Monday, July 19, 2010

I finished my business, stood up, fastened my pants and looked back into the toilet.  Yes, it was a sizable quantity, but other than that it seemed unremarkable.  Nothing about that dump indicated that 38 hours earlier I had completed one of the most interesting and expensive meals of my life. 

You see, our good friend Larry had just turned 40, and to commemorate the occasion we joined a few other couples for a lunch at the French Laundry, which is almost always listed among the top restaurants in the U.S..  It has even been named the best restaurant on the planet a couple times.  Just getting a reservation there requires either inhuman timing and planning, or having connections well beyond my extensive network of computer programmers.  Although I'm not much of a gourmet, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

So, on Saturday morning, I put on my fanciest slacks and jacket, endured my wife asking, "Really?  Black pants to a lunch?", slipped on my least comfortable shoes, and drove up to Yountville.  I'm proud to report that I made it almost all the way to the front door of the restaurant before I spilled coffee all over my suit jacket.  Thankfully a handful of Kleenex quickly covered the coffee stains with a fine layer of white tissue fuzz.  Phew!

Soon after we were seated, the food and wine started to flow.  I probably had more wine than I should have due to the wine pairings with each of the 12 (or so) courses they brought out, so the last few courses are a little hazy in my memory, but the meal was really impressive.  There was an inventive salmon cone, rack o' rabbit, crazy avocado caviar, a deconstructed papaya salad with delicious goop, super tender lamb, a remarkably delicious savory egg custard with truffle oil served inside of an egg shell, and much much more.  Each course was meticulously served by a team of waiters ensuring even that the plate patterns lined up.

I stumbled through the meal doing my best to chew with my mouth closed and come up with something more sophisticated to say than "Tasty!", but I mostly failed.  I also started to get pretty warm.  I usually just wear thin cotton short-sleeve shirts, so sitting there in a long-sleeve shirt with a suit jacket on was a little oppressive for me.  I asked everyone at the table if the "jackets required" policy meant that I had to wear my jacket for the whole meal.  No one was really certain, and since we were in a private  room off of the main dining room, I opted to risk it and removed my jacket.  Meanwhile, we had just finished some fish course and I realized that I had eaten it not even knowing which implement I was supposed to use.  I decided to share my ignorance with the wait staff.

"Excuse me, was I supposed to use my fork or spoon or something else with that course?" I asked, exuding charming ignorance.

I think someone answered me but what I really noticed was one of the waiters shooting me a particularly vicious look.  Liz leaned over.

"Did you see THAT?" she asked

I had.  I reflected upon the last few seconds and realized that the "look" could have been about:
  • My idiotic question
  • Using the wrong implement
  • Not wearing a jacket
  • Being a drunken ass
The layers of etiquette violation here were both impressive and deep.  It wasn't clear at all which rule violation had crossed the line.  I decided to contemplate the matter while taking a leak, so I donned my jacket to cross the dining room, visited the lavatory, and then returned back to the table.  Along the way I passed by the "look" waiter.  He smiled approvingly at me. 

Ding!  Apparently taking off your jacket is the king party foul at the French Laundry (although let the record show that every single other interaction we had with the large wait staff over the four-hour meal was professional and pleasant).

The rest of the meal passed with no obviously egregious etiquette violations.  We had a stellar time and an amazing meal that closed with a lovely set of truffles.  I hope to post some pictures soon.

However, as I stared into the toilet 38 hours later, I couldn't help but notice that this dump didn't really look hundreds of dollars more expensive than any other dump.  I didn't weigh it, but given the price of meal, I'd say that the dump should have been made of at least silver ($17.50 per ounce).  I bid it farewell, flushed, and.... plugged the toilet.

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