Got a memorable restaurant experience? Tune in to Between You and Me this Saturday, March 18, 2011. Here's a sneak into Guido's essay:
by Steve Downing
Ever the optimist, I want to relate a best-restaurant experience, and for starters I cannot not remember the polar opposite. This happened to Dodger and me, in Venice, two decades ago. First, the setting. It’s one of those huge, old-Europe, urban, guildhall courtyards; four- and five-story brick buildings all around; statues, fountains, pigeons, wild dogs, feral cats, mendicants missing limbs and face parts; everything you hope for when you go out to eat. The restaurant’s right there in the thick of it; that is, in the open-air core of an echo chamber. Conversation back and forth across the table is all about reading lips, which of course can be very provocative and is also good practice for turning eighty. We were forty-ish.
Then the waiter shows up. Central Stereotype Casting: arrogant Italian wiseguy (a double tautology?), possibly named Guido. We speak virtually no Italian, but that’s irrelevant. Our guy conveys condescending comprehension of everything we say, without seeming to know a word of English. He does all the talking, shouting. His body language is expansive, not to say operatic. His voice percusses over us on the plaza, then becomes one with the vocalizing of the wild dogs and feral cats and pigeons and mendicants and the general din of day-to-day life in an echo chamber. When he’s finished, it’s a relief to have him gone, and we resume reading lips.
Way too soon, he’s back. On the center of each plate is a fish. A whole fish. Scales, tail, fins, gills, mouth, teeth, eyeballs, the works. Conveniently, they have extracted the inner organs, either before or after cooking, though the cooking doesn’t appear to have involved much beyond a pre-heat. I gamely remove a patch of scales and skin, affording easier access to the bones, which are all there.
Ten minutes later, in the pension, gorging on hard bread and cheese, we discontinue the lip-reading and talk out loud, softly, about a truly exquisite meal we had in Antibes, the week before, and the news of the day back home: Bill Clinton has just named Al Gore as his running mate.