Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Would You Like Some Salad With Your Marching Band

I may have mentioned in a previous post that Laughing Boy and I love to eat. He used to work in a couple of different restaurants, so he's always unfailingly polite to and patient with the employees. He likes to overtip by varying percentages, even if things are tight for us, because he knows how thankless the job can be. And if he's disappointed or displeased with something, he always takes into consideration whether or not it is someone's fault, or it's just a really crowded night and understaffed, or even just the wrong restaurant for us.

The only exception, and I'd like to point out that they specifically asked how he liked it, was the Restaurant of the Perpetual Salad Bar incident.

Maybe five or six years ago, a restaurant opened in the LA area that is, I think, part of a chain. They have South American barbeque, all you can eat grilled meats for a set price. The waiters wear hugely baggy gaucho pants and tall, soft leather boots. Laughing Boy loves him some protein, so we were eager to try it. When we got there, the menu and our server emphasized the "all you can eat" aspect, promising that the servers would bring skewer after skewer of tri tip, filet mignon, lamb, chicken and spicy sausage to your table, as much as you wanted. Laughing Boy was glowing. But first, "Feel free to visit our salad bar."

We sat for 20 minutes dawdling over our plates of lettuce, bell peppers and tabouleh before they brought over the first skewer of meat. The place was empty except for two other couples, so the wait wasn't because they were carving their little hearts out at the other tables. Once someone finally did come by, he shaved off a walnut sized blob of chicken for each of us, and then disappeared again. And then the waitress came over and encouraged us to make another trip to the salad bar.

The gaucho meat carvers, in their flowing pants and soft black boots, huddled around the firepit, chatting and ignoring the patrons. The waitress came back, wanting to make sure she'd mentioned their salad bar. Oh, and did we know about their salad bar? Finally, after another 10 minutes, one of them brought over a skewer of glorified hot dogs, and slid a tiny canape sized slice onto each of our plates. And again, as soon as we finished that single bite, the waitress dropped by and suggested we go by the salad bar. Twice.

This went on all evening. The chicken and sausages began to come by more frequently when it became apparent that we were not going to fill up on lettuce, and only after Laughing Boy said something to the waitress. But still, not a sign of the steak or the lamb. Finally, about an hour and twenty minutes into this, a lone skewer of filet mignon showed up at the table. They cut off a slice of meat for each of us, I kid you not, the size of a pat of butter. And left. We eventually saw a piece of lamb the same size and, if memory serves, tri tip. But the last two were charred into dry inedibility, ruined by too much time over the coals, kept safe far from the patrons.

Laughing Boy, whom I did not nickname with any irony whatsoever, was bereft. And he's never happier than when we have the time and money for a decent meal at a decent restaurant. But this night, the glow was gone. There was no Santa Claus, and that pile of horse manure did not mean that, somewhere, there was a pony.

Just then, at that critical moment, the manager showed up at our table and cheerfully asked us, since they had just opened and were anxious for feed back, how the evening was. Please let us know so we can improve our blah blah blah.

Oh, dear god, no. One of the most important lessons my Dad ever taught me was one day when he said, "Don't ever ask a question you truly don't want the answer to. Because someone will answer it."

But the manager had asked, and Laughing Boy was not happy. "You guys are charging almost $30 a person, you claim to be all you can eat. For those prices, I expect a Dancing Meat Parade. Not the Salad Bar Shuffle. For what you're charging, I want a kick line of steak. A chorus line of tri tip. I want to be tossing rib bones over my shoulder like Henry the Eighth, while the guys in the baggy pants dance by, flinging piles of lamb onto my plate. Dancing. Meat. Parade."

"I didn't come here for the..." And then he paused, fixing the manager with a gimlet stare, voice dripping with contempt. "...Salad bar!"

There was more, but I can't do it justice. His voice was low and quiet, but he left them in no way confused as to his feelings. And until last night, every time the subject of all-you-can-eat Churrasco restaurants came up, his face grew dark. His jaw clenched. You could see him remembering all those skewers and skewers of meat, just sitting there, overcooking and going to waste just out of reach. Actively and pointedly not coming to our table.

4 Comments:

At 12:09 PM, July 26, 2006, Blogger gumbee said...

Goodness... remind me never to go to that restaurant! Not that there's one in my area, but if one ever shows up I'll be sure not to go there.

By the way, I love how you told this story. :)

 
At 1:57 PM, July 26, 2006, Blogger Calamity Jen said...

How fortunate for me that I happened across your blog today. I left a few comments on your past posts, but I want to take a moment to thank you for sharing your experiences and relating them in such a witty way. Kudos!

-Calamity

 
At 1:12 PM, July 27, 2006, Blogger panda said...

Thank you both for your kind words!

calamity jen: I dropped by your site to take a peek at your dog. He's gorgeous! How old is he?

 
At 6:53 AM, July 31, 2006, Blogger Calamity Jen said...

Hi Panda.

Ferris is now 14 months old. Unfortunately he is not doing very well and our vet has been unable to figure out what the problem is. :(

 

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