My idea of dining out is sitting down at the neighborhood McDonald’s for a Big Mac—McReservations optional. In my younger years I was convinced that gourmet food was something that came in a Styrofoam container. Alas, I married and discovered (or was taught by force depending on how you look at it) that gourmet food is not served in Styrofoam (although the remnants may be taken home for pets, kids, etc. in such) and they have since stopped serving Big Macs in Styrofoam. Apparently, the Styrofoam is not biodegradable (and the Big Mac is?)
Anyway, there are these occasions when my wife insists on exposing me to the finer things in life. I am not talking about a hot dog slathered in mustard at a football game (which should be included in any discussion between galloping gourmands.) No indeed, we are talking about a restaurant wherein you must wear a tie. This, gentlemen should be your first warning that you will not receive beef in a bag—having to wear a tie to eat. Business is barely a reasonable excuse for wearing a tie. But enforcing some medieval dress code for satisfying ones basic nutritional needs is bordering upon lunacy.
But I wanted to eat, and later on I would want to sleep in my bed and not the sofa, so I grudgingly obliged. I finished clipping my tie on and was about to strike a GQ pose, or maybe just pass some gas, when my wife demanded, “Aren’t you going to wear anything with that?”
Not only must I suffer the indignation of having to wear a tie, but I must wear a suit coat as well. Eating alone at McDonald’s and sleeping on the couch were starting to sound more appealing.
So, I found myself in a posh restaurant, wearing a clip-on tie and the best polyester coat I own just to please my wife, and I was thinking: what is on this menu?
It could have been Hollandaise sauce or maybe Béarnaise. It was hard to tell just by the color. I know it’s not special sauce! But it was not the stain that was confusing me.
The top of the menu listed a CONSOMMÉ of CHICKEN. I think I know what chicken is, but I have nary a clue what part of the chicken a CONSOMMÉ comes from. I was becoming afraid. Very afraid.
The salad (I think) was PASTRAMI CURED SALMON NAPOLEON SALAD WITH WASABI CRÈME FRESH. I did not jumble these words either—this is the order they were presented. The only words I understood were ‘fresh with salad.’ Wasabi is not an American word. Napoleon was French. I was ordering something and I had no idea what I would be eating. It could be snails for all I know. Or, escargots.
The list of entrees included Beef Tournedos, A Duck Two Ways, and Cranberry Scallops. I have no idea what the Tornado might be, but at least it has a recognizable meat associated with it. So does the duck, but the only way I would eat duck is cooked, and since I didn’t want to find out what the other way was, I thought it best to pass on that. Scallops are seafood and this dinner was not during my seafood period of life.
The entrees also come with a bird’s nest of root vegetables and a multi-grain pilaf. Now I don’t remember much botany from school, but vegetables in general, are plants. Plants have roots, which distinguishes them from orphans. So root vegetables could be any conceivable plant. It would be a veritable chef’s surprise of organic material.
Usually I look forward to dessert, but tonight the last course awaiting my palate was a heart cup filled with a chocolate mousse, pecan tuile (?) and a sorbet medley (was this something I was to eat or listen to while munching my chocolate covered mouse?)
Thank God the meal was served with a wine flight. (Strap on your helmets and get ready to fly!) The table was set with the usual accoutrements, including a lot of silverware that I would never use (and had no idea what to use it for if I had to) and four liquor/wine glasses awaiting the various wines and champagnes. I figure the primary purpose of the flight is to liquor you up enough to know that you’re not crunching a chocolate covered mouse, various inedible plants and a beef hurricane.
We started off with a delicious Champagne. Things went downhill after that.
The consommé arrived in a large shallow bowl. I looked at my wife as if to say, you’ve got to be kidding.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said after the initial shock wore off.
There were three little piles of organic debris in my bowl—none of which resembled any part of any chicken I had ever seen. They could have been chicken food at one time, I suppose. The waitress seemed concerned by my lack of enthusiasm.
Just Add Organic Debris!
“What is this?” I dared to ask.
“Bok choy, enoki mushrooms, asparagus tips and orzo.”
I now knew less than before I asked. Obviously, chicken must mean garden fungus in some foreign language, and I don’t want to even speculate at this point what consommé might mean.
However, the bubbly was loosening my inhibitions. I started to gently pick up something—I prayed it was the asparagus tips—with something that might have been my butter knife. It was definitely not a spork, but that would have been helpful given the ambiguity of the situation. I no sooner began crunching the green crap when the waitress returned with a pitcher. She poured broth out of the pitcher on my wife’s vegetable piles and gave her a soupspoon. With sprigs of asparagus sticking out between my lips, the waitress looked at me —it was a look of disdain. No ambiguity there. She dropped my spoon aside my bowl and poured the broth over what I hadn’t managed to eat yet.
I tried to explain. “I’m very hungry.”
She snorted and left. It’s a good thing for her that the tip was included in the meal, because otherwise she just blew a perfectly good quarter. Would it have killed them to say BROTH instead of CONSOMMÉ???
Before the consommé was finished, the second wine was poured. The glass was a little bigger, and this time it was a chardonnay. It may have had a full body and fruity flavors, but I hardly noticed as I downed it in one gulp.
I was beginning to feel better and thinking to myself that this might not be all that bad. The next glass was humongous and I figured if I could survive the salad without any further gourmet faux pas I was all set.
I tried to loosen my tie, but it fell in my consommé. I looked around frantically for the wine steward—hoping I could get a refill on the chardonnay. I think the staff was avoiding our table for some reason.
And when you think things couldn’t get any worse, the salad came, such as it was. The salmon was a raw chunk of meat wrapped in a waffled potato chip and the salad greens looked more like dandelions and weeds from my backyard than it did like lettuce or other more-or-less edible leaves.
“Aren’t you going to eat your salad,” my wife asked.
I leaned over to her, and in a hushed voice, unmuted by alcohol, I explained, “I can’t eat anything I mow in my lawn. It’s a tradition.”
There was a candle on the table so I was able to cook my salmon—until it caught on fire. I doused it in my water glass. No problem.
Thankfully, the third wine—a Marietta from California—came. Unfortunately, the wine steward didn’t fill the glass to the rim. I asked him if he would. He rolled his eyes and walked away—quickly.
The ‘beef’ was beef and it was delectable. The final wine was a naughty little port. Or it might have been starboard. At that point in the meal, I was in flight and even the chocolate mouse tasted great.
Next time, I wonder if I could just get the wine flight.
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