Imagine for a moment that you have entered a restaurant in a foreign city center … an amazing, beautiful and mysterious place … one that you were referred to be a local stranger you met in a cafe over a coffee earlier that day …
She recommended it because you asked in the course of your causal conversation if there were anything they thought you absolutely must do while visiting their city, and the only thing they insisted was essential if you wanted to have the experience of a lifetime as a visitor was to reserve a dining experience at the restaurant you’ve just entered.
As you continue to reflect on how you got here you recall a sense that the stranger was indeed strange, sublimely attractive in a way that no one would likely call beautiful in a trite runway or cover model way, but indeed beautiful in a deeply radiant way. In fact as you continue reminiscing about the exchange you recall you couldn’t take your eyes off her … no, that’s not right, you couldn’t take your eyes off her eyes, feeling like they were inviting into somewhere completely familiar and yet utterly unknown.
“May I Help You”
You are slightly startled by the maitre d’s voice as you suddenly recall where you are, and respond, “Yes, I have a reservation.” and give the maitre d your name, and he walks ahead, leading you to your table.
It is a small round table, clearly set and ready for two, yet you clearly said your reservation was for just one. The maitre d assures you that the reservation is for two, as this small adventure gets curiouser and curiouser, and you decided not to challenge his clearly incorrect assumption.
Shortly a waiter arrives at your beautifully set table … filling the crystal goblet in front of you with water. Sitting just to right of your water goblet is the most unique wine glass you’ve ever seen with an etched bowl depicting a hunter chasing what appears to be a deer or maybe an elk with a bow resting on a gold leafed stem. It is clearly a glass intended for a deep red wine, large and rounded, with a large opening for the wine to rise and open.
You ask for a menu, and the waiter just smiles and walks away, barely acknowledging your request. Within a minute another waiter returns with an appetizer, a small beef tartar, very traditional, decorated with a few sprigs of watercress. It’s literally perfect!!!
An Appetizer and More …
Tender … flavorful … just the right amount … and the crisped toast points compliment it ideally. But how did they know that beef tartare is both your favorite appetizer, and your “test” dish for a new restaurant if it’s on the menu???
Now you just decide to settle in and with the flow, expecting a entree will appear shortly as well. As you lean back in your chair, feeling the weight you’ve been carrying from the day drop away the original waiter arrives back at your table, and you realize he’s very well put together, groomed to a “T” and wearing an immaculate tuxedo, all the way to his perfectly white, white gloves.
Behind him is a second person to whom he hands you empty dish and utensils, and almost magically a bottle of a fifteen year old reserve brunello di montalcino appears in his hand as he fills your wine glass, without a single drop going astray. It’s magnificent, like liquid velvet of a deep purple red, just barely translucent in the dimmed light of the restaurant. Again, how did they know?
Of course you want to pick it up, you can feel your arm tensing and your mouth wetting with saliva in anticipation, but you restrain yourself for another moment to take in the beauty of the entire setting as you allow your gaze to go from the glass to take in the entire restaurant, the patrons dining at other tables, the way the room is decorated and appointed … all of it somehow providing a matched frame to your glass, the brunello waiting there for you to indulge, your favorite of all red wines.
So you pick it up, and even before it reaches your lips you smell the bouquet … it fills your nostrils, tickling the front of your brain and exciting your taste buds already. You take the first sip and it expands from the front of your tongue to the back of your mouth. It’s exquisite, and it’s as though time has stopped between the moment of taking that sip and swallowing, and as you do swallow once again you are filled with the bouquet of the wine, and the subtle sweetness of the grape at the back of your throat. Ahhhhhhhh … this alone would have been worth coming for …
You open your eyes, not realizing you had closed them, and in front of you is a filleted Dover sole menuniere … the simplest and most elegant of presentations. Brown butter, lemon and parsley forming the sauce the lightly dredged fish was sauteed in directly. This meal is wonderful beyond words, and literally since you asked for the menu that never appeared you haven’t spoken any.
What’s next, can there be more, can it get better???
Coffee and A Surprising Dessert
You refuse a refill on your wine, as you fork the last morsel of your sole. The plates are unobtrusively removed and the crumbs wiped from the tablecloth, and again, almost as if by magic elegant china coffee service appears before you. You can’t help but raise the empty cup for it’s beauty and it’s so fine the light shines through the translucent side walls, and transfixes your gaze for a moment.
As you bring your cup back down to the saucer, and pick up your gaze again sitting across from you is the stranger from the coffee shop again, with the same beautiful china coffee service before her as well … smiling back at you mischievously.
