Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dinning with the Upper Crust

Several years ago, my wife and I decided to take a trip to New York City. She carefully researched hotels, flights, and attractions to ensure that we got to see as much as possible while we were there and after saving for about a year it was time to take our trip. We caught a Broadway Show (Spamalot), got to attend a David Letterman taping, and went to the United Nations. It was a highly successful trip and one of the last stops on our list was to eat at a fancy New York restaurant.

We got the name of a place in Brooklyn that had been featured in several movies and promised to fulfill our desire to be shamelessly overcharged for an embarrassingly small portion of food. We decided to attend their world renowned Sunday brunch and I called a few days in advanced to reserve our coveted seat. The phone was quickly answered by a chipper young woman who informed me that a major credit card was necessary to ensure a table for us, and more importantly, if we failed to attend without adequate notice they would still charge me $100. I let this pass without comment (as if being charged $100 for not eating was customary) and gave her my Visa number so that we could lock in our chance to see how the “other half” lived.

The morning of our legendary brunch came and we caught a cab over the bridge into Brooklyn. After settling up with the driver, I discretely noted that I had about $40 cash left which should easily cover cab fare back to Manhattan. As the dining area was still being prepped, we killed 20 minutes or so exploring the grounds and taking pictures of each other in front of the elaborate fountain.

Finally the staff summoned us and we were led to a table whose linen covering far exceeded the thread count of any bed sheet I have been privileged enough to slumber upon. We were then provided menus, a spoon small enough to endanger a toddler’s windpipe, and an egg that was undoubtedly taken from the nest of a Blue jay. Ashley and I glanced at one another and I clandestinely peered about the room to get some sense of what was expected of us in regards to the egg.

The couple next to us consisted of a fit, silver-haired gentleman in his fifties, and a slender young blonde that seemed fashionably uninterested in whatever it was he was talking about. I took note at how offended he was when the staff had the audacity to offer him the house wine and decided on the spot that he would be my mentor for the remainder of the meal.

He ravenously began devouring the contents of his bird egg, which appeared to be an uneven mixture of corn flakes and melted frozen yogurt, so I cautiously took my first bite. It was not disgusting, but certainly not worth holding an indigenous bird hostage for either.

I ate enough of the filling to make a show of it and then went about selecting my “complimentary” appetizer. Since I did not recognize most of the names, I decided on the chilled gazpacho soup. Keep in mind that my culinary ignorance is boundless as I assumed that the dish was named after the infamously-ruthless German Secret Police, so I was not unsettled when the waiter brought me an oversized white bowl with a tiny, but expertly arranged pile of chilled crab meat in the bottom. I was mildly concerned by the complete absence of a liquid in my “soup,” but decided that I needed to maintain appearances so after the waiter departed, I briskly began to devour my crab meat.

Around the second spoonful, I became aware that someone was standing rather close to me, and he immediately began clearing his throat in an unmistakably disapproving tone. Choking down what was left of the crab in my mouth, I glanced up to see him holding an ornate ladle full of liquid. He then deposited the contents of the ladle into my bowl and stared at me as if I had removed my pants and placed my genitals on the table. I quickly stole a glance at my silver-haired wingman and discovered that while he too had ordered the gazpacho, he had not made the grievous error of consuming his crab meat before the rest of the soup arrived.

Summoning what was left of my pride, I decided that I would just put this all behind me and prepare myself for the main course. I had selected pancakes and sausage, both for my love of the delicate breakfast pastry, and the fact that I felt confident in my ability to correctly eat it in public. The expertly garnished plate arrived and I was dismayed to find that the pancake was only marginally larger than a drink coaster and the serving of sausage was stingy enough that I was fairly certain the pig that had provided it was still alive.

I politely requested some syrup (as none was provided) and in return I received an expression that would have remained just as appropriate if I had insulted his mother while drowning a puppy. Several minutes passed, as I am sure he had trouble locating some “simpleton’s nectar,” and eventually he returned with my syrup. By now, my goal was to finish the meal with some dignity and get back to Manhattan before the Hello Deli closed for the day.

My initial cut into my pancake released a dark, chunky filling that proceeded to ooze its way across the plate with such speed that immediate action became necessary in order to rescue my pork nubbin from the rising tide. Just as I was about to ask Ashley what she thought the substance was, a member of the waiter posse sidled up to me and began speaking with barely controlled glee, “Those are fresh huckleberries sir!”

I made a valiant effort to eat around the huckleberry surprise while savoring both ounces of my sausage link, and soon we were ready to go. Our waiter asked if we needed a desert menu and I quickly replied that we really need to get back to Manhattan as quickly as possible, as if my absence was delaying a Sunday morning board meeting at my investment firm. He provided us with the check and I soon realized that this little experience had costs us more that our July utility bill. As I retrieved my debit card, I thought about cracking a joke about leaving my black American Express card at my penthouse suite but decided against it.

Moments later, Ashley and I emerged from the restaurant a few hundred dollars poorer and fighting a dangerously low blood sugar level. We hastily made plans to stop at the first McDonalds we encountered and began walking up the private drive toward the main road. Once there, we were surprised by the blatant absence of cabs. Having spent the majority of our tip in Manhattan, we assumed that being surrounded by available transportation would be a given. It soon dawned on us (after standing there for 20 minutes) that we were not going to hail a cab in this part of Brooklyn.

Dejected, we made our way back toward the restaurant and I went inside to get the number for the cab company from the hostess. She coyly refused to provide the number and insisted that one of the “boys” out front would provide this service for me since I was a valued patron. I spoke to one of the young men in question, and after a succinct phone conversation he assured me that our transportation needs had been covered. Since I was fairly certain he would expect a tip for the exertion of dialing a phone (and I was equally certain I could not afford to provide it) Ashley and I began walking toward the road again so that we could intercept the cab before he saw it.

We had been chatting for several minutes when a sleek Lincoln Towncar passed by us on its way up the private drive. I believe I made some comment along the lines of “Must be nice to be too good for a cab,” but it was Ashley who suddenly froze and wondered if the car was for us. I assured her there was no way he had called a private car service for us as I had used the word cab at least five times when requesting transportation.

Then, as if in slow motion, we looked back to see the over-waxed luxury sedan creeping toward us and being flanked by none other than Mr. Telecommunications himself, “Mr. Phone Boy.” This kid was attached to the passenger door so tight I felt like I was watching Clint Eastwood protect the president, and just as we had feared, the car was indeed for us.

Mr. Phone Boy graciously held the door for Ashley and I as we entered the vehicle and just was he was preparing to receive his generous compensation, I grabbed the door from his hand, slammed it shut, and told the driver to get us back across the bridge. Although I felt somewhat remorseful for stiffing him, I was not altogether certain the $40 I had left would cover a private car service back the hotel so I could not afford to indulge my principles.

We barely had enough to pay the driver and we were so hungry that we immediately sought sustenance elsewhere. All in all the experience taught me what I had suspected all along: I am ill prepared for the upper-crust.

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