Sunday, November 12, 2006

Why are people talking near my food?

The worst thing about eating in restaurants is that they’re open to the public. And at the risk of sounding like Curmudgeon McGrumpy, crowned Miss Anthrope 2006, I have to say it: other diners annoy me.

This isn’t always the case, of course. But the same brilliant luck that has me seated behind Yao Ming at every movie makes sure I get the table next to Megaphone, Party of Two, at many otherwise lovely meals.

Some people have loud voices. They just do. They either grow up in families where everyone yells, or they’re going a little deaf and feel the need to compensate, or else they’ve just never been told to take it down a few notches. Either way, they always seem to end up at the next table.

The worst example of this was about five years ago, when The Boy and I celebrated our anniversary at Anago, back when it was in the Lenox Hotel. Back then, limited finances meant such a meal was a treat reserved for special occasions, and we were really looking forward to an intimate romantic experience. It was just a shame we had to share it with the twelve-top of expense-account yahoos next door. They were so loud that we had to yell to hear each other, and eventually we gave up all pretense of having our own conversation and spent the rest of the meal rolling our eyes at their inane banter.

At one point, one of them noticed us smirking. “Hey,” he said to his buddies, “looks like we’re providing someone with entertainment.”

And I so wanted to lean across the table and say, “Get used to it.”

Mostly, things aren’t so bad. Occasionally someone will feel obliged to read the entire menu aloud (a-loud) to his companion, or make critical comments about everything from the cleanliness of the silverware to the bitterness of the espresso. Or, horror indeed, we’ll be forced to share dining space with (no!) small children who have been raised to believe dinner-time means running in circles around the table and tripping up waiters.

But we have learned to survive these trials.

And really—if I’m forced to take these lemonheads and make lemonade—restaurant dining does make for some terrific people-watching.

Case in point was last night’s meal at
Chez Henri. We hadn’t been in a long time—probably more than a year—because they don’t take reservations and there’s usually a wait. So we decided to get there early, arrived just before seven and were ushered immediately to a table.

Our neighbors to the right (my right, your left) were, thankfully, at the point of ordering dessert as we sat down. My reason for gratitude was the man’s question to the waiter: “Could I just ask: is the chocolate Fair-Trade?” It wasn’t so much his inquiry that bugged me as his reasoning: he had just attended a lecture that included a PowerPoint presentation about slave-labor in the cacao-farming industry, and now, full of newfound illumination, he proceeded to educate the waiter on the importance of equitably harvested beans. (As it turned out, it was Valrhona, which is a Fair-Trade label, so the guy got to feel he'd done due diligence.)

When they left, their table was taken by a very Cambridge middle-aged lesbian couple (thin, elegant, ethnic-print-wearing) who checked the price of every vegetarian appetizer and held hands throughout, visibly and sweetly delighted by each other's company.

On the left, meanwhile (my left, your right), we had: a young couple arguing over movies (he hated Borat, apparently) followed by a middle-aged couple in the middle of a real argument (he sullenly perused the menu, lumbered out and reappeared a few minutes later, at which point she grabbed her coat and trailed out after him) followed by a clean-cut and largely unremarkable yupple (yuppie couple) whose conversation revolved around nightmare plane trips.

Oh, the food? Yes, there was food. Chez Henri’s theme is French-Cuban, which translated to a citrusy ceviche of octopus, marlin and shrimp served in a martini glass; steak-frites with chimichurri (beautifully bloody onglet and muy picante pommes); and grilled bluefin with Serrano ham and baby artichokes. For dessert we shared a subtle lemon-cardamom crème brulee that made me realize I need to start experimenting with that spice.

Oh, and we saw a face from the past: former Miracle waitron Leah, who came to our wedding, has been working at the restaurant for a while and is now management. She came over to say hi and catch up (in other news, Sheri, our other erstwhile Miracle fave, is now married to an army guy and living in Colorado) and surprised us by comping our dessert and coffee. Yay Leah!

See? I like some people …

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