Once again you wonder for an instant when she arrived and sat down, because you missed it entirely, but this evening has so far been unusual enough to condition you to allow this to pass without comment. As that thought floats away your guest says simply, ‘Good evening. Did you enjoy your meal?”
“Thoroughly, it was the most magnificent meal I’ve ever had!”
“That’s wonderful.” she says. “But you haven’t had desert yet … just wait the meal isn’t quite finished yet.” As if on cue the waiters appear again, with covered silver platters they place before you and your guest.
The waiters glance at one another and simultaneously lift the silver covers from the platters, and you almost laugh out loud as you see what’s on the platter before you … three small donuts … a glazed doughnut, a chocolate cake doughnut, and an iced doughnut you don’t quite recognize.
After this extraordinary meal it feels so incongruous to be served donuts. Your guest seemed not to have moved a muscle, and has remained smiling, if anything possibly a little more of a smile now than when you first noticed her sitting across from you.
She nods towards the donuts, so you pick up the first one you noticed, the simple glazed one. You’re surprised as how light it is as you lift it. As you bring it up to take a bite, you are hit by the subtle smell wafting up to you you’re sure it’s citrus, but not sure what exactly, it’s familiar but you can’t quite place it. And, you take a small bite …
The taste is out of this world, this is unlike any doughnut you’ve ever had … bergamot and lime sublime!
Your hand feels frozen, as you look back and forth between the doughnut in your hand, and the two left on your platter, and your guest literally laughs out loud as she she’s your indecision … “Go ahead, finish it, you’ll be able to finish those two as well, that’s why they make them so small … no one has been able to resist yet.“
So you do, in one more rather small bite, and smile yourself. Then, you take a sip of the still steaming, strong, black, French Roast coffee in front of you. It’s bitterness hits you as the ideal way to cleanse your palate preparing you to try the chocolate doughnut. Again, it’s as if they knew how you like your coffee, hot, black and strong. How?
Your guest has already finished the glazed doughnut, and has already taken a bite out of her chocolate one. She looks almost intoxicated, so you reach out, lift the chocolate one yourself, and in almost direct opposition to how light the glazed one was this doughnut feels heavy and solid in some way.
This time you don’t hesitate, you take a bite and it is indeed dense, and then immediately melts in your mouth, almost like a divine chocolate truffle, and much less like any doughnut you’ve ever imagined.
This time the second bite, finishing the second doughnut, follows almost immediately and you feel you could giggle like a child, but you resist and feel a grin stretching your mouth happening beyond your control.
Coming Full Circle …
You realize you’re very happy, and you feel very close … even intimate with your dinner guest sitting across from you. How did this happen? What have these people done to you? Whatever it is, you realize you’re pleased they have … and, of course you realize you decided to accept the suggestion your guest gave you over coffee, and have participated in each act in the theater of this dinner.
Now, after another sip of your coffee, you feel an excited, anticipation about trying the mystery iced doughnut. Almost as soon as you have it in your fingers you realize what it is … carrot cake! The icing is cream cheese, and the flavor explodes with a remarkable balance of sweetness, spice, dark caramelized sugar … this time you do actually giggle, which turns in a moment to a laugh forcing you to cover your mouth because you haven’t quite finished your first wonderful bite of carrot cake doughnut.
After you wash down the final bite of dessert, you look across to your dining partner, and ask her, “So what’s really going on here? This meal has been the best of my life, and of course I want to thank you for your recommendation, and I will most surely come back, sit here again, and indulge in another fine meal like this one.”
The Last Laugh!
Now it’s your guest’s turn to laugh out loud again, literally tilting her head back as she does, and says, “No, no, no … you won’t! You see this is what we call the ‘Front Room’ for first time guests only. There are many more rooms in this building, each taking you further into what our chefs are capable of preparing … much more than you can even imagine from this meal alone!”
You find your head reeling with what you’re hearing. How could this be the simplest meal you’ll have in this amazing restaurant. “How … how can this be this not be the best meal they are capable of preparing, I’ve never experienced anything like it!”
“I can only ask that you trust me, and come back soon. This meal was specifically designed to begin what we think of as both satisfying you completely, and training your palate for what’s to come.”
“My friends and I,” at this point you notice the waiters have returned to your table side, “would love to see you again and take you much deeper into the adventure you’ve just begun.”
Now imagine how, at this point as your new found guide looks across the table, you realize that what she has just said is exactly how you feel sitting there … content, confident and curious about what’s next.
Joseph Riggio, Ph.D.
Architect & Designer of the MythoSelf Process and SomaSemantics
Sarasota, FL – 9 Oct 2020