I’m not swanky.
Not even a little swanky. Here’s an example: when I first saw box wine? I thought IT was swanky. I’m kind of a total redneck rube.
This story is not going to be entertaining if you ARE swanky, rich, or used to fine dining experiences. If you are any of these things, you are going to say, “What nonsense is this? I do not understand! I have these experiences every DAY! Pip pip!” To you, I say, good day. GOOD DAY TO YOU.
Back in April, I entered a contest one of my favorite local blogs was running. It was for a gift certificate to one of the nicest restaurants in town. A lot of people entered. As in, hundreds. It’s a very nice restaurant, and who doesn’t like free things?
Listen, I don’t win things. Ever. Absolutely ever. Once, in third grade? I won a drawing for a pair of plastic bookends? And it was the most exciting day in my LIFE. Until the teacher said, “Oh, I’M SORRY, this is actually THE OTHER AMY’S ticket. I’ll just take those back please YOINK!” and there you have it.
So imagine my surprise when I got an email from someone at the site saying, “Congratulations! You’re the winner! Where should we send your certificate?” I actually wrote back to her, “No, what? Really? No. Seriously?” And she wrote back (very nicely) “Yes, seriously, YOUR ADDRESS PLEASE.” (Well, she didn’t say THAT. I’m making that part up.)
The gift certificate was for $180, when I opened it. I promptly spit-took my generic Hannaford sugar-free lemonade. (BECAUSE I’M CLASSY.) When I told my friend how much it was and said “So I guess I’ll be eating there FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE” she said, “Um, at that place? $180 might cover two meals. Maybe.”
Do you know what’s a fancy meal for me? The Olive Garden. Take me to Red Lobster and I think I probably hit the lottery. I don’t go out to dinner. I just don’t. It’s a total waste of money. You can buy groceries for days on what a night at a nice restaurant costs. I’m pretty broke all the time and have better places to spend my money.
So, one person. One person to take to the fanciest restaurant in all the land. I thought about it, and then decided on my father, because of the shrimp.
When I was a kid, every Sunday after church, my dad used to take us all out to lunch. McDonald’s, mostly, but sometimes Dairy Queen. Dairy Queen was my favorite because they had a shrimp platter, where you got five fried shrimp and french fries and coleslaw which I’m pretty sure had crack in it because it was SO GODDAMN GOOD. I was a seafood whore even as a kid. And whenever we went there, he always bought me the seafood platter, and I didn’t give it a second thought, because when you’re a kid, you don’t think about these things. But when I grew up, and waxed melodic about this treasured childhood memory, he laughed and said that the shrimp platter had been twice as expensive as everyone else’s meals. I was horrified! “Why did you keep BUYING it for me?” I asked, because listen, we were pretty poor, growing up! “Because I love you, and it made you so happy,” he said. “But I hope you aren’t expecting an inheritance, because you ate yours.”
Well, my father deserved a fancy dinner, because of the shrimp. Whenever he’s poor, he always blames the shrimp. I OWED HIM.
I checked the menu online just to be sure that the gift certificate would cover our meals. It would. But not if I ordered THE CRAY-CRAY APPETIZER. The CRAY-CRAY APPETIZER (my name, not theirs, obvs) was $260 and consisted of “a selection of champagne and caviar, served in mother-of-pearl spoons.” No one I asked thought that for $260 I got to keep the spoons.
It took five months before our schedules matched up enough for him to visit, but this week, we made a reservation at the restaurant.
“Do I have to wear a suit?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Probably not. Just wear khakis and a button-down shirt. I don’t think they’ll kick you out.”
“Call them. I don’t want them to make me wear the jacket they keep in the closet for people who don’t wear suits. That would be gross. And I don’t know if I have a suit coat that doesn’t make me look like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy doing that ‘fat guy in a little coat’ thing so I need time to look for something to wear.”
I Tweeted and checked online and it said to be dressy, but not jacket required. He showed up with a jacket and tie anyway. That’s how HE rolls. We looked nice, if nothing else. You can dress up the country mice; you just can’t take them anywhere.
We showed up and listen, everyone, this place was NICE. I’m pretty sure the chair they seated me in cost more than my whole living room set, which really is only a couch passed down to me from my family when they realized I was going to be sitting on the floor if they didn’t do something about my furniture situation. So, yeah, then definitely the chair cost more than the couch. The first thing I saw was the appetizer of the day.
“Dad, they have peanut butter and jelly foie gras with Nutella on the side.”
We didn’t even have time to make funny faces about this before the waiter appeared like a ghost out of NOWHERE. “I see the lady has noticed our specials. But first! Would anyone care for a drink?”
