Dining out is not just about the food, but the whole experience – the taste and texture of the food, the service, ambience, etc. And human interactions should generally be governed by a general rule of decency. I recently dined at Le Petit Restaurant Epi in Daikanyama and had the single worst dining experience of my life – after a misunderstanding about the bill, the chef publicly humiliated and verbally assaulted me in front of a room full of diners. It was inexcusable behavior, from human to human – the encounter left me shaking and crying afterward. I didn’t know it until then, but being verbally attacked in such a violent, unexpected and irrational manner feels a lot like being physically assaulted. It was a horrible, traumatic experience. He could not have hurt me more if he had punched me in the face.
Some background: I am a freelance food critic/writer for the Tokyo Weekender magazine. I write about food because I love to eat and I love to write. And I do it for free – I am not compensated by the magazine for any of my meals or for the articles and have never asked to be. Many times, I critique and write up restaurants that I have dined at independently and enjoyed so much that I want to share the restaurant with others. In those cases, I don’t let the restaurant know that I am reviewing them since I want them to treat me exactly as they would treat any other customer, so that I can report accurately what an average dining experience is like. I pay for the meal myself, and am not reimbursed or compensated by the magazine.
However, other times, a restaurant will invite me to dine at the restaurant because they specifically want to be reviewed, or the Weekender arranges for a meal at a restaurant that has requested to be reviewed. In these cases, the restaurant always provides the meal at no charge, since I am not dining there “just for fun” or out of my own choice, but at the specific request of the restaurant that is requesting to be reviewed. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to afford to review many of the higher-end restaurants in Tokyo, since as people know, dining out in Tokyo is a costly affair.
Earlier this week, I was told by the Weekender that Le Petit Restaurant Epi had invited me to dine and review the restaurant. I arrived at the tiny restaurant and the waitress was clearly expecting me and announced to the chef that Deborah-san had arrived.
I perused the menu carefully, taking notes of the various offerings and prices for reporting purposes. The menu includes a solid lineup of classic French bistro fare, including a variety of steamed mussel dishes, ratatouille and bouillabaisse. As I always try to do when on a restaurant review assignment, I ordered items that I thought would lend themselves to an interesting review, items that I thought a fellow diner might want to read about and try. That evening, my dinner consisted of a shrimp and avocado tartare, bouillabaisse and a small portion of steamed mussels in saffron cream sauce.
All said, the price for the meal came out to 7330 yen, not a large sum. I am always careful not to abuse the restaurant’s offer of dinner in exchange for a review and generally refrain from ordering too much or ordering alcohol.
Usually when a restaurant specifically invites me to dine at their restaurant for a review, they do not give me a bill at the end but graciously provide the meal, since they were requesting to be reviewed. In this case, when the waitress brought me the bill, I tried to explain quietly that I had been under the understanding that the restaurant had arranged with the magazine to have me dine at the restaurant for a review, and that usually in such case, the meal was provided by the restaurant. She asked me to sit down for a minute and went back to the kitchen to talk to the chef. Then she motioned for me to come to the kitchen door (the restaurant in only about 300 sq. feet, so the kitchen door is just two steps from the dining area). The chef, Tomonori Suzuki, stepped to the door and then started screaming: YOU PAY, YOU PAY NOW, I CALL POLICE NOW. He then grabbed the phone off the wall, threw it at my waitress and barked: YOU CALL POLICE NOW. He continued to scream at me, without ever pausing for a moment to try to listen to me. I asked if I could call my editor or the staff person the chef had talked to in order to arrange for the meal – I wanted to try to clear up any misunderstanding. He continued to scream at me while the tiny room full of diners watched.
I felt like I was being accused of being a thief. I was verbally assaulted and humiliated in front of a room full of strangers for a misunderstanding that was entirely not of my doing.
Not wanting to prolong the horrific verbal attack from the chef, I quickly asked to see the bill and paid. As I did so, my hands were shaking from the shock of being verbally abused. Even after I paid, he continued to scream at me: YOU PAY, YOU PAY, I CALL POLICE. I faced him and asked him to please stop yelling at me since I had paid. I quickly made my way out and contacted my editor, who profusely apologized and promised to get in touch with the chef to figure out what had happened.
From human to human, to launch an abusive verbal assault on someone the way the chef did to me is simply inexcusable. I sincerely hope that Chef Suzuki enlists the help of a therapist to help him control his irrational anger and violent behavior. I wholeheartedly discourage anyone from dining at Epi – service is an integral part of any meal, and Epi fails miserably.