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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie: A friend of mine recounted this weird tale of a recent Saturday-night meal at a lively north central Southwestern-food hot spot.

Between the appetizer and entree courses, a dazed dog wandered in from the street, staggered over to my friend's group's table and collapsed by its feet, alive but apparently in shock. It was a mangy, fierce-looking street mutt, part pit bull, my friend guessed, who described it as "something that looked like it would maul your face." The restaurant's staff covered Fido with a blanket--and left him there. A moment later, the party's main dishes came out of the kitchen. The waiter, unable to maneuver the plates directly to the table because of the canine obstacle, planted himself on the other side of the supine animal, and, leaning over the inert creature, passed the eats to the customers. The foursome spent the next several minutes alternately eating and glancing warily at the dog lying alongside. One of the group, a veteran flight attendant with many international trips, observed that in France, dogs are not only welcome in restaurants, they often dine with their masters.

(In his new cookbook, in fact, chef Vincent Guerithault acknowledges that his first restaurant cooking experience involved preparing doggy platters. Happily, this is one French custom that hasn't made it across the Atlantic.)

After the members of the group finished eating, they decided to have some after-dinner drinks, despite, or maybe because of, the dog's continued presence. They weren't encouraged to do that.

As this restaurant's regulars know, schmoozing after the meal is a big no-no. That's because, on management's orders, the staff is trained to badger customers lingering after dinner to get up and move over to the bar area, in order to accommodate hungry patrons still waiting to eat. It's hard to say which is more uncivilized--booting diners relaxing after dinner out of their seats or serving them dinner next to an injured, angry-looking dog and pretending it's not there. My friend's group got up and left. As they stood outside the front door by the parking lot, discussing the evening's events, someone from the Humane Society pulled up. A few moments later, the pooch was borne out of the restaurant on a stretcher.

My guess is the dog must have recovered enough to sit at a table, and ordered a brandy. Then, he refused to clear out and finish his drink at the bar. So the waiter socked him. Rumor Mill: Despite the thriving economy, I keep hearing that many Valley restaurants are having a lackluster season. The problem: maybe too many restaurants. The restaurant competition, while good news for diners, is hurting some operators, even some big-name ones. Sometime down the road, look for a restaurant shakeup. There are also vague, unsubstantiated whispers about Wolfgang Puck and Spago opening up a Valley branch, perhaps by the new Hard Rock Cafe.--Howard Seftel

 
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