What to Expect When You’re Expecting Dinner
WE would like a bottle of Pellegrino. The waiter brings the Pellegrino. There are four of us at the table. The waiter brings glasses for the Pellegrino. The glasses happen to be extremely tall. Tall glasses are not necessarily the best glasses for Pellegrino, but before I can say a word on this profound subject, the waiter pours the Pellegrino into the tall glasses.
The first bottle of Pellegrino is now gone. We’ve been at the table for exactly three minutes and somehow we’ve managed to empty an entire bottle of Pellegrino.
“Would you like another bottle of Pellegrino?’’ the waiter says.
I haven’t even had any of this one!
I don’t actually say these words.
I love salt. I absolutely adore it. Occasionally I eat at a place where (in my opinion) the food doesn’t need more salt, but it’s rare.
Many years ago, they used to put salt and pepper on the table in a restaurant, and here’s how they did it: there was a salt shaker and there was a pepper shaker. The pepper shaker contained ground black pepper, which was outlawed in the 1960’s and replaced by the Permanent Floating Pepper Mill and the Permanent Floating Pepper Mill refrain: “Would you like some fresh ground black pepper on your salad?” I’ve noticed that almost no one wants some fresh ground black pepper on his salad. Why they even bother asking is a mystery to me.
But I wasn’t talking about pepper, I was talking about salt. And as I was saying, there always used to be salt on the table. Now, half the time, there’s none. The reason there’s no salt is that the chef is forcefully trying to convey that the food has already been properly seasoned and therefore doesn’t need more salt. I resent this deeply. I resent that asking for salt makes me seem aggressive toward the chef, when in fact it’s the other way around.
As for the other half of the time — when there is salt on the table — it’s not what I consider salt. It’s what’s known as sea salt. (Sea salt used to be known as kosher salt, but that’s not an upscale enough name for it any more.) Sea salt comes in an itty-bitty dish with an itty-bitty spoon. You always spill it trying to move it from the dish to the food on your plate, but that’s the least of it: it doesn’t really function as salt. It doesn’t dissolve and make your food taste saltier; instead, it sits like little hard pebbles on top of it. Also, it scratches your tongue.
“Is everything all right?”
The main course has been served, and the waiter has just asked us this question. I’ve had exactly one bite of my main course, which is just enough for me to remember that, as usual, the main course always disappoints. I am beginning to wonder whether this is a metaphor, and if so, whether it’s worth dwelling on. Now, suddenly the waiter has appeared, pepper mill in one hand, Pellegrino in the other, and interrupted an extremely good story right before the punch line to ask if everything is all right.
The answer is no, it’s not.
Actually the answer is No, it’s not! You ruined the punch line! Go away!
I don’t say this either.
We have ordered dessert. They are giving us dessert spoons. Dessert spoons are large, oval-shaped spoons. They are so large that you could go for a swim in them. I’m not one of those people who like to blame the French for things, especially now that the French turned out to be so very very right about Iraq, but there’s no question this trend began in France, where they’ve always had a weakness for dessert spoons.
One of the greatest things about this land of ours, as far as I’m concerned, is that we never fell into the dessert-spoon trap. If you needed a spoon for dessert, you were given a teaspoon. But those days are over, and it’s a shame.
Here’s the thing about dessert — you want it to last. You want to savor it. Dessert is so delicious. It’s so sweet. It’s so bad for you so much of the time. And as with all bad things, you want it to last as long as possible. But you can’t make it last if they give you a great big spoon to eat it with. You’ll gobble up your dessert in two big gulps. Then it will be gone. And the meal will be over.
Why don’t they get this? It’s so obvious. It’s so obvious.
Nora Ephron is the author, most recently, of “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman.’’