Saturday, February 27, 2010

Would you care for some freshly grated bizarre experience on your pasta?

Last night, a dear friend and I celebrated my birthday with dinner at my favorite restaurant, a downtown bistro with a trendy-funky decor, with the plaster randomly removed from the walls to reveal original brick. The bistro-esque blackboard listing specials was gone. New ownership, I'd heard.

The waitstaff were all wearing double-breasted chef’s coats. A unique touch. Or maybe a touch that portends something odd. As a former waitress, I'm not unaware of the meager interpersonal skills of cooks.

All previous visits to this place have proved outstanding dining experiences. This place is my first recommendation to tourists and to visitors to my academic department. The service is attentive and the contemporary cuisine outstanding.

Last night, not so much.

After we were seated, an apparently agitated waiter (or perhaps a repurposed cook) appeared and asked for our drink order and if we would like an appetizer. We both ordered coffee and demurred on the appetizer.

The menu had changed; many of my favorite dishes were gone. Prices had, understandably, all notched up at least a dollar or two, but no longer was the crisp dinner salad with house-made viniagrette included in the price of the entrée. Effectively, prices had increased $5 or $6  per patron.

The pasta dishes, which on previous experiences were write-home-able, this evening were far off the mediocre mark. My entree was described to be rich with sautéed roma tomatoes and with grated parmesan cheese. Instead, two cold, raw, unripe quarters of beefsteak tomatoes were plopped atop a paltry portion of basil-spiked angelhair. No freshly grated parmesan cheese was offered. My date's order was described in the menu as an alfredo penne dish with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, and chicken. A generous man, he gave me one of two tiny slivers of mushroom on the plate and ate the other. I could not discern any spinach.

Appearing again, the waiter “apologized” brutishly, “Sorry I could not serve you bread with your meal. We are out of bread. Really sorry that that happened. Your meal is supposed to be served with bread, but we can't serve any."

The bistro’s signature bread, he explained is just now (at 7:30 p.m.) being kneaded.

I asked if the bread would then have to go through a rising and a baking. The baking, he explained, would take seven minutes in a convection oven. I asked, mainly just weigh in with a reply and maybe alleviate some of his stress, “If we linger a bit, perhaps we might have some bread.”

Several times throughout the meal, although we were still actively engaged in dining, fork in midair, he asked to remove our plates, twice reaching out to grasp my date's plate. Finally, the pungent bread finally arrived, and we both nibbled a slice with the last of our coffee. Four minutes later, he gallumphed up and asked if he could  remove the still-warm bread.

Then things got bizarre. What, you thought it was already bizarre?

We asked for the check. And waited.

The waiter stomped up and apologized in his agitated manner that their computer system was down and could we wait until it was back up and running for the check. Okay, we’ll linger a bit more. (Having some experience with the computerized ordering and check-generating software at my previous job, I thought about offering my assistance.)

And waited some more.

A young man who appeared to be a manager or maitre d’ or at least someone wearing street clothes instead of a chef’s coat materialized with a handful of other people’s credit cards. He made the same apologies. My friend offered to pay with cash with handwritten tab, and he agreed.

At about this time, a professional-looking couple in their 40s, who had arrived after us, got up to leave. Somehow, I sensed they had not paid. I even noted which way they walked out in case someone had to chase them down. No theatrics ensued, so I forgot about it.

A young couple who arrived after us left.

The manager walked by us four or five more times, ignoring our signal for the check.

I stood and climbed into my coat and wool scarf; my date, returning from the men’s room, into his  heavy jacket.


We estimated the amount of the check, left the cash, and got out of there.

Bizarre. I would like to know the story behind the story on this one.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sweet with the sour

Just an observation: the small anomaly, the contrast, makes life so much more interesting:

Chefs know that the taste of chile or coffee enhances that of chocolate. The flavor of fruit (or strawberry ice cream) is made sublime with a sprinkle of chile power, or even better, Tajin fruit seasoning (salsa en polvo),

Displayed at my former hair salon was a studio photo of the owner's then four-year-old grandson, respendent in a dazzling white stocking feet and sporting devil-may-care grin. His Mom was initially disappointed to have forgotten his shoes for the shoot, but the surprise of the stocking feet made the picture lively and highlights the personality of this all-boy little boy.

