Monday, June 24, 2013

Fancy Dining and Fabulous Hats

This past weekend, I took my friend, Marlene, out to dinner for her birthday. I let her pick the restaurant. Letting someone pick the restaurant where you will treat her can be tricky. For example, my mother preferred a birthday lunch, and she would either pick a pizza parlor with peeling lead paint and sagging ceiling tiles or a Chinese buffet with no sneeze guard. I would reluctantly eat at these establishments and sit around all afternoon waiting for a sudden attack of explosive diarrhea. I was never disappointed.

While I share Harryette’s cheap taste in dining choices, I draw the line at places with bathrooms that look like a postcard from Calcutta or open kitchens with cooks wearing bloody aprons while they have a cigarette dangling from their mouths. I had salmonella poisoning once, and I lost thirty-five pounds in four days. Then again, maybe it would do me good to lick a raw chicken.

I have nothing against fancy restaurants, but after spending more than a decade in Washington, DC, I came to realize that just about every expensive restaurant in our nation’s capital was just an expensive restaurant. The food was terrible, and the portions were so small. DC is not known for its dining, which may be why all the tourists here look for food courts.

I am also not a fan of chain restaurants. For some reason, they put balsamic vinegar on everything. Does anyone realize balsamic vinegar is for cooking not for salads? Is there a nastier substance on earth than balsamic vinegar? It burns my mouth. Oh yes, Swiss cheese … and green bell peppers. Ycccchhhhh.

The other kind of restaurants that bother me are the ones with seven-thousand items on the menu. Once you make it past page nine, you realize they only make two things and four sauces, and every item is just a variation on either. Have you ever noticed you can look at one of those spiral-bound menus and still not find anything you want?

Restaurants with foreign language menus also irk me. French restaurants are famous for this. I think they get great joy in watching you struggle over the menu then ordering “closed on Sundays.” (The I Love Lucy fans will get that one.) Now, fancy Italian restaurants have jumped on this band wagon. You can’t sit down and order a pizza anymore without an interpreter. Every time I see formaggi di dino, I imagine two penises rubbing together. Think about it.

Anyway, Marlene, dressed in a lovely black dress complete with Bella Abzug red hat, picked a restaurant in Cleveland Park. By the way, if she were not my friend, I were still doing drag, and I saw her walking down the street in that outfit, I would have snatched that hat off her head and run like a mugger. The hat once belonged to a mutual Black friend’s mother. It was beyond fabulous, although she couldn’t see past the brim, so I acted as her seeing eye dog.

In honor my lesbian friend’s birthday, I picked her up in my AMC Eagle Wagon complete with burgundy plaid seats. When chauffeuring a lesbian, it is best to drive a lesbian magnet. Not that she needs a magnet; she is married. She and her wife were among the first to get married when DC made gay marriage legal. My invitation was apparently lost in the mail.

Anyway …

The restaurant was described as upscale Italian with casual dress. Now to me, casual dress means slacks and a nice shirt, but apparently, I was born forty years too late because to everyone else casual means shorts, T-shirts and flip flops. I fucking hate flip flops anywhere but the beach! We were the best dressed couple in the restaurant, which says a lot.

While the wait staff were wearing jeans, white shirts and aprons, the runners and busboys were in all black. The busboys looked better than the waiters.

We were seated and handed our menus – three each. That is another thing that I don’t get. Why do I need three menus? Also, why do you need a complete menu devoted to cocktails? In my day, you ordered a Manhattan, martini, or Tom Collins. If you need seventy-two varieties of martinis, you need not be drinking. The cocktail menu was larger than the special menu and the regular menu combined.

Marlene and I aren’t big drinkers, so we were just going to order a glass of wine each, but then we had another dilemma. The wine list was all in Italian. Our waitress explained they were listed in order of heaviness from light to robust. Whatever happened to house burgundy? Does anyone drink rosé anymore? Even I wouldn’t order white zinfandel. Oddly, this Italian restaurant did not have a Chianti on the menu, not even by the glass. Surely, someone makes a fancy Chianti. They make fancy kosher wine for Passover after all, which I personally do not like. If it isn’t Manischewitz Concord Grape, it isn’t a Jewish holiday. We might as well be goyim.

While perusing the menu, which took longer than expected, they seated a middle-aged couple next to us. Funny, they were probably our age, but everyone looks older to me. Apparently, they were used to perusing the Menu Britannica because they ordered quite quickly.

After having the waitress translate half the menu for us, we were ready. I still wonder where she learned to speak fancy Italian. With her bleach blonde hair and dark roots, she was more white trash than I am.

I must say the meal was restaurant quality. Seriously, it was superb. I had an artichoke appetizer that was melt in your mouth fantastic. We picked a wine called Terra Elima {Nero d’Avola}; it was fourth down the list and described as “explosive.” I immediately thought of my mother’s restaurant choices and my hour-long drive home after dinner. I drank it anyway. It was delicious, probably the best red I ever tasted. Considering I drink a lot of Manischewitz, that isn’t saying much.

When my dessert was delivered, I was not as happy as I thought I would be. It was supposed to be a bread pudding with gelato. It was a muffin with ice cream. However, the complementary “cello,” lemon liquor, made up for that.
Dinner with Marlene is always fun because we laugh a lot. I wish I could say the same for the middle-aged couple. When their dessert was delivered, they each pulled out their phones. I could see the wife’s, and she was shopping for a dress. Marlene could see the husband’s, and he was reading a book. They did this for thirty minutes without saying a word to each other! When the wife picked out a dress and bought it, she said, “Ready?” He told her he needed to finish reading a chapter, and he did before they left.

I can now say I have seen everything.

The restaurant is called Dino’s in Cleveland Park. When I heard the name, I expected dinosaur meat.

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