Sunday, May 15, 2011


For my 25th, we went to an Italian restaurant, one of those nice ones with waiters in bow ties, place settings and 10 different types of forks. It was a place with white tablecloths and napkins, a sure sign of elegance, as my godmother would say "real fancy. White? My goodness do they trust their customers!" Of course restaurants like that wouldn't say "customers" they wouldn't say "restaurant" they'd prefer "dining experience". The menu descriptions read like odes "angel hair capellini essence of white asparagus" "reductions" and things that are "foam". The appetizers were announced as "medallions of melon with sea salt and carrot sea foam," which then arrived as a button size cucumber slice with orange fizz on it.

I think growing up in a small itown it's hard to be discerning about food. Food was hearty, quantity is king, why be refined as long as it tastes good? Italian meant fazolis or olive garden. Steak was a slab of nuked beef with gravy or maybe even breaded. Asian meant Chinese - general tso's or orange chicken (although it's mandarin orange). Cheese was either orange Kraft slices or the powdered kind, nothing fermented or god forbid moldy. And anything slightly foreign was viewed with suspicion. It may not be like this now, but it was back then.

I remember the first time eating sushi it was a revelatory experience, although I could say the same about pancakes. So I don't know that unrefined palate is something so wrong.
I think my introduction to 'higher' dining was from my grandfather, a minister who has a taste for earthly luxury. He shook his finger at me when I stuttered over how a steak should be done -um well? "No! Rare! It should bleed on the plate!" And then he showed me by poking his with his finger til there were trails of blood.
he was convinced my parents were raising me as a non lady - and decided to drag me out to eat "refined things" although that was hard to find in our town. I think as a concession we drove an hour to a red lobster.

And then in new York almost everyone was a foodie. It was something to be discussed, to have a opinion about. Food was fetishized, almost worshipped. I didn't really understand the crowds of people who would line up everyday for the sushi or the oyster bar next door (until I tried the lobster roll once - I started to believe).

I remember ordering a bottle of wine and when the waiter poured like a half cm I wondered why he was being so stingy. And then being told to "try" it? Uh OK.
Although note it is important to pay attention to the ceremony of the waiter presenting the wine and asking you to try -it would have saved me a lot of shock / embarrassment / money when a few years ago I accidentally ordered a half bottle of Lafite from the 1950s. We merrily downed it wondering why there was so much sediment stuff, and a tiny voice in my head wondered whether the waiter had really said 1956? That sounded old.. when the bill came we realized we'd chugged 600 dollars.
People asked whether I could tell the difference. Well no, at least not then.

Anyway sitting in this beautiful restaurant with a beautiful view wondering what it meant to be "grown-up" and why I didn't think oh how grown up this place is.. I guess that was the quiet realization.
And as we drank and talked and ate squid ink muffins with truffle butter, looked at the fresh cut flowers and the white linen of customer trust, I thought of time passing and how things come to be.