January 25, 2008

First Person:
By Al Carlos Hernandez


We had an occasion to get dressed up all smooth-urban- chic and go to a well known Mediterranean restaurant with some artist type friends of my wife and her sister in celebration of their birthdays.

Maybe I’m too old school, retro cool, or just a fool, but my opinion is, if you pay fifty bucks for a steak, they should be able to parade a picture of the cow and let you point out the percentage and poundage of the cow you want them to grill, as well as taking your measurements for the leather coat they should be making for you.

Based on prior similar experiences in the past, involving questionable greens, and subsequent gastronomic duress. We have learned not to order the salad. I told my sister-in-law her plate looked like they just mowed the lawn. Some of the leafs based on my experience working as a EOP work study gardener in community college were without a doubt Dandelions.

The waiters were all Italian cats with pony-tails who could barely speak English or least pretended to put on the heavy accents. Patrons tried to get into the vibe by saying things like “Prego,” “Gratsi,” “Benni,” and the waiters would humor them with quick witty sayings in Italian like “Your Mother rides a broken horse”… My Italian is limited to “Non Chi Mali,” which means, not that bad, and “Como Estai,” which means how are you. In their demeanor they seemed to despise us, while mitigating us as a necessary evil. They seem to be trolling for insult fodder while serving so they could clown us to the other servers in to back room. You can’t really blame then for that.

It seems axiomatic to me, a seasoned supermarket shopper, that the more money you pay for food the more food you should get. For the money we paid to feed the seven of us, I could hook up a mean 25 member family BBQ, meat, beans, rice, salad, (Real Salad) not Giraffe food. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea that since there are so many Latino gardening services, that someone industrious could save and package some of these lawn clippings and sell them as Euro-designer salads and make some serious cabbage.

They brought me a roundish piece of meat the size of a Hostess Ho-ho wrapped in a strip of bacon, with a parsley toupee, a spoonful of mashed potato, read potato, not potatoes, and a thimble of gravy. The waiter seemed please that he hosed me. The joke was on him we planned to go to in and out burgers on the way home if the cute food thing didn’t work out.

I don’t know why people get so excited about dressing up and going to a chic restaurant? I suppose it is something to talk about at the water cooler at work, that’s if you don’t have to spend valuable coffee break time calling out Ralph in the restroom the day after.

We indeed had pleasant company, and one good friend who knew what everything on the menu was, and what his favorites were. It is obvious that he had been there many times and knew what to expect. No doubt he ate a fat sub sandwich before he got there. My wife had the insight to buy us nachos at the house before we hit the town.

Our table was by far the best looking. The entourage including four hairdressers was working the latest hair-styles flushed and stripped with color and panache. Bling-bling bobbles rings and trinkets. My outfit which actually matched was approved before we left the house.

I experienced an interesting thing while sitting there. This restaurant was on the same block that we lived on as a child from the ages of 2 until about 4. I have vivid memories of the milk man leaving glass bottles at the door in the morning, the steep marble dotted stairs and the smell of fresh bread and pastries at the corner store. The time my brother and I strolled down to the corner bakery and he mistakenly ordered one thousand donuts instead of a dozen and the laugh staggered walk home.

The gentrification of the old neighborhood was not radical. The restaurant looked like a converted walk up flat; it felt good walking down the dark and viscerally familiar streets to retrieve the car when it was over.

The evening would have been perfect if it was Mom doing the cooking.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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