When Drew Nieporent — the man behind Nobu, Montrachet, and Tribeca Grill — is at the table next to you, it would seem worth following his lead. And so when we noticed him beside us (thanks, Times Magazine!) for brunch at Geoffrey Zakarian's Café at Country yesterday, we realized we were listening to our neighbors' conversation a little more closely than would normally be polite. He ordered the tartare of beef, and therefore so did we. His arrived, served in a Mason jar along with miniature French bread sticks, and looked damn tasty. We couldn't wait for ours. But wait we did: Almost an hour later, it still hadn't appeared. Nieporent's entrée hadn't either, and so we found ourselves discussing restaurant service with one of the legends of the business.
"This is my worst nightmare, that this would happen in one of my own restaurants," he said. "I worry about this every single day of my life, so I try to go to places where it's unlikely to happen." The maître d', Frederic Larrieu, couldn't have been more apologetic. "It's always funny when kitchen staff calls in sick on Sunday morning," he told us. "But that's no excuse. I'm really sorry." He personally made us another cappuccino. Finally, the food arrived, and it was quite excellent. Conversation with Nieporent tailed off, as everyone was famished. He finished first and asked for his bill. The waitress hurried off, only to reappear a minute or so later to tell us that our own meal had been comped owing to the long wait. She left again. We turned and smiled in Nieporent's direction. "Now I'm sitting here sweating it out," he laughed. Soon enough Larrieu was back. Nieporent's meal was comped as well. As we put on our coats, we commented that Larrieu's classy move ensured that we would indeed return. "Yeah, that was a nice save," said Nieporent. He laid down a $40 tip. —Duff McDonald