The name, as you can see from the picture below, is Grouchy Chef Cafe. I didn't try it for a long time because I thought that it was going to end up being one of those cutesy places with Garfield posters that talk about bad attitudes and how hard Mondays can be. Oh, how deliciously not the case.
The owner of Grouchy Chef Cafe is a crotchety, late 50s Japanese man with a gaze so acidic that he could bring a broadway musical finale to a halt with a single glare. When you enter the restaurant, you are met with this sign:
If you are like me, you think, I wonder what would happen if I asked for a substitution and you would giggle. Then, the Chef steps forward and hands you a menu. His hands are covered with the fresh scars and calloused skin of a man who does all his own prep work and always has. You smile at him and his mouth hangs on his face like a slug in the sun. You were wrong, this is no joke.
His kitchen was meticulous. You could see it over the counter. I ordered the beef in spicy sauce, my companion ordered rosemary chicken. We sit down. There were quiet conversations at the other tables and whenever the chef's gaze would linger on anyone for too long, they would raise their voice slightly and say, "Very good." The chef would nod.
One woman, on her way out, stopped to compliment him. She started off well, "It was very good." The chef nodded and turned away. "Really good, I can't remember when I've eaten this well. You know this is my favorite restaurant..." The chef twirled around slowly and locked his eyes on her. She tried to continue talking, but nothing came out except the incoherent gurgling of a baby trying to please a parent.
The food arrived and it was tasty. The sauce was butter and red wine based. The vegetable of the day was green beans on a bed of pickled cabbage. A few lighted fried and spiced potatoes off to the side. I let each bite linger for bit before I swallowed. Excellent. The chef indicated from behind the counter that it was our turn to speak. My companion and I both said, "Very good" in unison. The chef nodded.
That was when someone seated at the counter spilled their water. The whole room went dead silent. The Chef grabbed a towel and stepped forward, "You should be more careful. You drink like a child!" The woman at the counter smiled and nodded. The Chef cleaned it up quickly and got her a fresh glass. "Treat this one better."
Another party came in, a man asked if he could send something back if he didn't like it. Similar silence. The chef said, "You have an option if you don't like the food. Don't eat it. I don't care if you go hungry this afternoon. You pay first and then you choose to eat or not eat."
The man stayed. The woman stayed. We all stayed. I want to eat there tomorrow. Lunch and a show. Perfect. I am now afraid, much like the Seinfeld Soup Nazi episode, that I will be banned for bad behavior. I almost didn't take a picture of his sign. I was afraid I would be banned and a new sign would be put up that said, "NO PHOTOGRAPHY!"
I have imagined a whole back story for the chef.