A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
Good morning. I am going to be sick.
As any regular reader of this column knows, I'm a bit hung up on the city's restaurant health grades. I am eagle-eyed about the signs, and my feet do not cross a threshold the Department of Health has deemed less than ideally sanitary. I have frequented the city Website which itemizes the infractions behind every restaurant's letter grade. I have gone so far down the rabbit hole that I landed in the loony bin.
So how did I manage to wind up frequenting a restaurant (Bar'rique, 264 Bleeker Street) with some regularity that has now been shut down for racking up 84 offenses (84?!) and only being able to improve that abysmal number down to 21, which still included gems like:
1) Raw, cooked or prepared food is adulterated, contaminated, cross-contaminated, or not discarded in accordance with HACCP plan.
2) Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility's food and/or non-food areas.
3) Filth flies or food/refuse/sewage-associated (FRSA) flies present in facility's food and/or non-food areas. Filth flies include house flies, little house flies, blow flies, bottle flies and flesh flies. Food/refuse/sewage-associated flies include fruit flies, drain flies and Phorid flies.
What, I ask you, is a "flesh fly?" I'm gagging. I am gagging as I write. Totally GOL (Gag Out Loud). I work so hard to avoid evidence of mice or live mice present in the establishments in which I dine. And this place, Bar'rique, was so clean and well-decorated and had a good wine list and a comfortable bar. It always seemed like a top-notch place to grab a drink, maybe a little nosh. It was the perfect location for a little post-Italian class glass of Italian wine. Okay, one time when I was there it appeared as though the kitchen was on fire, but they got it under control. And besides, fire purifies.
Apparently, they went from 4 points back on to their damning 84 on October 27th in less than a year since opening in January, which implies something either sad or gross or lazy, depending on how generous I'm feeling. Frankly, I could have sworn I saw an A in that window, since I really am a nut about this stuff. But it must have been a "Grade Pending" sign. I had convinced myself that was better than a B grade, because it showed initiative on the part of the restaurant manager to clean up his or her act and shed that metaphorical scarlet letter marring the doorway. (Bar'rique did not immediately reply to a cbsnewyork.com inquiry about it's plans; their voicemail message at (212) 620-3111 says, "Welcome to the newly opened Bar'rique." The New York City Department of Health Website indicates that the restaurant remains closed)
Clearly, I was wrong. And clearly, my personal policy is now under strict revision.
But what is a mentally ill girl to do? I had rationalized the "Grade Pending" restaurants mainly as a means of social self-preservation. Since my prohibitive attempts to avoid bed bugs became compounded by my obsession with food sanitation, I had to throw my less compulsive friends a bone. I had to suck it up and attempt to rise above these largely manufactured fears.
Party's over, friends. I'll be choosing our destinations from now on.
An interesting post-script: I have a number of personal boycotts which I have imposed on business scattered throughout the city, all for various reasons usually involving egregiously bad customer service experiences. It turns out that the owner of besmirched Bar'rique also lays claim to another bar which has made it onto this esteemed list. In that case, Mr. Pajak took a sip of wine and fished out a shard of glass from inside his cheek. It took about 40 minutes to get a waiter over, at which point he simply said, "Oh. Sorry. Do you want another?" We had to tell him not to charge us. Coincidence? I highly doubt it!
I've got my eye on you, guy who owns those restaurants.
Editor's notes: Bar'rique is "a global restaurant that focuses on sustainable farms, organic and biodynamic wines," according to its page on OpenTable.com. (According to DNAInfo.com, "Its owner, Lawrence Bondulich, also owns the Upper West Side wine bar Barcibo Enoteca and restaurant Bin 71" which currently is rated Grade "B" according to the city's Web site.) Bar'rique did not immediately reply to a cbsnewyork.com inquiry about it's plans. When we called them at (212) 620-3111, their answering machine message says, "Welcome to the newly opened Bar'rique." The New York City Department of Health Website indicates that the restaurant remains closed.
NB: This restaurant should not be confused with similarly-named La Barrique at 38 West 39th Street which received an "A" grade from the NY Dept. of Health or the Barrique Kitchen and Wine Bar in Babylon, NY.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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