The necessity to eat dinner comes up so often— and there is always a decision to be made about which action makes the greater demand on our energy: staying home and cooking (I do the cooking) or getting dressed to go out for dinner. This involves discussing what we might want to eat, where we might want to go, what night of the week it is (will it be too crowded on the weekend at our favorite places?)
What are our favorite places? I have to admit I don’t like pricey restaurants where the waiter reels off the night’s “specials” and then hangs out behind our chairs to ask, too often, if everything’s all right or if he can get us anything more. I don’t like places where they take your order, bring rolls and a salad, and 45 minutes later there is no sign of our food. By then, I’ve eaten enough and don’t need dinner anymore.
There’s a Japanese place we love: they bang a drum to welcome us as we come in, they offer us the sushi list, which we bypass to order our standard favorite: salmon teriyaki, California roll, salad with ginger dressing, and tempura. The dipping sauce is sweet and delicious, the rice is a fluffy beautiful texture, the chopsticks are a brave pleasure, and the tea is strong and full of flavor. I could come here every night.
A friend gave us a gift card to a lobster place. Tonight we decide to venture there. Inside the restaurant we smell a decidedly fishy stink and suddenly we are in front of the lobster cage– the water-filled tank where the creatures are handcuffed and waiting for their death. This is not a pretty sight—a bunch of lobsters are crammed in a corner, standing upon one another, hoping to hide from a pointing finger and a voice saying “I’ll take that one.”
There is one enormous lobster in the tank who is trying to get our attention, he’s scrabbling around and coming to the glass to look at us with his beady eyes. “Don’t take me,” he’s telling us. “Don’t you dare.” A young woman appears with a grappling hook and flings it into the case to capture this lobster, thinking he’s the one who has caught our fancy. She lifts him out and we are face to face with this creature of innumerable antennae and limbs and claws (taped together, of course) and all his sharp edges.
“How do you usually kill him?” I ask conversationally.
“Oh, the chef stabs him with a knife right here,” she indicates a point behind his eyes. “They feel nothing, lobsters have no brains.”
“You don’t boil him alive?”
“Oh, no. He would struggle in the pot and splash the chef with boiling water if we just dropped him in. That’s why we stab him first. Or sometimes we freeze him to make him sleepy before we boil him.”
Don’t tell me this lobster has no brain. Of course he would struggle in a pot of boiling water. He is looking at us with his black eyes, and he knows what this conversation is about.
“You know,” I say to this young woman, “I think we’ll come back another time, thanks for all the information, though,” and I pull my husband out the door.
We have a few other choices: there’s a burger place where, once you place your order, you are given a device that flashes when your burger is ready. I really don’t like to hold this device which dozens of others have held and then hold my burger in the same hand. Furthermore, this place features deafening music that makes us want to run outside with our hands over our ears.
There’s a pizza place that lets you choose from a list of fifty items to put bits of on your pizza– bacon chips, grated apple, pork rind, cow tongue, spinach, pesto sauce, ground almonds, mango chutney. This asks for too many decisions.
Now we really are tired and hungry, and though we don’t discuss it, we automatically know and accept the fact that whatever we eat tonight will have been killed days or weeks prior to our dinnertime. We understand the arguments made by our vegetarian friends, yet we are of a generation that grew up being fed “chopped meat” and chicken soup by our loving mothers.
Chicken in every dimension was our mothers’ antidote to life’s problems. My husband and I are so tired and hungry now that we both feel a desire to eat chicken tonight. A place called “Steer and Ale” is around the corner, and Monday is their fried chicken special night. Lots of retired folks go to this place, the price is right, they give you a pile of napkins, and, even before you ask, the waitress brings you take-out boxes.
We decide to go for it—my God, what incredible comfort food, a whole quartered chicken fried to perfection, a baked potato sloshing with butter, sour cream and chives, a slab of dripping buttery garlic bread. And, for dessert, we know what is coming are bowls of tapioca pudding topped with whipped cream.
We eat with a kind of rapture, with gratitude that such simple joys are still possible for us. That just for tonight we will indulge in this kind of wild orgy and be utterly satisfied and happy. We tear with pleasure at our crunchy pieces of fried chicken. We look at each other and smile. Dinner out. A great thing tonight.