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Busted!

Our undercover critic gets outed.

I think I may know why chef John Broening was smiling at the end of my last meal at Duo (see review): I'd just been busted.

Generally, I'm a pretty stealthy guy. This whole "anonymous critic" thing -- with all the fake names and bogus identification and secretive phone calls and such -- plays right into my love of Cold War spy novels and the juvenile thrill of getting away with something. Far from secretly yearning for the spotlight, I honestly love the fact that most people in this town haven't the foggiest idea what I look like, or my hat size (though that one could probably be deduced from the size of my ego), or my preferred cologne (for the record, it's raw truffles rubbed behind the ears, combined with a sprig of lemongrass pinned to my lapel). True, a few restaurant guys have met me, but they are sworn to blood oaths of secrecy. As far as I know, there's only one picture of me in existence, and it's held by a guy smart enough to keep it to himself. Also, I think it's actually a picture of someone else, because this guy and I have met twice while I was using a fake name, and he didn't seem any the wiser.

In my best moments, I'm one James Bond super-ninja sonofabitch, sneaking in and out of rooms in a flurry of cash and fake credit cards. Just ask the waitress featured in my review of Panzano ("Drinking, Smoking and Screwing," February 9); the poor service she gave my party was the best possible argument for anonymity.

Unfortunately, I am not always at my best. As a matter of fact, sometimes I just plain suck, and -- because God hates arrogant pricks like me -- those moments of my failure are often compounded by hilarious coincidence and my own discombobulated social retardation, until they result in the perfect storm of fucked-up-edness that marked the conclusion of my last supper at Duo.

Up until the moment the bill arrived, things had been going really well. Dinner was excellent, the company charming, our server accommodating. And though I wish I could blame it on drunkenness, a sudden cerebral aneurysm or the bartender slipping me a mickey in my wine, it was really just a momentary lapse in concentration that made me reach for my wallet and pay with my own credit card when the check was delivered. Alone, this might not have been a big deal. I'd already eaten my meals at Duo, and nothing was going to change my opinion of them. Besides, on a busy night with a crowded floor, more often than not the server isn't even looking at the names on the plastic. But then Duo's credit card machine chose that moment -- the one when my card was being run -- to suffer some sort of spiritual breakdown and subsequently refuse to process for about twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes when my card sat in full view of everyone on staff. My card with my name printed in slightly worn letters across the bottom. Twenty minutes when I had to sit, also in full view of everyone on staff, waiting for the problem to be fixed.

To their credit, the staff was very nice about this. They apologized, explained the situation, said it would be just a few minutes. And then co-owner Stephanie Bonin, who was working the door that night, got wind of the situation and asked if I was "any relation to the restaurant critic."

In a low-grade panic, I did what any reasonable person (or Cold War super spy) would do in such a jam: I lied through my teeth. Literally, through a lock-jawed smile, I spouted off some nonsense about being no relation whatsoever to Jason Sheehan, that charming and witty scoundrel, but that I got that question all the time. "There must be a whole bunch of us running around," I said, desperately trying to sow disinformation. For her part, Bonin went back to the service station at the end of Duo's kitchen to report that I had just said I wasn't me -- at which point most of them erupted in laughter. It was at this point that Broening cracked a well-earned smile. He'd kicked ass, cooked a killer dinner and no doubt knew it.

If the story ended there, it would merely be a good joke on me. But it gets better (or worse). See, I'd arrived for dinner early, bringing the most recent copy of 5280 to read while I waited for my companion. It was the restaurant issue (and a very good one), and I tucked it under my chair when my friend arrived. But then, in my hurry to get the hell out of Dodge after the credit card debacle, I left the magazine there.

With my name on the mailing label.

Right over the Westword address.

Stephanie's husband and partner, Keith Arnold, found the 5280 and is currently holding it (along with my credit-card receipts and a complete list of everything I ate) in his office at Duo -- I assume for ransom, or maybe just as a souvenir.

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