Dining out for this gal, as ridiculous as it may seem, is a literal quagmire of never fully answered questions: Should I eat this? Should I forgo that? Is the chef absolutely sure no flour is in that dish–not even a dusting? Did the server really ask? Do they even believe that my allergy to gluten and soy is real? Do they care enough to not peg me as just another picky pain-in-the-ass guest?
As careful as I am when eating restaurant food, I usually end up feeling pretty awful for a few days afterward, every time I eat out. I know, the irony of this.
Believe me, I have been poisoned by the most well-intentioned chef and by the servers who seem to care the most. They don’t intend to make me sick for a week, of course. They just don’t understand how easy it is to forget what is, ingredient for ingredient, in every single dish–main, side, and otherwise.
Sometimes, a restaurant totally gets the gluten allergy thing. At one fine dining spot, the chef personally came to the table and pointed to each item on my menu that I could eat. I was not even offered a dessert choice that evening–a creme brulee with fruit simply appeared at the table. That was a great night out.
On another night, however, at a very popular foodie spot owned by a celeb chef, the server told me, “You can eat everything on the plate,” except she failed to mention that the great-tasting tiny square of something delicious was just that wonderful because of a combination of sweet corn, sugar and flour. Oops.
This evening, as RG Son and Mr. Restaurant Gal watched me squeeze multiple lemon wedges into drawn butter and eat steamers and fries at Legal Seafood in Reagan National Airport prior to my late flight back to Florida, we regaled each other with family dining-out “moments.”
We laughed about last night’s dinner out, remembering how the mostly arrogant server at Rock Creek/Mazza Gallery was suitably amazed by RG Son’s flawless demonstration of the “Double Candle Stick” napkin fold at the end of our meal, which he so folded not long after we had drained a second bottle of wine between three of us.
“No one has worked in a restaurant at this table,” drawled the server, finally showing a human side. We almost liked him after that, even though you could tell he was disappointed that we were not obvious VIPs like the national news talking head holding court at the adjacent table.
“Hey!” RG Son said, after the server had walked away, obviously quite certain we were no one to care about, after all. “Do you realize this is Restaurant Gal seated in your section?” Yeah, well, not quite the same calibre of VIP. Still, we laughed. Because it was D.C., where everyone is important, where everyone is on the news, at one time or another.
“But Mom, who can forget the best line ever?” RG Son reminded us tonight.
“You know, when you asked for corn tortillas instead of flour ones, and the server came back to the table, apologizing and saying they only had ‘the round ones.’”
I had forgotten about that incident until RG Son mentioned it tonight, just as I was already sad about hugging him goodbye in less than a half hour to get on a plane. I had also forgotten that this was the same restaurant at which the server had poured brandy on the fajita plate, put a lighter to it, all while we watched, horrified, as the platter flamed out in a brilliant blue hue, and the fajita mixture was reduced to a mixture beyond well done.
I had forgotten that this was in Oxford, Ohio, at a now torn-down restaurant, when RG Son was just starting college. Back when my life seemed like a simple choice of corn tortillas vs. flour.
Back when we laughed so easily, so well together. As we did for this moment, on this night, just before I left D.C., once again.