STUCK IN MY indecision over the burger with feta or the burger with yogurt sauce at Bon Apetit, that wonderful bargain burger carryout at 2040 I St. NW, I asked the cashier which one she would order. "I don't eat here," was her candid response.
She's missing a good bet. The $2 burger is a thick, juicy hand-formed patty (there's an even bigger one for heavy-duty appetites). It is cooked to specifications, and sauced with everything from avocado to chutney, on a nice seeded roll. I can't imagine where else one would eat in the neighborhood for good food at great value. Maybe she was a plant from the vegetarian lobby.
PALM READING -- An outraged diner sent me a copy of her bill from the Palm, where lunch has always been considered a bargain for such high quality and big portions -- most of the lunchtime main dishes are listed on the menu at $10 or less. She ordered the crabcakes mentioned by the waiter as a daily special, and it turned out that those crabcakes cost $17.50. What's more, an order of strawberries with Grand Marnier added another $9 to the bill.
The restaurant's side of this story is that the crabcakes, made with a half pound of top-quality crab and very little filler, were not overpriced. Nor were the strawberries out of line with the other prices when it was calculated that the $6 berries had half a shot of Grand Marnier added for $3 (the Palm charges $6.50 a shot).
The problem was that the diners weren't informed and therefore could only be surprised to find the crabcakes nearly twice the price of other main dishes, nor could they know that the Grand Marnier would add 50 percent to the price of the dessert.
The solution is clearly to let the diner know. And the Palm's response is that the waiters are instructed to relate prices along with the specials. This waiter slipped up. Thus the diners lost a chunk of money and the restaurant lost a customer. Has anyone considered restaurant bill insurance?
VERY INSULTED PERSON -- The three window tables at La Bonne Auberge in Great Falls looked tempting as a couple of first-time patrons came for dinner. So they asked to be seated at a window. The hostess replied, as one of the diners told me, that those tables were for very important people, congressmen and the like. Then she asked him whether he was a very important person (nah, he was just a Washington Post reporter). She gave him an inside table. Later in the evening, to make amends, the hostess brought glasses of champagne.
When I called the restaurant for comment, general manager Didier Segui assured me that the famous and anonymous alike were to be treated the same in his restaurant. He talked with the hostess and reported, "I explained to her that we don't have VIPs; everybody is treated the same." Generally the window tables are reserved ahead -- by the first three parties who call for them, said Segui.
And a footnote to all this: When I called information for the telephone number of La Bonne Auberge, I was given the number of its Great Falls neighbor, L'Auberge Chez Francois -- where even very important people have a hard time getting any table, much less one in the window.