“It’s Friday night and I really don’t feel like cooking dinner.” If I say this to Philip in a slightly whiny tone with a bit of a pathetic look in my eyes, he usually bites.
“Well let’s do dinner out”, he suggests.
“Great. How about Redwood Lodge?”
I have a love/hate relationship with Redwood Lodge. I love their food but hate their high prices. In fariness to them, the quality of the food is not out of line with the prices, but this is Flint, where $200,000 houses are selling for under a hundred grand. The Redwood knows which crowd they’re catering to, though, so my little hissy fits about their over-priced meals will just have to go unnoticed. Besides, I’m in a good mood tonight, and our waiter is pouring on some killer good service. I’ll call him Greg.
We’re in the mood for a bottle of big, full-bodied cabernet but none of the selections looks familiar. I ask Greg for a wine recommendation. Because he’s not sure which hearty cabernet to suggest, he tells me he’ll consult with the resident wine expert and be right back. I appreciate that he takes the time and effoert to do this on a busy Friday night. He returns with a small sample of their 2007 Ramspeck (Napa Valley), and it’s awesome! I resist the pretentious urge to sniff the cork—I don’t even know what to sniff for—and simply give it a gentle squeeze. If it’s juicy, it’s fine. It’s juicy. It’s fine.
As we clink our glasses and make a toast, Philip and I become a little more aware than usual that we’re a gay couple in a restaurant whose décor oozes machismo from every knotty pine wall and from all the dead animals hanging from them. To the aging women at the neighboring tables, I’m sure we come across as two very good guy friends having dinner. But because I’m not sitting across the table from my dinner pal, the Grizzly Adams fella near us seems a little uncomfortable. I try to set his mind at ease by pretending to watch the Tigers game on one of the big screen TVs, but Philip is fussing with his napkin and not so discretely ogling the busboy. Greg’s timing is perfect and he slides a giant plate of food in front of Grizzly. For now, he’s occupied and distracted.
Greg lets us linger over a first glass of wine without pushing us into ordering our opening course. I like this move because it’s a sign to me that Greg is more than a flash-in-the-pan server trying to make a quick tip. He’s focused on giving us his A game, and he’s making my “It’s Friday night and I really don’t feel like cooking” night feel like a special occasion.
After a stunning appetizer of seared scallops in a saffron crème sauce and half the bottle of cabernet, we signal to Greg that we’re ready to order our entrees. Redwood is known for its delicious cuts of meat, and since we’re already drinking red wine, the choice is easy. I settle on the Delmonico, a twelve ounce grilled rib eye steak, and Philip orders the Prime Rib.
I giggle a little as Philip decides how he wants his Prime Rib cooked, and after Greg leaves the table, he calls me out on it.
“What was that about? Is my medium-rare meat funny to you?”
It’s not Philip’s rare meat that makes me chuckle, but rather an incident that happened twenty years ago that has just popped into my head.
I was a cook at The Salty Dog Saloon, a popular bar with a menu whose quality would rival that of The Redwood Lodge. I was in charge of pre-cooking the Prime Rib for the Saturday dinner crowd, a delicate task that required cooking a twenty-five pound roast, worth a couple hundred dollars, to just the right temperature. The trick, I found, was cooking it just enough so that you could serve cuts of it from rare to well, all from the same slab.
On this particular day, I pulled the roast out at just the right time, set it on the cooling rack, and turned to leave the kitchen. I didn’t get very far because standing about an inch from my face was this gorilla of a guy with a bad complexion, bad breath, and a very bad disposition. It was the owner of The East Lake Tavern, a rival bar on the other side of town. He was pissed.
Maybe I was involved in a little tiff that broke out at his bar the night before. Maybe several tables were broken, and maybe after a bit of an ass-kicking, my dad and I were physically removed from the premises. Now, as King Kong was breathing stale beer in my face, it dawned on me that maybe I had broken a golden rule: If you work at one bar, don’t ever start a fight in a rival bar. Oops. My bad.
After chewing me a new one for almost five minutes and giving me a stern warning, he turned to leave. The next thing I remembered I was sprawled out on the floor with a giant slab of rib roast on top of me, blood-juices soaked into my clothes and hair. I had just been sucker-punched.
Philip interrupts me at his point with a look of genuine concern in his half-drunk eyes. “Did you save that expensive roast?”
“Really? I’m laying in a mangled heap under twenty-five pounds of hot meat, and you want to know if I salvaged it?”
He reaches for his glass of wine and smiles at me. Greg approaches our table a second later, Delmonico in one hand, Prime Rib in the other.