I’ve been streaming a lot the past few months. I know that sounds like a medical condition. “I’m going in for surgery next week. Been streaming a lot.” You know what I mean. I’ve been watching some of the new series and movies, many of them quite good. I almost bought a chess set after “The Queen’s Gambit,” but came to my senses. Scrabble and gin rummy are enough of a challenge for me.
Old movies, however, exert a relentless pull on me. Many I remember fondly, some I don’t remember much about, a few I’ve never seen. The combination of nostalgia, engrossing stories, and performances have stayed with me. There is, however, a side effect to these movies. They make me long for the good old days, “those days” being the last months of 2019. Before the virus.
scenes that grab me take place in a restaurant. Any restaurant.
As I sit in front of my TV now and dine on my take out/carry out/curbside egg foo young, I am transported by the sight of people enjoying dinner in a restaurant. They can play an important role in movies and series. “My Dinner with Andre,” 1981, a full-length movie that takes place at one table in a restaurant. “Dinner Rush”, 2000, and “Big Night,” 1996, in New York and New Jersey respectively. Both Italian, of course. Along with “The Sopranos” and “The Godfather.” Waiters, activity, lovable characters, and plates of pasta, veal, scampi, olive oil and crusty bread and red wine and tiramisu. Ah, the romance of eating out, even if someone gets whacked. This may be the most personal reminder of how much we’ve changed. Restaurants have been devastated by the pandemic, many of them never to return. Some of the best ones, I’m afraid.
On a personal level, here’s what I miss: The ceremony of Going Out to Eat. A crowded restaurant, lots of chatter and laughter, clinks of forks and plates, maybe some cool jazz in the background. Talking with Z and friends. The maitre’d smiles warmly, genuinely happy to see us. He even remembers my name. Right on time, he shows us to our waiting table, slides my chair out for me. Maybe even unfolds the cloth napkin to lay in my lap. The white linen tablecloth, the place settings, the freshly poured glasses of water with ice - a fantasy realized.
How can you exist this long without the satisfaction of a waiter handing out menus, asking, “Would you care for a drink?” Of course I would. “A vodka Gibson, please,” I say, “Straight up.” I even have my choice of vodka. “Ketel One,” I say confidently. And so it begins. The Ceremony of the Meal. A cast of impeccable characters: the waiter, the busboy (or bus person?), the wine expert with the opener around his neck. Maybe a friend stops by the table with a “How’ve you been?” And a handshake. (Remember those?)
And the sounds. Oh
, those beautiful sounds. A symphony of conversation and laughs, and knives and forks on dishes, an energy carried by sound waves and delicious aromas that say you are in the right place, and heaven is here right now.
Okay, I’m getting carried away. But I do miss the experience of “going out to eat.” It doesn’t have to be fancy. No wine steward, no “live” music. Just the staff, the food, and the waiter who asks what you want, confides in you that the snapper is to die for, asks how would you like your steak cooked, “I suggest medium rare,” and then asks the inevitable question after the main course: “Did we save room for dessert?” Who’s the “we” in this? Is the waiter going to join us? Finally the check, the credit cards, the chairs pushed away from the table, and a cheerful departure, stopping by a table on the way out to say hello to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. I heard that Giovanni’s Little Place, in Ladue, has shuttered. I am saddened, as though I have lost a dear friend. Fond memories, shared with Z. Many other places also gone. I wonder about those beautiful men and women who made going out to eat so special. Made me feel special. Where are they? How are they? They, too, are lost.
Someday this classic ritual will return. But the faces and places, the names and ambience will be different. We’ll adjust to this new world. Our tables will be waiting. And it will be time to build new memories.