Monday, April 25, 2011

If fish wore socks

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.  ~George Bernard Shaw

I am a terrible cook. Okay, maybe not terrible. But, I'm certainly not a good one. I can make about ten decent dishes, and if I just cleverly rotate them throughout the weeks of a month, I can get by without anyone saying, "Mom, I guess I wasn't hungry after all", only to sneak a bowl of cereal a bit later. It's a regret of mine, being a terrible cook. I wish, with all my heart, that I was a good one. But, I think that being a great cook is quite a bit like being a great artist. Yes, you can attend school to learn how to refine your techniques and to learn new styles of preparation. However, the gift of being a chef seems to be an innate one; you're either born with that exceptional talent or you're not. Sadly, in the gene pool doling out gifts, that ingredient was missed in my allotment...along with the skill to balance a checkbook and the ability to carry a tune in notes that aren't only understandable to dogs and dolphins.

However, just as I wish that I was a wonderful chef, I also wish I had the ability to paint and draw. My stick figures are sadly lacking any kind of aesthetic aptitude. When I expressed this regret to my mother many years ago, she (a talented artist in her own right) said, "Ellen, for every person who creates art, there must be someone else to appreciate it. Appreciation is even more important." So, I set out to be a great appreciator. If I couldn't do something well, I would cultivate enjoyment and admiration for the gifts put before me. I like to say that my gratitude for these beautiful things in life are my own expression of art.

It should come as no surprise that I love wonderful food. I adore restaurants. Having grown up in the hotel and restaurant industry, I think my palate learned, from a very young age, how to truly relish amazing meals. I have had far too many of them to count, or to even have a favorite restaurant. My cousin, Lori, loves to tease me that, wherever I've just had an exceptionally fabulous dish, it becomes my 'favorite'...and that I have a lot of favorites, as a result. She's not far off the point. I really do! It makes it impossible for me to have a favorite food, since whatever is freshest in my mind becomes the prize of that moment.

There have been a few notable exceptions to this; and those glaring, dreadful, disturbing meals have left me shaken afterwards..and not just from food poisoning. My mom and I once had lunch at a cute little Japanese restaurant just off 5th Avenue in New York. We'd both ordered Miso soup to start. Friends, it was not good. It was so awful, in fact, that Mom and I weren't quite sure what to do with it. The gentleman at the next table leaned over to us and said, "If fish wore socks, this would be the water they would use to wash their socks in....". Not only did that comment give us something to laugh about, but decades later, Mom and I still use that expression to describe a particularly horrible meal out. It became our epithet, much like Homer's use of "Laughter Loving Aphrodite" or "Grey Eyed Athena".

My son, Josh, and I just had such a meal. There's a local seafood restaurant that's been a family tradition since I was a little girl. The food has always been excellent, and whenever we eat there now, I remember my father sitting at each table with an enormous smile on his face. Because it was just the two of us for Easter dinner this year, it seemed only fitting that my son and I should go to my late father's "special" destination for the holiday. It was one of the few places I can remember eating with then very young children AND my father, when he was still alive. We'd never had a bad meal there. Until last night. To say that it was horrific would be too kind. Josh's steak resembled a hand grenade. Had we had chosen to bring it home, I believe that he could have easily played street hockey with it. It was more rubbery than any ball we own. And, my friends, we own a lot of street hockey balls. My Coquille St. Jacques was a nightmare. Not only was the topping so hard, I could have driven across it with my SUV without making a dent, but the sauce was so fishy, it was inedible. Once again "If fish wore socks, this would be the water they would use to wash their socks in....". 

Having grown in restaurants, I used to hate it when people would complain about the food. But, because I grew up in restaurants, I knew that sometimes people weren't being difficult...that there might be a problem with a dish that we should be made aware of. When our waitress asked us about our meal, pointedly looking at our barely touched plates, I did explain, nicely, what the issue was. The owner came over and was emphatic that there was NOTHING wrong with our meals...that she prepared the sauces herself and they were FINE. No apology. No "I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it". We were left with the feeling that it was OUR fault for not liking the meal. I can understand completely when a restaurant has an off night. I can also understand if it was really 'us', and not 'them'. But, in this dead age of good customer service, we were treated with no more than a glaring sense of disdain. It was not a pleasant way to conclude an otherwise happy Easter.

So, Josh and I came home, looked in the fridge, and decided that we really weren't hungry after all....only to find ourselves pouring out bowls of cereal later on. Still, "if fish wore socks" left a bad taste in my mouth, and a sense that I had been cheated out of beautiful art.  But, it will give us something to laugh about. Eventually.