I love restaurants as much as they love me. I have the kind of relationship with restaurants that can come only from mutual genuine love and respect. It’s as though they sense my deep appreciation for the craft of preparing food and creating a memorable dining experience. I like to believe that, in return, the Restaurant Gods (kin of the Parking Gods – San Franciscoans know what I mean) shower me with blessings in various forms.
I present to you three stories that illustrate this loving relationship and the blessings I’ve received.
Story #1: Le Deuxième Étage (Taillevent, Paris)
Nothing about this restaurant immediately screamed three Michelin Stars and nothing about my experience there smelled of arrogance that the French are notorious for. As is wont to happen, I took a little self-guided tour of the restaurant on my way back from the restroom. In many other restaurants, I would have gone unnoticed or ignored, but as the floor manager started to pull the table out for me to be seated, he asked in accented English,
“Would you like to see upstairs?”
So I followed the thin, statuesque French man with the wide, warm smile up the circling staircase to the gilded second floor, which housed two large, gorgeous private dining rooms. On the way, he gave me a brief history of Taillevent and corrected my French grammar.
Giddy and gleeful, I thanked my host profusely and returned to my waiting table laden with cookies and chocolate truffles.
Story #2: Close Your Mouth (Trattoria Gallo d’Oro, Singapore)
As a lifestyle writer for magazines, I received many invitations to food tastings. One of the more memorable ones was at this new trattoria helmed by a real Italian chef.
As is wont to happen, when the chef stopped by our table to glad-hand members of the media, I invited him to join us. He agreed (we were the most raucous table there, after all), and after dishes of tiramisu had been distributed to the strains of “Happy Birthday,” he took a seat across from me.
“This is the classic Italian tiramisu,” assured the chef.
“Really? When I was in Italy,” said an already half-past me, “I had the most delicious tiramisu that was soaked with limoncello in addition to espresso.”
The chef and I raised eyebrows at each other and then he turned around and waved a pair of fingers to his Italian associate. My Italian isn’t good at all, but I did pick up on “limoncello” and I knew what was coming. A minute later, a round of tiny glasses of the potent yellow liquid arrived.
(I hate limoncello.)
All of us, chef included, chased bites of tiramisu with sips of the unusually strong (house-made) liqueur. Already-rosy faces reddened further, plates of the rich dessert were wiped clean, and I stumbled out of the restaurant before I could embarrass myself and my magazines.
Just when I thought nothing could’ve topped having a third of Singapore’s food writers sing a birthday song to me… four months early.
Story #3: Your Pans Runneth Over (Masa’s, San Francisco)
Check paid, I lumbered to the restroom for a break and, as is wont to happen, to take photos of myself looking fabulous. While doing so, a stout Black woman in chef whites emerged from a stall and washed her hands behind me, and just as I was putting away my camera out of embarrassment, she asked,
“Did you come from the restaurant?”
“I’m the pastry chef.”
“REALLY?! I LOVE. LOVE! YOUR PERSIMMON CAKE. OH MY GOD, SO! GOOD!”
“[laughs] Would you like some more?”
Her name is Phinian (I’ve probably misspelled her name), it was her last night as the pastry chef at Masa’s, and she sent me off with a box containing eight squares (the size of what was served, so eight servings) of moist, luscious, sweet Hachiya Persimmon Pudding.
I finished the last square this morning.
Call it coincidence or call it luck (or maybe I’m just cute and charming), but I like think of my love affair with restaurants as destiny.