Recently, to celebrate a special occasion, my wife and I were eating in one of those restaurants where the reputation of the food outweighs the ambiance. You know the type -- those places where the tables are so close to each other that you can't help overhearing the topic of conversation at the next table. You're having your own conversation, and listening to three or four others at the same time, and everyone just pretends that it's not happening. It's pretty funny when you think about it. Here we all are, in a big room, sitting literally within arms reach, and ignoring each other completely.
Also, I have three different forks, and I don't know what to do with them. Can you tell I eat in expensive restaurants all the time? At any rate, I tend to be self-conscious in a place like this and find myself unable to hold a normal conversation. I think the primary reason for that is because my 'normal' conversation could quite conceivably consist entirely of quotes from the The Family Guy and the Venture Brothers, and I don't want anyone overhearing that unless they can appreciate my vast knowledge of all things irreverent and animated.
So eventually, I just drift off into eavesdropping. The funniest interchange of this particular meal was a conversation that happened between the waiter and the woman at the next table. It went something like this:
"I'd like the prime rib, medium rare, and a glass of the 1998 Muller-Catoir, please."
"A suggestion, madam? You'd be much better off with the 2000 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee. Trust me. It has a much fuller nose and is a better match for the beef. The other wine will simply not hold up."
"Thanks so much. I'll try that instead."
"My pleasure. Will there be anything else?"
She paused for a second and then said, "Yes, actually. I was thinking of getting goat cheese on my salad, but I'm allergic to dairy. Can you tell me if I'd be allergic to goat cheese?"
I don't think the waiter was expecting this line of questioning, because he immediately dropped a few pegs on the smoothness scale and almost lost that veneer of efficient, elite professionalism.
Playing for time to gather his thoughts, he asked, "What happens to you when you eat dairy?"
"I get giant hives and my throat closes up and my tongue swells," she replied.
You could see it in the waiter's eyes. He was clearly thinking that he wanted none of that happening in his dining room, now or at any point in the future. He was also clearly thinking - 'What the hell is wrong with you? Don't you know your own food allergies? Do I LOOK like someone who is well-versed in the contraindications of goat cheese?'
He said none of these things, however. My wife and I were trying very hard not to laugh, and failing.
The waiter caught my eye for a second, and the side of his face twitched a little. He almost cracked a smile, then regained his composure. He was good.
"You'd probably be OK, but personally, I don't think you should chance it," he said after due consideration.
"Yes, you're probably right. I'll have it without the cheese, then."
"That's for the best, I think."
There are many things a good waiter will do to earn a great tip, but apparently stabbing needles full of epinephrine into a stopped heart is not one of them.
That's what I get for going to a place where you have to pay for your meal after you eat it instead of before.