I seem to be a food peasant. A plebeian. Totally lacking in culture, even if do have a master’s degree.
I splurged on a slightly expensive hotel on my way to California two weeks ago. It was about a thousand degrees out, and I was exhausted from planning, packing and driving all day. I dreaded what lay ahead in San Jose, and hell, I deserved it. Too beat to leave the building, I ate dinner in the adjoining restaurant. Mostly I just wanted cold air and a cold drink.
A hostess dressed in a silky black dress and wearing far too much makeup for off-stage led me to a small table against the far wall, one of those places they put people who dare to come in alone wearing faded jeans and a T-shirt promoting a literary magazine.
A waiter dressed in black and packing a snooty attitude handed me the menu. Holy smokes. All the entrees cost at least $20, nothing included. And there was nothing ordinary. All chipotle this and cream sauce that. As I pondered, a different black-suited waiter brought me a basket of cold French bread, a tiny bowl of ground nuts, and a plate on which he poured olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. How are you supposed to apply them to the bread? Where’s the butter? Yes, I’m a peasant. The oil made my lips feel greasy.
A couple specials were written on a blackboard in chalk. I couldn’t read them. Glare, plus half the words were in French.
When a third black-suited waiter arrived to take my order, I asked him to tell me about the specials, and I chose the steak and linguine after asking, “How much?” $22. Fine. It came with steak slices carefully arranged in a half circle, the odd-tasting sauce decorated with peppercorns, bits of red bell pepper and flakes of aioli cheese. Laid across the plate was the big spoon in which I was supposed to swirl my noodles, something I never do at home.
I hate to admit it, but on the road I usually seek out the familiar chain restaurants: Denny’s, Apple Peddler, IHOP, Black Bear Diner, Elmer’s. I already know what they have and know I can read, write or stare into space and not feel out of place. Plus when you order pasta, you get a salad, too, even off the senior menu. Sometimes you even get dessert.
Maybe it’s how I was raised. Mom was not an adventurous cook. Slab of meat, potatoes, canned veggies, white bread. We went out to eat at the Burger Pit or got takeout raviolis from Pianto’s. I never tasted any kind of Asian food until I was in high school. A lot of foods—Swiss chard comes to mind—I never saw until I got married. Heck, I had never used a salad bowl. Kabobs? Tofu? Quinoa? Are you kidding? Homemade bread? Why? And booze? At our house, it was canned beer, screw-top wine or highballs, and only for special occasions.
As an adult, I like to create with food. I make some weird salads and Boboli pizzas and freely adapt recipes. But apparently, I’m not as sophisticated as I thought.
At the fancy restaurant in Redding—Redding, off I-5, where the locals still wear cowboy hats—you can watch the flames as a chef deglazes a pan with his favorite liqueur. You can order almond-encrusted halibut with apricot horseradish, pan finished pork tenderloin—free range, of course—with creamed pan jus, apple burrata crème fraiche and fresh sage, or pulled chicken with smoked gouda, carmelized bacon and onion jam on artisan bread. They’ve got peach bourbon bread pudding for dessert.
Can I just get a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with lots of mayonnaise and a scoop of vanilla ice cream?
Sigh. I have such a plebeian palate. On the way back to Oregon, I stopped at my usual place in Yreka, a little cheaper, best bed ever, and across the street from Poor George’s. The lone aproned waitress, limping with a broken toe, served me hash and eggs and biscuits and gravy–$11—and told me the saga of her pit bull who ran away and just came home. She even showed me the dog’s picture on her phone. That’s my kind of restaurant.
For those following the Dad saga, I helped my father move home from the nursing home and hired a homecare agency to help him with meals, cleaning, errands and such. So far, he’s not getting along very well with his caregiver, but he’s happy to be back in his own house, walking very carefully with his walker.
Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017
Photo Copyright: markstout / 123RF Stock Photo