sex, power, money and god knows what else, he looked at VK straight in the eye. Arguments followed whether it was a bug or a rice grain that refused to take off its husky cover!! The rice or the bug was dead and couldn’t testify. A neutral third party was required to intervene. Seeing no solution, VK took out his camera phone and expressed his desire to photograph the suspect. The rice was bugged, we were now getting bugged too and so were the others in Cymbogon Cafe. The bugged silky head (lemongrass is also called silky head, remember?) waiter got more frustrated and began to disapprove of this solution. In a higher decibel level, he announced that photographing could not be allowed. The other customers at the restaurant began to get disturbed and instances like these are always irritants to enjoying a good meal. Mr. Barbarian Waiter with one swift motion of his hand scooped the plate off the table, and returned with a replacement. He asked us to make sure everything was fine this time and of course, if a mike was lying around somewhere, it would have felt redundant. The message was very very loud and clear. Disturbed but determined to focus on eradicating our hunger, we ignored the strange man and went about achieving our primary objective: consumption of the red curry. Call it MBO (Management by Objectives) or Gandhian philosophy, we just forgot about the whole incident.
By the way, Gandhiji had once said, if a man slaps you on one cheek, show your other cheek too.
Some days later, we made an error in judgment. Joined by another colleague who had flown down thousands of miles, from India, we fought the wintry afternoon cold. Ignoring the cold tears that were shed from the skies above, we did not heed the omens. Making our way through the busy traffic, VK and I were determined to treat our colleague to a sumptuous lunch at the best Thai restaurant in town. Guess what, we got served by another dude this time, a bespectacled man with long side burns. Service was ok and we were leaving the restaurant. Going Dutch, we handed out credit cards or cash to the man at the cash counter. This time, the silky head Mr. Citronella was at the cash counter. So he did everything except cooking, I guess. Or maybe he tried to cook steamed rice and insectivised the rice. Anyway, he very politely asked VK if the service was fine. Then, he began to innocently explain that tip amounts reflected the service levels (as if we didn’t know!). With a $9.4 bill, VK had paid $10. The usually, relatively over- generous VK had made a grave error, supposedly. The lecture was an education on waiter compensation structure. That Salary structure of waiters had a small fixed component. The variable components came from tips. Decibel levels, an angry frowned face, attitude problems – everything that we don’t expect and certainly don’t deserve were being exhibited by the psycho. I will add here, that the other Thai restaurant in town, Angkor which has the same owner, sets new heights in hospitality and service levels. Hence, my disbelief was indescribable. But things got worse when the dude with sideburns stood on the side, burning angry words randomly coming out of his mouth, “Why me!!? We work here, you don’t!! Don’t take it out on us!!! What do you know?”
We came out shocked, humiliated, mentally disturbed and emotionally scarred. Yes, we argued back, but is that why we want to go to a restaurant for lunch? The decision to never go there again is logical but somewhere there is a feeling of incompleteness that should hopefully, go away with time. I am still wondering if the interactions were racist in nature or just the result of a sick man, who is in a wrong job. Whatever it is, I want this post to reach out to Pittsburgh downtown eaters so that they are can knowingly pick a choice of their choice. Until then, Bon Appetit
Also, read this post by VK