In a family of foodies, picking just one tale to tell is a daunting task in itself. Family gatherings often take on the aura of competition like Iron or Top Chef. My sister married a musician whose culinary exploits with grills and turkey fryers are as legendary as his ability with anything with strings. But no matter how skilled any of us are in the kitchen or on the deck or lanai, eating out is always a much loved adventure.
One Valentine’s, TJ decided to take the light of his life to a favorite Italian place not too far from their home. This wonderful restaurant has a little bit of highbrow elegance and drama along with much more affordable wood-stove cooked pizzas and pressed sandwiches. To accompany the delightful food, the wine list and microbrews are equally democratic in scope. In spite of the selection of dramatic veal and fish dishes with fabulous sauces on handmade pasta they decided to keep this outing affordable and selected pizzas and salads. After all, it was his treat and he was a musician.
Since they were celebrating the feast of lover’s TJ suggested that they forgo their normal beer with their pizza and get a bottle of modest red. After squinting at the list, he’d left his reading glasses at home since they adding nothing to the romantic occasion, he made his selection and handed the menu back to the effusively complimentary sommelier.
“Extremely bold choice, sir! Excellent vintage. I am positive you will have no regrets with this selection!”
My sister and brother-in-law were puzzled at the over-the-top treatment they immediately began to get from their always excellent staff that seemed to have been triggered by the sommelier. Their salads were fabulous and the individual pizzas were perfection and the wine was awesome, fruity and bold and smoother than they were expecting. The staff never let their glasses empty, both the wine and water seemed endless. They could have existed for several months on the selection of homemade breads and rolls that were instantly replenished.
It began to occur to my sister that the service was beyond anything they’d experienced at this neighborhood eatery. She shrugged and blamed it on Valentine’s Day and the romantic souls that lover’s of good food everywhere seem to share. After all, the passionate spirit has a way of touching every aspect of life.
While they lingered over coffee, too replete to consider the tiramisu or homemade gelato, unusual in our family, their waiter brought TJ the bill. He blanched. My sister says she watched the color actually drain from his face. She was afraid he was ill. He handed her the slip of paper. The total price for their meal was close to $400. Without his reading glasses he’d selected a wine that cost over $300: he hadn’t noticed the final zero. He was under the mistaken impression that he’d selected a $35 bottle of wine.
Suddenly the coddling of the staff, despite my sister and her husband’s casual attire of shorts and t-shirts, was disturbingly clear. My sister whipped out her credit card and paid the bill. TJ left the tip. She gave him a nice case for his reading glasses so he remembers to take them when they go out. She also assures him to this day that the absurdity of the situation and the pleasure they both get from telling the story, make it worth every penny.