Expat life has its rewards, like finding yourself in Rome on vacation. It’s only a short airplane ride away from Moldova, where I live at the time of this writing, so my man and I hopped on a plane a few weeks ago for a bit of R&R. Here’s another tale:
One night after a happy day of cruising the alleys and exploring the sites, we decide to splurge and go to a snazzy seafood restaurant. Okay, splurging is what you do no matter where you eat and drink in the center of Rome. Ever heard of a ten dollar cup of cappuccino? Come to Rome!
Anyway, we find this upscale seafood restaurant and decide to take out a second mortgage on our house to enjoy the food within. Once in a while, one must just go all out and be extravagant. It is good for the soul, I’ve heard.
We are greeted most graciously by the owner, whose elegant appearance includes a scarf around his neck. I hail from a country (Holland) where men wear scarves only outside when it’s cold, so I’m quite impressed. Such are the joys of expat life and travel in general: One learns new things.
We order wine and receive a lovely, complimentary amuse-bouche from the chef, a mouth-amusement. Only the French would come up with that idea: a single tiny bite of something pretty and delicious to amuse your mouth while waiting for your order. Of course this is Italy, but I believe the French term is internationally used.
Other eaters, even real Italians (!) are seated at other tables, so this dining mecca is not just a culinary trap to separate foreign tourists from their retirement funds. Even Italians find it worth the price.
At the table next to ours, a British couple are eating and drinking wine. They do not look happy. He is somewhat short, bulbous, and bald, and best described as a pompous sort. He is not one given to sartorial splendor, but his expression is nonetheless one of pretense and hauteur that looks rather – let’s just say – incongruous.
His wife — I assume she is his wife and not his secretary cum mistress — is of the dowdy hausfrau variety, wearing a well-preserved outfit she’s probably owned since 1982 and frumpy hair of a style not featured in Vogue. I am sorry if I sound unkind, but sometimes the truth is not very nice, and I am merely describing what I see. It is of course quite possible that I myself might be described in similarly unflattering terms by more trendy fashionistas, as I must confess to not being one to shop for designer labels. Neither is my hair seen on models in Vogue, except perhaps when I first drag myself out of bed in the morning.
Both of our fellow eaters have the air about them of being quite used to feeling unhappy and dissatisfied. They look like the kind of people who are only comfortable with themselves when they are miserable. You know the sort, don’t you? You find them in all nationalities and flavors so I’m not saying anything here about the British. Some of my best friends are British. It is sad, really. Imagine being here in Rome, eating in this fabulous restaurant and not being happy! How tragic is that?
While my man and I savor our appetizers, a waiter arrives at the table of our British neighbors and a conversation ensues. Unfortunately I can’t make out what is being said and I don’t get what it is all about. However, it is clear that Mr. Pompous is complaining and the waiter is trying to appease him. From what I can tell from their expressions, the poor cameriere is not successful. He departs, shoulders drooping.
Some time later a lobster the size of a small dog arrives at their table, presented on a pedestaled platter. The two look at it suspiciously. “What is this?” I hear Mr. Pompous demand. “We didn’t order this.”
Compliments of the house, the waiter tells them. Amazingly this effort fails as well, because they still appear not to be pleased. Soon another staff member arrives to help with the translation and the general struggle. They talk, they explain, they discuss, but alas, there is no way the miserable two can be assuaged. Oh, the drama!
The would-be peace makers leave them to it and the unhappy duo commence eating the lobster. If they are so unhappy, why don’t they just leave, is what I’m thinking. Then again, you don’t see a lobster like this every day.
We’ve consumed our seafood antipasti and our main course arrives, a large broiled fish, surrounded by vegetable artwork. The arrangement looks like a picture straight out of a culinary magazine. The fish is expertly deboned by the waiter for our convenience. It is delicious. As we eat and enjoy, I notice that the two Brits have finished eating the lobster.
A brave waiter materializes at their table and offers them a dessert, also on the house. I know, I am shamelessly eavesdropping. What could have possibly gone wrong to cause such a culinary crisis? Did they find a cockroach in their soup? A worm in their salad? More talk follows, because apparently the offer of a free dessert does not cheer them up either. The waiter departs, heart sunk in his polished shoes, I imagine.
Soon the owner of the place arrives, you know, the snazzy old goat wearing a scarf. He is accompanied by another staff member for reinforcement. I am dying to know what all of this is about, but alas I do not. I do see, however, that the patron and his helper are practically sweating as they try to make good. But no, not even the big boss can make these two happy. He and his staff have done everything but go down on their knees.
Eventually the show is over and the two are gone. In the mean time my prince and I have a luscious meal, perfectly prepared fish, lovely everything, no complaints, except to ourselves because we ordered too much food. We decline dessert because we have no room, so they bring us decadent little chocolates on the house and we do find room for those. Would we like a digestivo? Limoncello, perhaps?
So we have some limoncello. After all, this is Italy, so, one must, mustn’t one?
The bill paid, the big boss guides us to the door and kisses my hand.
“Wow!” I say, as we walk out into the cobbled street. “I even got my hand kissed!”
My mate looks at me, eyebrows raised. “So you should have,” he says, “for a 200 dollar meal and no complaints.”
Well, there is that.
Note: I did not take any photos of our meal. I was so engrossed in eating and watching the show, I forgot.
* * *
Have you ever witnessed a culinary drama in a restaurant? Or have you partaken in one yourself?