In the LBS (local bicycle shop), Sun 'n Spokes, in my former home town, Sierra Vista, Arizona, was a photos of female cyclist on her wedding day, posting, in her wedding gown and veil, with her mountain bike and iridescent shades.

The flower girl at the wedding in which I was maid of honor, walked delicately down the aisle, pelting friends and family with her rose petals. Long after the perfection of the wedding is forgotten, that impish flower girl will be remembered.

Of course, there are the living-large contrasts, such as the team in the Freeze Your Fanny organized bicycle event, each man wearing large sunglasses and enormous rainbow-hued wigs.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the lurch

I'm grousing today.

What is it with certain of my gal pals who stand me up at the last minute?

Entomologist and I were good friends, and I was always there for her: to listen for long hours when she needed a shoulder to cry on at a moment's notice, to drive 50 miles round-trip after work daily for a week every summer to look after her animals and gardens, to help her with her professional papers, to be there at distant funerals (although I had started a new job that week at was trying to make a good impression as a dependable worker) and at family celebrations.

But I was and am a good an loyal friend. She was going through a rough patch. She needed me. Later, she needed my professional editing advice. She apparently did not trust her neighbors to look after her house. She needed moral support. That what friends are for, and I was happy to be there. She visited me in the hospital after my breast surgery, indeed. Unfortunately, Entomologist was bitingly dismissive and downright mean when the tables were turned and I needed a shoulder a few years later.

Whenever we set a date for lunch, and I could almost guarantee that she would cancel five minutes before the appointed time. Sometimes I had turned down another tempting invitation because we already had a commitment. She would  invite to meet for coffee, but never commit to a time until an hour beforehand. She said I had no sympathy for how busy her life is! Busy! Ahem, I am also busy. I invited her to a concert, purchasing advance tickets when she responded in the positive. When I arrived to pick her up for the concert (about a 45-minute drive away), she declined to go. Hello!!! Could you have given me a little notice? Now I'm stuck with this second ticket and shlep alone to yet another concert.

Entomologist once asked me if I would like to go with her for a weekend hiking trip in a lovely state park in Texas Hill Country. What a lovely invitation! I so looked forward to going. So I was so hurt and surprised when, a few weeks later, she eagerly showed me the photos of her weekend-long trip to that park, oblivious to the fact that she had, once again, blown me off. I was polite and cordial, but inside, not happy.

Agriculturist three times stood me up. I know, I know, once it happens, shame on you; twice it happens, shame on me. Agriculturist seemed so apologetic the first time, so I agreed to a second date, and a third.  Agriculturist felt that because I had not called to comfirm as the date drew near, that we did not have a firm date. My take: when two parties agree on a date/time/place, it is a tacit commitment, somewhat of a pact, for lack of a better word. If one party cannot honor their commitment, it is incumbent upon that one to cancel. Ahead of time.

Almost-Professor often asked me to lunch. My office was a floor above hers, so I stopped at her office and off we went. Well, not quite. No doubt professors are busy people, as I was, working 65- to 70-hour weeks at this time. Lunch out was a real treat. Almost-Professor would invariably keep me waiting. A while. A long while. But I did not want to be perceived as impatient or as a bitch, so I waited. Okay, finally we were off. She never, once, not ever once, introduced me when a colleague of hers would greet her in a restaurant or outdoors en route somewhere. In one particularly flagrant case, she engaged in a lengthy "shop" discussion with an Italian exchange graduate student while were were en route somewhere outdoors. (The student,with Continental flair, scooted over on his Vespa to talk with us.) The student periodically smiled at me, and we exchanged nods, but never did Almost-Professor feel it incumbent upon herself to introduce us. Finally, as Almost-Professor wrapped it up and prepared to leave, I extended my hand and introduced myself, to vigorous two-handed shaking by the graduate student.

Almost-Professor, no joke, several times floated the name of a (distasteful) male colleague as a possible romantic interest for me, then immediately dismissed him (before I had a chance to firmly decline), saying, "He would not like you, [Waitress]. You don't have enough letters after your name."

These are all women of a certain age: all 35 or better, some in their 50s, so it's not the irresponsibility of youth.

Yes, I realize when one disregards a commitment with another, it is a reflection on her, not me, but I cannot help being hurt. I forgive (not forget) and give people the benefit of the doubt, but yeah, maybe I'm casting myself as a victim. But why does this happen?