And so, with the debut of the first Breakfast Club brunch, we had a hit on our hands. The owners had never seen the restaurant so full in all the months it had been open for dinner. So what did they do? They hired me to be the executive chef of the Ristorante Pasquino in the evenings, in addition to our brunch -- requiring them to fire their current chef at the time, which they did summarily.
Over the next few days, I spent entire afternoons cleaning out the entire kitchen, top-to-bottom, with the help of my loyal friend/front-of-house man, Martin. It was a frightening task to see all the crap that had accumulated in the few months since the restaurant's opening. The previous chef clearly didn't understand the finer points of Italian cuisine. He had stocked 20 kilo bags of basmati rice, for instance, "for risotto" -- pretty much an impossibility. Ingredients were frozen and of low quality, so we ended up tossing a lot of sub-par foodstuff. We scrubbed the place. We revamped the ordering system. And I developed a menu that would be interesting, offering something for Romans and foreigners, both culinary purists and those with daring palates. The owners said they knew from the first "family meal" (staff dinner) that they were in for something good. Martin became the head waiter and I brought in some of our brunch kitchen help to work during the week as well. Things were looking up.
In the meantime, we'd hit a stride with our brunch over the first few weeks. We had a successful "Brunch di Pasqua" on Easter Sunday, celebrating the Italian springtime and the custom of eating eggs at Easter. We had our regulars: some friends and family, some students from nearby international universities, many expats from various government organizations, television networks, and expat bars. And we had neighborhood locals as well, including well-known Trastevere resident Romina Powers. She and her family loved our American food so much that she was one of our first dinnertime clients as well.
We had some hiccups, of course. Sometimes, some of our staff members were out of town...or out of service (Sunday morning is a rough gig). Occasionally we had the whiney customer. Our timing wasn't always perfect, and there were waits. But there were smiling servers, and lots of Bloody Marys to go around.
One morning, Patrick took our slab bacon to the alimentari to get it sliced, as usual -- only to find that the shop was closed per funerale: it seemed our sweet, lovely signore had sliced his last piece of bacon for us. And speaking of bacon, one Sunday, a client complained that his bacon was burned. The plate was swiftly returned to the kitchen, where I dumped the bacon and had my cook start on a new order. Appalled at the "utter waste of good, crunchy burnt bacon," 2 of our severs proceeded to eat said bacon. Out of the garbage ("what??? It was on top!"). No one could say we didn't watch our bottom line.
But unfortunately, the local authorities were watching us too. It's common practice in Italy for restaurant and bar owners to pay off the vigili (sort of a police/health department combo) to remain open without problems, fines, etc. Well, the Ristorante Pasquino owners refused to pay off the authorities asking for handouts (moral strength? fiscal parsimony?). And we'd had an inkling that other restaurateurs in the neighborhood were less than happy about our (foreigners') success.
And so, one night during service, the vigili showed up at the restaurant, barged into the kitchen, and performed a sort of "raid" on the place. A few weeks later, they'd officially closed the restaurant down for some infraction of draconian fire codes. And that was it for the Breakfast Club and Ristorante Pasquino -- for a while, anyway.
To Be Continued...