Steve made a reservation at Ruth’s Chris Steak House for us for Valentine’s Day. We are usually seated near the window in front. The window is nice, but one get’s all the through traffic from the door. In the middle of the restaurant, the waiters are crossing back and forth past one’s table. This time, Steve requested a quiet table, and the hostess led us through the labyrinth to the back of the house. I sat, facing a painted “tapestry” of black figures on beige. Just sliding into the chair was relaxing; I felt the reality of the day slide away. Quiet, subdued, the perfect setting to check visual sense and let aroma and taste move to the fore.
It was Valentine’s Day eve at an up-scale restaurant. Most of the tables were set for couples. Stared and stared and stared. Behind me, a table with four young couples was having a wonderful time, laughing and talking; the air around them was lighter and shinier than elsewhere in the restaurant. Throughout the house, pheromones, hormones, suppressed lust were palpable. Next to us a middle-aged, plump couple, finishing their last bite, staredand stared into each other’s eyes until they paid their bill and took off.
At a nice restaurant, we like to begin sipping a Kir Royal, the dry bubbles of the champagne kissing the roof of my mouth while the black current sweetness lingered just a touch longer. The waiter brought a half loaf of bread, warm and crusty, the saltiness on top begging to be mitigated with a slather of whipped butter, a perfect foil for the cocktail.
I ordered the seafood gumbo while Steve got the asparagus and hearts of palm salad with the agreement that we’d switch half-way through. The gumbo was hearty, the scoop of rice in the middle, so pretty as I flattened it and watched the rice scatter into the deep soup. Little bites of spicy chorizo resisted between the jaws. I had a few spoonfuls of the soup, and then we traded plates. The salad – oh, my! The sweet, tangy dressing coated every leaf of mixed greens while the asparagussnapped in one’s teeth, followed by the hearts of palm crunching satisfyingly.
On to the entrees: a cowboy cut rib-eye for Steve, a fillet for me. We shared the family style garlic mashed potatoes and garlic green beans. (Hey, as long as everyone’s eating garlic, it’s okay, right?) Again, the vegetables were done to perfection, the beans crisp but not raw, the potatoes uniform with just a hint of garlic.
And ,oh, lord, my fillet. It arrived smiling on its hot plate with a pat of butter melting into the marbled meat. I sliced slowly down through the brown, crisp exterior to a soft, moist, warm red center. I closed my eyes and brought a forkful to my mouth. The flavor covered my tongue, warm and full, side to side. Then a sip of Malbec. (Okay, Steve got the Malbec, and I got the Shiraz, but I liked the Malbec better. He offered to give it to me – as he always does – and I accepted -- as I always do.) The Malbec was like a boat under the waves of the steak: supportive but not overwhelming. A perfect union.
The meal, so satisfying, hadn’t quite reached resolution. It concluded with a small portion of cheesecake with slivers chocolate bark, the final resolution. This was cheesecake just the way I like it. No cloying syrupy sauces, just a simple round of cheese cake topped with a blueberry (refreshing), a raspberry (minimal flavor) and a blackberry (squirting with juicy fullness). We slowly allowed each bite to melt onto our tongues between sips of decaf cappuccino. In the end, I tucked the chocolate bark into the bag; satiation is satiation.
Fortunately, Ruth’s Chris is 15 minutes from our house. It wasn’t that we’d had so much to drink but that the endorphins had so overwhelmed our brains that anything short of a small nuclear explosion wouldn’t have brought us to full consciousness.
At home on the couch, tuning in “House,” I crunched on the bitter chocolate bark, exhausted, wilted, spent.