Perhaps it’s a sign of aging, but I’ve grown impatient dining out these days. I’m reminded of a time, many years ago, when my parents came to visit us in San Antonio and we’d be excited to introduce them to our new favorite place. To our great disappointment, the dining establishment we’d delighted in was always too loud for them, and they’d simply settle back in their chairs and smile politely, having given up trying to make themselves heard, or, more truthfully, given up trying to turn up their hearing aids to hear our benign conversation. We hated their bewildered looks after they ordered a gin martini with olives, only to be informed their only options were beer and wine. I so get it now. All proof that we really do turn into our parents. Seriously, though, is it too much to ask for a beautiful dining room with delicious food and perfect drinks served by people who care about your happiness where the noise level doesn’t cause one to cringe? A place where one can celebrate a special occasion with the secure knowledge that the day will be made better by capping it off with dinner at that particular venue? Yes, apparently it is. At least in San Antonio where we live. I dare you to name one such place. I could publish a collection of the many letters I’ve written expressing our disappointment to chefs and managers of some of the most highly acclaimed new restaurants in town. There was Luke on the Riverwalk (now closed.) And La Frite in Southtown. And Southerleigh at the Pearl. And now there’s another new place downtown with a certain good-looking Italian chef who participated for a while in a competition on the Food Network. That’s where I chose to celebrate my birthday last night and left feeling as if I’d have had more fun eating pizza on the couch, watching the festivities in Pyeongchang.
My husband and I entered the new restaurant full of hope and optimism. We were seated right inside the door, in full view of the busy kitchen. Menus were distributed, water poured and a lovely gal offered us a selection of fruit slices for our iced H2O, assuring us our server would be “right with us”. We debated whether to order cocktails or wine and then, important matters decided, we sat back and waited. And waited. For nearly half an hour. Servers, sommeliers and guests rushed back and forth past our table. We felt like we’d somehow become invisible. We saw them, but no one dared glance in our direction. We tried to make small talk, but it was difficult on an empty stomach and in such a loud space. It was deafening at times. Finally, a woman in a suit, the manager, perhaps, came over and asked if we needed help deciding on a bottle of wine. Poor thing. She was about to experience the Wrath of Con, as my family describes the phenomenon that rears its ugly head upon occasion, particularly when dining out. I explained we’d made our wine selection 20 minutes previous, but no one had bothered to stop by the table and inquire. Then, the make-up session began. Wine was whisked out and poured for us and a shaken server stepped up to take our order. “We don’t want to order right now. We’d like to enjoy our wine for just one minute. Please,” I added. As we sipped, she’d frequently look over at us with trepidation and, eventually, she approached, apologizing, “I don’t mean to bother you, but would you like to order?” My husband kindly explained that we’d like to begin with an appetizer, then follow that up with salads and an entree. Whoosh. The appetizer was placed before us in one minute’s time. Minus silverware. “Guess we’ll just eat it with our fingers”, hubby proclaimed. Halfway through, someone surrepticiously slipped some silverware onto the table and ran. The salads and entrees came way too fast as the manager poured tablespoons of wine into our glasses. Finally, she cheerfully asked, “Is it someone’s birthday?” I raised my hand, thoroughly deflated at this point and said, “That would be me. I’m the birthday girl!” Oh, happy birthdays were offered all around, by the manager, the sommelier, the server, the citrus-serving girl, all of whom had thoroughly ignored us just an hour ago. Then a plate, elaborately decorated with chocolate swirls and “Happy Birthday” in cursive, appeared, along with a serving of tiramisu with a lone candle in it. Our server leaned in and whispered, “Trust me. You don’t want me to sing.” To which I replied, “No, I really don’t,” but under my breath so she couldn’t hear me. All too soon the bill was placed before us and the manager stopped by to offer her thanks for our patience and pointed out that our nice bottle of wine had been comped. I felt like a dog. A female dog that rhymes with witch. My sweet husband smiled, cheerfully paid, and exclaimed, “This was so reasonable.” Then, walking out to the car he said, “That was fun,” and meant it. Thankfully, he didn’t realize that his wife had turned old and cranky on her birthday.
(You are welcome to file this under “First World Problems.” Or, “Reasons not to eat out in your hometown after a weekend of perfect service, food and beverage in New Orleans.” )