Most of my friends work in the software industry. Although this means that I can easily relate to them, it also means that they don't have a lot of fun free stuff to give me from their jobs. In a more perfect world, I'd be friends with bakery owners, U.S. mint employees, and hookers (who could also appreciate a good (as if there's any other kind) Java programming joke).
Thankfully, my wife is a bit more well-rounded. One of her buddies is the executive head chef at the fancy-schmancy restaurant in one of the top hotels here in San Francisco. We ran into him one evening and he offered us the chance to be "spotters" at his restaurant. The deal was that in exchange for giving him structured feedback on his restaurant, he'd pick up our dinner and drinks tab. Given that his restaurant is super nice and super expensive, this was an irresistable offer.
Additionally, there's a musical here in town called "Here Lies Jenny", and one of the performers in that show is another one of my wife's acquaintances. So, we bought tickets for the show, made reservations at the fancy restaurant and suddently Saturday was all booked up to be High-Culture-Because-We-Know-Certain-People Day. We got all gussied up in our finest gussery and off we went!
My wife is a big fan of musical theater. Her dad was a professional modern dancer, and she and her sisters grew up performing song and dance on a regular basis. Personally, I never encountered the genre as a child, but I'm capable of appreciating it. I mean, I'm practically gay (aside from the sex with men thing, and the handsome thing, and the well-groomed thing), so musical theater is ok with me.
"Here Lies Jenny" stars Bebe Neuwirth (she was Lilith in Cheers and Frasier) and showcases the music of Kurt Weill, a gifted composer whose talents are greatly appreciated by people not named Mike. I had no clue what was going on in this show at any time, even when the songs weren't in German. First Jenny hated those guys, then she was dancing, then flirting, but mostly sitting. A lot of sitting. I've never seen a musical where the performers sing so many of their songs seated. If you know someone in a wheelchair, or perhaps one of those bed-ridden obese people, who is looking to break into song and dance, send them to "Here Lies Jenny" auditions. This is their shot at Broadway.
(To be fair, my wife dug the show, as did the rest of the audience. Bebe Neuwirth is a charmer.)
Then, we were off to dinner. We were instructed to have drinks at the bar, and then order a 3-course meal with wine at the restaurant, evaluating various aspects of the service at each step. We timed some events, ordered things we wouldn't normally order, and made clandestine eye contact with our contact, the chef. This was a cush gig.
However, trying to critique dinner at a really nice restaurant is like trying to critique blowjobs. I suppose I could nitpick about the ratio of tongue action to lip action, but mostly I'm just thinking "Boy do I love blowjobs/fondue!" Even though I probably have the ability to evaluate fine food and service, I couldn't help but recall that I'm also the same guy who happily eats giant spoonfuls of peanut butter right out of the jar for lunch.
No peanut butter at this restaurant, but the service was top freakin' notch. It was the kind of place where the hostess takes note of the color of your pants/skirt as you enter, and will swap your napkin to match. This is to ensure that men wearing black slacks don't get white fuzz on their pants, or women in a white skirt don't get black fuzz. Call me a rube, but I'd never seen that before. Cla-assy.
We had a great time and a delicious meal. The best part of the meal for me was the fondue dessert. It came with two sauces for dipping, a syrupy sweet butterscotch sauce, and a dark chocolate one. Dipping items included a variety of fruits and some whimsical pastries. I say "whimsical" not just because I'm trying to sound like a highfalutin (wow, I just found how "highfalutin" was spelled!) restaurant reviewer, but rather because they were fun. Mini cheesecakes, bites of rice krispie treats, delicate little smores! See? Fun.
Ok, maybe "whimsical" was a little queeny sounding, but we were instructed to give feedback on whether the restaurant felt "approachable". Whimsy counts.
Anyway, it was a lovely eveing. Definitely the best $200 meal that I don't have to pay for.
If some of my other friends would like grant me a similar benefit, I'm listening. Make me an offer.