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Let Us Now Praise Famous Waiters

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Chelsea Clinton had dinner together last night at Milos Estatoria, the groovy Greek restaurant on West 55th Street in Manhattan. They were not on a date, unless those other two guys at the table were Secret Service agents. But the biggest star at the place last night was our waiter Duane.

We saw Jake and Chelsea, who were right by the front window, when we came downstairs from our own table in the room where they put people they don't want anyone to see eating in their restaurant. We were seated way back there, beyond the five (I'm not kidding) 300 pound men.

As if we weren't undesirable enough on the surface, we opened our menus and realized immediately there was no way -- not being movie stars or children of the President -- we could afford to eat there. The salads were more than $20 each. The fish entrees were billed as "$42 a pound." Did that mean, like at Whole Foods, you ordered a pound of fish to serve two people?

No, explained our affable waiter Duane. In fact, you ordered a whole fish, usually about two pounds, and then split it with one of your fellow diners. A piece of bass that cost as much as a cashmere sweater? I don't think so.

So we asked Duane if it would be all right if we ordered a platter of Greek spreads for the table. With four baskets of (free) bread. And a couple of salads. Plus that great New York tap water and the cheapest bottle of wine -- $65 - on the menu.

Not only did Duane happily serve us our cut-rate meal: He made us feel that we were the most important customers in the place. He was as devoted about replenishing our bread basket and refilling our water glasses as if we'd been calling for another round of gold-plated branzino and Veuve Clicquot. When I was looking for the ladies' room, he escorted me downstairs and all the way to its door. Chelsea couldn't have gotten better service.

That's the mark of a great waiter, one who makes every diner, no matter who they are or how much they spend, feel comfortable and well cared for. I was reminded of Ruth Reichl judging posh restaurants by how well they treated her when she showed up not as her celebrity self but disguised in her mother's old wardrobe, taking a maiden aunt out to dinner.

It was a thrill, leaving the restaurant last night, to see Jake, looking like a cross between the cutest guy in high school and a werewolf, and Chelsea, slight and golden haired. But the bigger thrill, at that epicenter of fame and status and money, was encountering someone like Duane who made us feel that we were all equal.

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