"The dining room is a stage, complete with lighting and ambience," says Mark Setlock, actor and crusader against bad restaurant behavior. "But off stage, in the kitchen and office, it's a battlefield." When Portland Center Stage opens Setlock's biting one-man show, Fully Committed, tomorrow, expect a machine-gun spray of hilariously sour grapes.
The play follows Sam, a struggling actor working as a reservation taker in an über-schmancy New York restaurant. It was penned in 1999 by Becky Mode, after she listened to the bizarre behavior her friend Setlock was subjected to at his job at TriBeCa "it" restaurant Bouley.
"Outrageous requests were pretty common," says Setlock, who plays more than 30 characters in less than an hour. "A celebrity asked me to cut the stamens off every flower in our restaurant because his wife was allergic to pollen." Committed's menu of bossy matrons, sadistic chef and fawning personal assistants struck a chord with New York audiences, who accept three-month waiting lists and dining-room graft as a way of life. But Bite Club was dubious as to how this Anthony Bourdain-style "Reservations Confidential" would taste to Portland's more provincial restaurant society.
After viewing the whip-crack fast Setlock in action during a Committed rehearsal, we had to eat our words. As he morphed from Sam's dejected underling's slouch to the ramrod-straight carriage of a prissy society wife, to Jean-Claude, the restaurant's catty French maitre d', we decided that chic New York bitchery is much more than a regional dish.
But Setlock stresses that Committed is just as much about power and politesse as it is about restaurant warfare. "It's about how people treat other people when they can't see them," he says. "Everyone has a life and dreams, even if they just take reservations."
Do telemarketers count?
When chef Madison Ragland and his wife, former Caprial's Bistro pastry chef Melissa Carey-Ragland, fired up a smoker packed with whole mesquite logs three weeks ago at Lagniappe (3445 NE Broadway, 249-7675), they took their no-fuss, New Orleans-style kitchen's French-Creole name to heart. The bayou slang term (pronounced lan-yap) means "a little something extra." For Madison, that means Southern scratch cookin' from hush puppies to tender pulled pork. But it also means preparing for the couple's own special extra: the arrival of their baby. Melissa is due this week.
"We've got a lot on our plates," Melissa says. At least the couple was thinking ahead when they picked Lagniappe's location, a duplex on Northeast Broadway: The restaurant shares its space with Snappy, a maternity-resale store.
Cash in on run-ins with wacky waitstaff, shoddy service and bizarre diner requests this month with WW's Dine and Dash contest. Tell us about your strangest restaurant experience in a 100 words or less. To win a fabulous prize, check out www.wweek.com/contest.php for details.