First of all, I'll admit the meal was not bad. Actually quite good. It was dinner with two friends, Julie and Steve, at a popular seafood restaurant in Clayton, Missouri. We were seated at a quiet table after only a 15 minute wait past our reservation time, not bad for a busy place on a Friday night. The bar scene was incredibly lively and joyful. TGIF still has significance even in this day and age.
It was the getting to the meal that ended up being a slapstick scene from a Marx Brothers or Steve Martin movie. Follow me closely on this. Our waiter was named James. Some friendly banter after he appeared at our table revealed he was a wanna-be actor and screenwriter. He had even spent some time in LA, trying both, writing a play (who writes plays in LA? You go to NY for that!) and not finding much acceptance as an actor. One thing for sure: He wouldn't ever get a part as a waiter. That's just not within his range. Tell you why.
James the Waiter (I use the term loosely, so you can follow the action) shows up with 3 glasses of water - one for Julie, one for Steve, one for me. My wife isn't with us this night. He sets down 2 of the glasses. So far, so good. Then he sets the 3rd glass down on the dividing line between 2 adjoining tables. They are not of equal height so guess what. Right. The glass of water falls over, soaking the adjoining table (unoccupied), the table cloth, the wine list. James recovers nicely and, with a giggle, swoops up the soaking mess, dispenses with it. Then he returns to take our drink order. Smooth sailing from now on, you're thinking. Oh, so wrong. Steve orders his Pinot Grigio. Julie orders a Bombay gin martini, on the rocks. I order a Tito's vodka gibson, straight up. James doesn't write it down. It's locked into his mind. He returns several minutes later with our drinks. Pinot...okay. Julie's martini is served straight up. My martini is served on the rocks. Sorry, James, I say, We need a do-over here. He apologizes again, laughs again, and takes our 2 martinis back to bartender hell. Minutes later he returns. Julie's martini is fine. Gin. On the rocks. My gibson is straight up, as ordered. But there are no onions. My drink is naked. "James," I say, "where are my onions?" He dashes off, returns - with a large plate bearing one onion on a toothpick. In a good natured way, I tell him I really need more than one onion. Maybe two. He brings them. I put them into my drink and take a sip. All is well, I'm thinking. But I'm wrong.
My drink is not a gibson (that's a martini with onions instead of olives). It's a gimlet, which is vodka with Rose's lime juice, a cloying sweet drink that went out with the Charleston. My mother drank gimlets, which is probably what did her in. I scream for James . He scrambles off and, several minutes later, he brings a beautiful Tito's vodka straight up. But no onions. "Sam, you forgot the onions." He's off in a flash and returns with 3 onions on a tooth pick. I dip them into my gibson, take a sip, and...ahhhhhhh. All is right with the world again.
It has taken only a half hour to get our drinks right. I hesitate to ask Steve if his Pinot has gotten warm. He doesn't complain. We toast to happy days, good health, and less comedy at our table.
I see a plate on our table with olive oil and other stuff swirled in with it. It sits alone. There is no basket of bread next to it. I point to the plate and ask James, "What is this?" He tells me it's oil and spices to dip our bread in. "Bread. Aha!" I say. James forces a smile and says, "I'll get you some bread." Which he does, several minutes later, fresh from the oven, which is why it took so long to get here, at least according to him.
I'd like to say it ended there. But listen to this. We ordered (mussels, sea bass, salmon), all served hot and delicious. But Steve finished his salmon before Julie and I had finished. James was right there, doing his alert waiter thing. He whisks away Steve's plate and asks him if he'd like a dessert menu. That's when I stop laughing at these antics and warn James. "Don't touch another plate until we've all finished eating, James. Not another plate. And don't mention dessert until our plates are gone." He backs off, a little surprised by my intensity.
A lot of restaurants in St. Louis instruct their waiters to get those plates off the table "as soon as you can." I don't know why. It's just a really dumb move, in my opinion. It makes the people who are still eating their main course feel like they're late, they're slow eaters, they've gotta move on, eat fast, finish now and pay the bill. Fine restaurants I've been to in Big Cities have their waiters wait until all at the table have finished. That's class. If I want to eat and run, I'll go to Miss Sheri's Cafeteria.
Looking back, the three of us agreed it was a most unusual dinner. We had lots of laughs. Fortunately we are good sports and were in no hurry to go anywhere. One thing for sure - we'll always remember this dinner. And I'll make sure I explain clearly to any server what a gibson is, and what it is not, even to the point of embarrassment. If the waiter doesn't know, at least the bartender should know.
Yes, I'll go back to Oceano, some night when I'm feeling down and need a few laughs. I just hope James is still working there. And has gotten a role in some low-budget movie, maybe as a pickpocket or a musician, but certainly not as a waiter. Unless it's a comedy.