Restaurants are all the rage

Kevin Cowherd

October 20, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

You know how sometimes you'll be in a restaurant and the waiter brings your food and you take a bite, only it's so god-awful that you spit the food into your hand and fling it angrily at the ceiling and then stand up, backhand all the silverware and glasses off your table and scream: "You miserable worm, you expect me to eat this?!"

You haven't done that? Well, I have. Suddenly, the whole place is quiet and everyone is staring at you with a combination of shock and fear and . . . I don't know, something else, too.

Awe, maybe. It's so embarrassing.

Then when you finally calm down and notice children at nearby tables whimpering and one or two couples hurriedly paying the check and edging toward the exit, you think: "OK, maybe I overreacted."

And for a while you're on your best behavior.

But then one day you decide to try that little Cajun restaurant on the corner, the one everyone's been talking about since it was written up in the local rag by some critic who describes anything short of a McDonald's Happy Meal as "artfully presented."

So you order the blackened catfish, which turns out not to be too bad. But at one point in the meal, you look up and notice your wife is listlessly poking her fork around in her shrimp etouffee.

"What's the matter?" you say.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," she says, a bit too quickly.

"Don't you like it?"

"Well, it's a little dry," she says, forcing a weak smile and assuring you that the bread and salad have filled her anyway.

And now you feel the blood rushing to your head and your heart going bumpa-bumpa-bumpa, and a noise like the 7:45 Amtrak filling your ears.

White-knuckling the sides of the table with both hands, you tell yourself: "Steady now. Maybe it's just an inexperienced chef. Or maybe the waitress just left the dish sitting too long under the . . ."

But it's no use. You can't shake the feeling that somewhere -- the front register, maybe -- people are laughing at you.

"Honey, please don't cause a . . ." your wife says, just as you grab her plate and fire it Frisbee-style against the drapes.

Then the next thing you know, you're marching past the startled servers and busboys into the kitchen, where you back the chef against the stove with a butter knife, grab one of his hands, hold it down on the lit burner and shout: "What is wrong with you people?!"

Let's face it, we've all done that at one time or another, haven't we?

No, we haven't. At least I haven't. And that business about flinging the food and raking the table setting and exploding at the waiter -- I never did that either.

But, Lord, I want to. Just once I want to react to lousy restaurant food with a major, king-hell tantrum that shakes the walls and peels the paint and makes everyone around me cringe. Erupting like that must be tremendously satisfying.

"Don't cause a scene," my wife is always saying when we eat out and the food is disappointing. Yet how wonderful it must be to really cause a scene!

As a boy, I was taught never to complain about food and to be grateful for whatever swill was ladled onto my plate by the wan-faced adult serving me.

I was taught that there were, by various estimates, either 1 million, 10 million or 50 million starving Chinese or African children who would love to trade places with me, who would happily gobble up a meal of liver, lumpy mashed potatoes and peas and even ask for seconds!

And, I was told, if these starving children couldn't have seconds of liver, lumpy mashed potatoes and peas, they would hurl themselves to the floor and wail and beat the linoleum with their fists, so great would be their disappointment.

But it's one thing to be gracious about lousy food when it's free and you're an 8-year-old stooge sitting at your kitchen table being bombarded ceaselessly by parental propaganda, and quite another when you're sitting in a corner banquette at some fancy restaurant and the lousy food is setting you back $24 per entree.

At those prices, could anyone blame you for suddenly sending a big, hairy fist crashing down on the table, then whirling and grabbing the necktie of a passing maitre d', yanking the man down to your eye level and inquiring coldly: "What is this in the mushroom sauce?"

I think not. A few days later, overcome with remorse, you might -- off a quick note of apology to the man, inquiring about when the brace will be removed from his neck and perhaps inviting him to a hockey game.

But in those few dizzying moments when you were erupting in a white-hot fury and treating three-score stunned diners to a breathtaking, volcanic display of rage, I'll bet life was sweet.

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