"At the end of the night they were like, ‘You have to come with us.’"Photo: Melissa Hom
After graduating from Juilliard, Katarina Auster started a pop-rock band called Majorette that was signed to Sony. Instead of blowing her advance, she took a job as a server at Morimoto. Her boss there, music booker turned restaurateur Stephen Starr, tells her to thank him when she gets a Grammy; before that happens and she finally leaves, we thought we’d ask her what it’s like playing “shadow” in the vicinity of misbehaving celebrities, awful blind dates, mysterious fish thefts, and the Iron Chef’s fugu theatrics.
How easy is it to get a photo op with the Iron Chef?
I don’t like to disturb him in the middle of anything. It’s best to catch him when he’s taking a peek around.
Have other Iron Chefs come in?
We’ve had Batali and Cat Cora. She was there by herself … researching. The host [Alton Brown] was in, and he was popular with the ladies.
How about other celebs?
A movie star I admire was downing vodka on the rocks and putting Emergen-C vitamin packets in it. A married music mogul was on a very suspect evening with a very young man. They were sitting at a table across from each other, but they pulled up next to each other. They must have known we’d never say anything.
Do you get interesting corporate parties?
I’m called “the shadow.” I shadow the CEO to see if he has a drink in his hand, that all of his friends are happy. There have been great nights where my tip was more than my rent.
Do they ever behave badly?
These foreign guys took over this table. They were trying to have us do shots with them. At the end of the night they were like, “You have to come with us.” They were really into me. I finally checked them out, and they didn’t tip whatsoever.
Have you made any contacts?
Bono came in, and I had to get the other servers to leash me back.
Have you served interesting couples?
I had a blind date. He gets up and goes to bathroom, and she grabs me by the arm. She was like, “Help, I’m on the worst setup right now.” He had just ordered the tasting menu. I was like, “Honey, I’m going to try to move this along for you.” He was like, “Wow, this is coming out really fast!” Although after a bottle of the ume kanon, she didn’t seem to mind him so much.
Some tables are more private than others. What’s the best way to score a good one?
Come during lunch. Then you can pick and say, “When is this available?” We started to spill over into our lounge, so we got new furniture so people could have a dining experience there. You could do that last minute — it’s more private. If you’re a small party, face-to-face you can get the hostess to promise a private dining room.
Are there any off-the-menu items that you’d recommend?
Sit at the omakase bar; if you do even a slight bump-up, like $200 per head from the regular $120 menu, you put the chef to work. He pulls out things we’ve never seen before — like fugu. He once had a carpaccio of it with tempura of different parts of the fugu.
We did a Restroom Report on your high-tech bathrooms. How do people react to them?
People will disappear from the table for a really long time. One lady came back — I guess the technology was over her head because she was like, “Oh, my god, I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know how to make it stop.”
Do people steal things as mementos?
At our opening we had a huge awabi stolen from our sushi bar. It’s a huge sea mussel that costs a couple hundred dollars. Someone must’ve put it in his suit jacket.
— Daniel Maurer