My wine cost $10 and I ordered it because it was the only thing I could pronounce on the wine list. It also barely filled the bottom of the glass. It was like the little bit of wine they give you at a wine-tasting. It was good? I suppose? I don’t know anything about wine. It tasted purple? And kind of made me feel drunk-ish? I don’t drink much.
We made our selections – appetizers, salads, and main courses for each of us – and when I was done ordering, I thought I’d forgotten something. “I think I forgot something,” I said, and went to open the menu again. The waiter SWOOPED IT AWAY. “No, madam, you did not. That is a full three courses,” he said. WELL! THAT’S judgey. How do you know I don’t want 78 courses, waiter?
While we were waiting for appetizers, a fancy family came in that my father was pretty sure was the mob. I then had to explain to him that I didn’t think we had a lot of mob families in my neck of the woods. He was facing them and I wasn’t. “Amy,” he hissed. “AMY LOOK AT THE PEOPLE.” “Dad, I CAN’T I AM TRYING TO BE FANCY,” I said. He kept inclining his chin at them. When I looked, I realized that the woman was standing with her purse in one hand, very still, while a waiter ran over with a special hassock, which he placed very gently next to her. He then TOOK HER PURSE AS IF IT CONTAINED NITROGLYCERIN and placed it ever-so-gently on the hassock. Then she sat.
Um. My purse? I bought it at TJ Maxx like seven years ago, and it’s falling apart? But it’s big enough to hold all my garbage, and smuggle food into movies, so I keep it? I don’t get purse love, I just don’t. Or shoe love. I’m broken that way, I guess.
Appetizers arrived. AND THEY WERE GIGANTIC. I finished mine and realized why the waiter had discouraged further eating. Because I would most likely DIE.
Oh, also? I had seafood, and it came with lemon wedges to squeeze on it. And on the lemon wedges were little yellow mesh drawstring bags. I assume this was because when you squeeze them, you wouldn’t want pesky seeds to get into your food. IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER. I wanted to take them so I could wear them on my fingers like little hairnets but my father discouraged this. “NOT NOW, AT HOME,” I said, but still he wasn’t having it. I would show you a picture of these things but even Google’s not giving it up. They are THAT FANCY.
After we’d finished, another waiter came out and took away all of our silverware. Even the unused pieces. “What are we supposed to eat with?” my father asked. Never fear! ANOTHER WAITER brought a whole new set. They were like a clown car of waiters back there.
Then, ANOTHER waiter came out, with a wee little brush, and brushed away nonexistent crumbs from the table. I felt like a pretty princess.
Also, people were coming into the restaurant in shorts and tank tops and ballcaps, so I didn’t think we needed to be so fancy. I totally put my elbows on the table. I WAS FULL.
Salad. Listen, this salad was a work of damn ART. It was arranged into a pretty circle and had more bacon on it as a garnish than I think I eat in a year. I ate what I could and bemoaned the fact that I had a whole other COURSE coming out.
Fancy silverware and brushing shenanigans in-between courses. Also, a family came in, and one of their kids looked 12? But was on his cell phone doing important business deals and drinking martinis. It was off-putting.
Main course. Dad had a steak that was bigger than Alabama. I don’t like red meat, so maybe that was a normal size for a steak, I don’t know. I had fish, and thank you kitchen people, it was a normal-sized piece of fish. Under it were fava beans. My father did not approve of my Hannibal Lecter impression, but listen, WHEN WILL I EVER BE AROUND FAVA BEANS AGAIN. You have to take the opportunities when they come to you.
I also fell mightily in love with the salt and pepper shakers and wanted to steal them SO BADLY but was pretty sure they’d call the cops on me because they probably cost more than my whole car. They were BOTH grinders. The SALT SHAKER was also a grinder. WITH SEA SALT IN IT YO. I broke my pepper shaker when the cat jumped on the kitchen counter last month. I decided not to take them when I realized I couldn’t a., afford the salt and pepper to fill them, and b., figure out how to open them to refill them.
“Would you like DESSERT?” the ghostly waiter said. I was too full to even laugh at that cruel joke.
Bill time! $180 gift card…and drumroll please…$171.98.
We both agreed that, although good, it was not worth $171.98. I can think of two local restaurants where the food and ambience are just as nice for half the price. “Also, nothing’s that classy when you’re right under a bridge abutment,” my dad said, pointing out the window at the cement thingamabobbies that hold up the highway you could see from our table. Yep, that’s my dad. Keeping it real.
However, on the way back to my place, he said, “I can cross that off my bucket list. I’ve never been to a place like that. And I went with you. Even better.” So, aw. Thank you, All Over Albany, for that!