Breakdown, beef and Beaujolais
Expecting meatloaf, Henri finds haute cuisine
Imagine Henri’s consternation when his little Renault broke down late one afternoon just south of Chico. I was heading home after a much-needed trip to San Francisco to see the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet (trés bon, by the way), when smoke started gushing out of the back end of my car. What’s more, Miss Marilyn’s sedatives were beginning to wear off, and the temperature was pushing up into the 90s.
The last thing I needed was to be stuck beside the road with no sign of civilization in sight—except for a little riverside trailer park, from which I was pretty sure I could hear “Dueling Banjos” emanating.
I didn’t have much choice but to take Miss Marilyn under my arm and walk down the little dirt path to a, well, rustic-looking building with a sign outside that said “River Glenn Grill.” Perhaps, I thought, this is what passes for a restaurant in the wilderness. At the very least there would be a phone. Probably. I thrust my chin up, took a breath, gave Miss Marilyn a pat and stepped inside.
As my eyes adjusted to darkness, I began to make out a bar and small dining room. Tables were set neatly, and behind the bar was a display of what I assumed to be cattle brands of local ranchers and sign that claimed Budweiser was the “Official Beer of Ducks Unlimited.” Odd.
“Table for one?” said a woman approaching with a menu. Poor woman. Not only did she seem taken aback by Miss Marilyn, but she clearly didn’t know what to make of my shorts, dress shoes, and black-and-green Argyle knee socks.
Well, all right. It was approaching dinner time, and I knew it could be hours before I got home, although I assumed that meat loaf would be the high point of the menu and that the wine list would feature a “house red” made out back.
Sacre bleu! I’d have to rethink this.
Not only did the menu include fresh lobster, salmon and prawns, prime rib and about four different steaks, but the wine list featured reserve Cabernets from Grgich Hills and Stag’s Leap ($82-$87). Plus, they served a sorbet “palate cleaner” for between courses. I told Miss Marilyn to get comfortable, called a tow truck—it would be at least an hour—and ordered a bottle of Gamay Beaujolais ($18) and the rib-eye ($22).
The waitress brought my wine and the meal’s first course, a bowl of cream-of-chicken soup with rice, almost immediately. The soup was absolutely divine, although the green salad that followed was nothing to ecrire a domicile about.
Another bottle of wine?” asked the waitress, as she brought my rib-eye.
Well, pourquoi no? I wasn’t going anywhere soon, and I certainly wouldn’t be driving.
I asked her about the electronic keyboard in the adjoining room. “That’s for anyone who wants to play,” she said. “This used to be a dance hall. It’s the old Hawaiian Gardens. In fact, Morriss Taylor got his start here back in the ‘50s.”
Wow, I thought—all this and history.
My rib-eye was large enough to feed an entire dance troupe and very good, though un peu fatty. I almost finished it.
“Dessert?” she asked, returning. “It’s included.”
I thought about that health club I’d be joining pretty soon and the fact that Dr. Epinards was on vacation anyway. Oh, OK.
It was almost 10 o’clock by the time the nice tow-truck driver dropped my car and Miss Marilyn and me off in front of my house. I went in and fell immediately to sleep and dreamed I was drowning in the Seine and that Miss Marilyn was watching from shore, seated behind the wheel of a brand-new Citroën convertible, and that she had the head of a cow.