2000s Archive

A Restaurant That’s Really This Good

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On our other side, there was a nearly silent table of a mother and daughter. It was the daughter’s 21st birthday, I overheard the mother say to the server, and they were here to celebrate. The quietest 21st birthday party ever. I couldn’t tell if the girl was trying to behave, or if she was just a reserved sort of person. But at some point, after a single raviolo blew up in my mouth, showering truffle broth, I involuntarily turned to her and said, “There is so much cool shit going on in this restaurant!” She looked at me as though she thought I might be a little bit crazy, but I didn’t blame her, because I was, in fact, a little bit crazy. But I was having such a powerful experience that I felt like everyone had to have been sharing it with me, like we were all in the orbit of one another’s supernovas.

That’s when I started staring. Whenever I saw servers come in with shot glasses, I kept my eyes trained on the faces at the table receiving them. I watched as they listened to the server give away the surprise by explaining that the little ball inside the celery juice is going to burst. And then I would watch their faces as it did exactly that, since no words can give away the essential surprise in the sensation of this ball shattering the moment it hits your mouth, giving you a sudden wash of bright, sweet apple juice. “You’ve got to stop staring,” Chuck said. “You’re going to start making people uncomfortable.”

He was probably right. But in my state, I couldn’t imagine anyone minding. It was as if, after that shot, we were all in on the same secret.

In a momentary silence, the kind when you’re talking only to suddenly realize that no one else is, the perfumed woman said to her companion, “I guess this is a bad time to tell you that I’ve been sleeping with your father for the past ten years.” Then she laughed, and the rest of the room followed. I wanted to lean over and give her a nudge. “Good one,” I wanted to say, feeling like we were all friends now. Later, as she was getting ready to leave, she sighed a perfect sigh: “I don’t know if I want to go out dancing or go straight to bed.”

And then, when we were finished, spent but still not—never—ready for it to end, I stood up, suddenly feeling the strangest urge to embrace my server. I wanted to hug the mother and her daughter, to hug the people at the other tables that laughed along with me at the perfumed woman’s joke. It was like we all knew each other now, having gone through this together. I thought better of it, but just barely.

Chuck said, “I should quit going to other restaurants.” He paused, then said, “Hell, I should just stop cooking. What’s the point?” Another pause, and then, as if to himself: “No one is going to believe me when I tell them about this.”

And that’s exactly how it was. It was the kind of experience, like summer camp when you’re 15, that is so powerful that it aligns with all the words you wish you could have saved to describe this: amazing, stunning, life-changing. But you’ve used all those words before, you use them every day, and now you don’t know how to talk about what just happened in a way that people will understand. You don’t know how to make them believe you when you reach for the same tired words and want them to mean something new. So now, the truth of the experience has to remain a spoken but still uncommunicated secret between you and everyone you had it with. I just want to keep seeing people’s faces when they realize that.

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