I have no idea why, but I have such bad luck when I eat at restaurants, people have stopped asking me to “do lunch.”
I swear, it’s almost as if someone in the restaurant’s kitchen is looking out the window, sees me approaching and shouts to the chef, “Quick! Sally’s coming! Dig out all of the old, stale, leftover food that’s on the verge of breeding botulism toxin so we can serve it to her!”
I can’t even count the number of times someone has raved to me about a restaurant and when I finally tried the place, the regular cook was on vacation (or had died the day before), the place was all out of what I was craving, or it was under new management with an “updated” menu that included specials like snail-encrusted tofu.
I remember when my mother raved about a restaurant where she frequently dined with her friends. “The haddock there is to die for!” she always told me.
Well, on the day I at long last decided to go with her, the haddock definitely brought the words “die for” to mind. But not in a good way.
The minute I cut into my piece of fish, a strong smell of ammonia wafted from it. It was so strong, it made my eyes water. I figured either someone in the kitchen had been cleaning with ammonia and dropped it into the fish batter, or the fish was so old, the fisherman who’d caught it had been standing on the deck of the Mayflower at the time.
When I complained to the server, she clearly looked offended. She grabbed my knife, stabbed a piece of my fish with it and popped it into her mouth.
“Tastes fine to me!” she said with a huff. Then she walked off.
The woman obviously was suffering from a severe sinus blockage.
Another time, one of my husband’s co-workers, who knew I loved beef stew, recommended a restaurant where he said the stew tasted as homemade as Grandma’s. So my husband and I headed over there one Sunday afternoon.
I ordered the stew and held my breath, certain I would be told they’d run out just 30 seconds before I’d arrived. But to my relief, the stew still was available.
From my seat, I could see directly into the kitchen, so as I was waiting for my meal, I watched the cook rushing around and plating food.
“They sure are busy here,” I said to my husband.
“Well, when a place has good food, word gets around fast,” he said.
That’s when I saw the cook drop two hot-dogs on the floor, pick them up, wipe them off with his apron and put them onto a plate.
“What’s wrong?” my husband asked, noticing my expression, which probably looked as if I’d just witnessed someone being beheaded.
“The cook just dropped two hot-dogs on the floor and still put them on the plate!” I whispered.
My husband shrugged. “Did he follow the five-second rule?”
“That’s an old wives’ tale!” I said. “Food still can gather germs even if it’s on the floor for only a second!”
He shook his head. “It’s a well-known fact that if you pick it up before five seconds, it’s still germ-free.”
“Good!” I snapped. “Then you can eat whatever he drops next in that wet spot on the kitchen floor!”
Not surprisingly, I lost my appetite. At that point, I didn’t care if the stew was as good as my grandma’s – I had visions of the cook stirring it with his feet.
So the other day, when my cousin invited me to meet her for a lunch at a restaurant located approximately halfway between our houses, I was hesitant. Years ago, my husband and I had eaten at this particular restaurant on a regular basis. The food always was excellent, and the prices very reasonable. The cook there (I’ll call him “George”) also took great pride in his food. He would come in at 4:00 in the morning to bake the bread, rolls and even the hamburger buns from scratch. And the sauces he made were seasoned perfectly and simmered for hours.
Also, one day a week, George would make his special chicken pot pie. Its gravy was thick and rich with big chunks of white-meat chicken in it, all tucked into a crisp, flaky crust. He would not serve this masterpiece, however, until after 4:00. So I would arrive there at 3:59.
Unfortunately, this wonderful cook eventually ended up going to prison, and after that, the food at the restaurant just never was the same. My husband and I, after rejecting too many raw (or burnt beyond recognition) burgers and chicken that was pink in the center, finally stopped going there.
So when I returned there with my cousin the other day, I was hoping that over time, the food had improved – or somebody had bailed George out of prison.
I ordered a hot roast-beef sandwich with mashed potatoes. The minute the plate was set in front of me, I knew I was in trouble. The meat was so dry, it was curled up on the edges, and the potatoes had visible lumps the size of jawbreakers. When I tasted the food, it was cold. The gravy also had a unique flavor of plastic, which probably meant it had been microwaved in a plastic container…or preserved in formaldehyde.
I ended up sipping tea and watching my cousin eat her pastrami on rye.
So although I hate to admit it, I’m becoming more and more paranoid about dining out because I’m truly convinced I’m cursed. I also have an aversion to having my stomach pumped.
I suppose, however, if I do want a good meal, I could always get myself arrested. I figure George probably is cooking for his fellow inmates in prison now.
But first I’ll have to find out which day is chicken-pot-pie day.