A well-lighted place
We went out on election night. It was that kind of night, when even the car engine sounds elegiac and, pulling into the parking lot, we breathed the nostalgia-inducing smell of wood smoke. A dark wind blew, and a light sprinkling of rain shaded the area between the borders of the gray sidewalk. The restaurant, though open, was deserted, and sensing each other’s desire to stifle what seemed to be a developing sense of discontinuity, we quickly ordered a bottle of wine. The spacious dining room, with its soft hues of cream and brown and opposing mirrors that cast our reflections into infinity, seemed a hopeful counter to our misgivings, suggesting not so much irrevocable fate as endless potentialities. Soon we were lively and pleasantly juvenile again, joking about the relationship between mirrors and time regression, how Clinton’s shenanigans had brought a refreshing sense of realism to the oval office and how we hoped my grandpa, Charles Ellis Thomas, would be our new president, since we had all irreverently voted for him.
We studied the menus until the second bottle of wine arrived, but the force of the evening was such that we were unable to decide what we wanted. Our waiter, as fortune had it, was most helpful, suggesting for appetizers what would become the best part of our dinner. On his suggestion, we ordered an appetizer sampler consisting of strips of calamari steak with an orange caper sauce, porcupine shrimp and crab cakes. Both the execution of these dishes and the apparent freshness of ingredients made this an incredible start to our dinner. We agreed that the calamari was superlative. Not even remotely suggesting rubber bands, the meat was exceptionally tender and pliable, the sauce well handled and delicious. We were told that the little spindly things surrounding the shrimp like porcupine quills were pieces of phyllo dough, which provided a nice crunch, but what really made the dish was the palpable newness of the prawns. It was simply the taste of quality ingredients. A heavily herbed, delicious crab cake rounded it all out nicely; the food had usurped our attention.
Salads came and went with little fanfare, and then the waiter brought our entrees. This waiter deserves notice here. He exuded a nice blend of knowledgeable helpfulness and professional reserve, yet all the while surrounded by a subtle aura suggesting that, after work, he wasn’t averse to a few drinks and perhaps some mild revelry. A real person, then, and his suggestions, which touched not only upon appetizers, but entrees, wine and dessert as well, proved impeccable.
For example, he recommended a delicious dish of cappellinni pasta with a saffron broth and a variety of seafood, including mussels, shrimp and scallops that we all liked and which was one our company found to be the perfect dish for the moment. He also recommended a lamb spiedo (or kabob) for me, but I felt that on such a dark and stormy night, so pregnant with suspense, a retreat into the comfort food arena was in order, and I had an exceptional New York steak with port wine sauce and sautéed mushrooms, which achieved the desired effect.
As the election evening wore on, it started to look as though Bush and Cheney were going to be our new leaders, ironically representing the latest pinnacle of our country’s aspirations to greatness. Perhaps the initial sense of loss and misgiving that began the evening was in anticipation of this fact, and I found myself imagining Bush at dinner. Would he appreciate a place like Amadeus? Superciliously, I thought then that if there is any link between physiognomy and food intake, Bush must have an inordinate love for weasel, which, incidentally, is not offered at Amadeus. And as we left Amadeus and the wine began to wear off, we found ourselves back where we started, blowing in the wind.
And thus, for a few hours at least, Amadeus played host to a wonderful, yet brief, respite from our ever-present adaptation to the unraveling of fate.