Ask a Waiter

Jonathan White of the Tasting Room Loves His Weeds

“People see pigeon and freak out.”haha Photo: Melissa Hom

Jonathan White was a server at Perry Street before he started work at the Tasting Room last year, when the Haute Barnyard fixture moved to its larger location. “The main reason,” White says of his job change, “was to get into that relaxed environment where you have more autonomy and you can interact with the guests” — to the point, apparently, where they feel comfortable telling him he looks like Fidel Castro (he’s also gotten Lenin, Chekhov, and Shakespeare). We asked White (who is actually a writer) to give us just a little taste of his day job.

What are some of the most unique dishes you’ve served?
People see pigeon and freak out. We make it with a salmis sauce, which is a handful of all the bones and the blood of the pigeon, juiced in a hand juicer.

Is there a dish that comes back again and again?
We’ve seen mushroom dishes as expensive as $50. When we opened last year, there were nights where there were thirteen different mushroom dishes on the menu. Colin [Alevras, the chef/owner] knows the foragers, they like him, and they give him their good stuff.

Do people ever complain that they don’t get enough for their money?
Surprisingly enough, the price tag will attract people’s eye, and they’re like, “I gotta try that.” Maybe it’s a New York mentality.

What are the most hard-to-come-by things you’ve seen?
We did wild abalone. It was served sliced, raw — it has a cool, fibrous texture like a bamboo shoot. It has a really clean, refreshing ocean taste. We serve it in its shell, which has a gorgeous glistening inner surface.

Do you get to taste these things yourself?
Almost every day there’ll be a new green or weed or grain that I’ve never tasted before. There’ll be seven people in the kitchen munching on this or that leaf.

What’s the most enlightening thing you’ve learned?
The first thing I tasted was this juicy, succulent weed. I recognized the flavor. I had smelled it when I was 18 years old, working for the town. I was like, “I used to weed-whack this stuff.” It puts in perspective how we get away from these things that are all over the place, in lieu of something that’s easy and subsidized by the government.

You must get visits from other chefs.
When Wylie [Dufresne] came in, we did this tasting for him, and there was this one dish that was pig snout and a fish head. We put it together. Chef [Alevras] was like, “Tell him it’s surf and turf.” I was like, “Here’s Two Faces for you.” He loved it.

Jonathan White of the Tasting Room Loves His Weeds