Some people eat to live, while others live to eat. What about you? How far would you travel for the best meal of your life?
I love food. All food. Any food. I eat when I’m hungry or sad or lonely. I eat when I’m happy or when there’s nothing better to do. I like the taste and the smell and that contented feeling that comes with having a full belly. I like to prepare food for others, and I enjoy sharing a good meal with people who appreciate it as much as I do.
Years ago, a writer friend got a job as the historian for a local restaurant that specialized in English and Indian cuisine. They served food with names like Toad in a Hole and Chicken Tandoori. Their mango chutney with papadum could make one’s eyes roll back in the head while one bite of Scotch Egg was enough to lose track of one’s own name. The food wasn’t just good. It was a gift from Heaven above.
My friend helped them find authentic antiques for their walls, and then he wrote up a booklet that explained each one while detailing a brief history of Victorian England.
Nobody cared. Nobody read his little booklets. They were there for the food.
My friend got to eat there for free. He also had a little bit of a crush on me. He was a few years older than I was, and a very nice, very smart, very funny person. I liked him well enough, but definitely did not return his amorous feelings.
But the food was really good.
I am almost ashamed to admit that I went out with him several times, just so we could eat there. I say “almost” because the food was that good. Totally worth it.
We started the evenings with our favorite drinks: Guiness Extra Stout for him, Strongbow Hard Cider for me. We munched on papadum and chutney while waiting for the appetizer – usually a Scotch Egg, otherwise referred to as Heart Attack on a Plate. A hard-boiled egg wrapped in spiced lamb sausage, breaded, deep-fried and served on a bed of basmati rice and grilled onions with peppers.
We experimented with different entrees on each visit, but my favorite will always be the Whitefish Grenoble, dotted with tiny green capers and cooked to perfect melt-in-your-mouth flakiness. Our favorite dessert was the steamed gingerbread pudding, firm and sweet but with a hint of spice and covered with a thick, creamy caramel sauce. We always finished the evening sipping fine Port as tiny pieces of rich, dark chocolate melted on our tongues.
I once took my sister there for dinner, and her eyes immediately filled with tears at the first bite of Whitefish Grenoble. “I don’t ever want this meal to end,” she sighed.
Back to my writer friend and the best meal of my life. I know that the prompt asked how far I would travel, not how far I would go, but I’m going to take certain liberties with the theme.
He never tried to kiss me, never tried to hold my hand. He was always a perfect gentleman. To be honest, it was flattering to have a male gaze at me in adoration like that. I have never been pretty enough to inspire that type of devotion in men, and it was almost as rewarding as the food. I was young and somewhat naïve; the attention was something I had never dealt with before.
The last time we ate at Arie’s London Grille, I drank far too much Strongbow. I sipped a second glass of Port and then a third.
Between the Strongbow and the Port, my friend’s suggestion of skinny dipping in Lake Michigan suddenly seemed like a good idea. It was a bright, moonlit night, and he promised not to look.
It wasn’t until I was neck deep in the water that the harsh, cold reality of my situation slapped me in the face. It was midnight. I was alone on a deserted beach with a man who was easily twice my size. I was drunk and unsteady on my feet. No one in my life knew where I was or who I was with. I was bare-ass naked and quite possibly in very grave danger.
All for the sake of a really good meal.
I was luckier than I deserved to be. I marched out of the water and told him to take me home, suddenly more sober than I have ever been, before or since. We put clothes on in complete silence, not waiting to dry off. He drove me home without another word and I never heard from him again. I can only assume that having your date react to nudity with stark terror is enough to put an end to any crush.
How far am I willing to go for the best meal of my life? Far enough to take advantage of a friend’s feelings toward me, far enough to place myself in a bad situation, far enough to become really, really stupid.
I like to think I learned from that night. I hope I would never treat another person the way I treated poor old Bartholomeo in exchange for a few good meals.
But I can’t be held responsible for my actions if my husband ever takes me out for a Scotch Egg and Whitefish Grenoble. And if he throws in a gingerbread pudding, I just might agree to anything.