Garçon? A side order of surrealitié, please.

Posted: December 11th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 3 Comments »

Most of my food festishist friends have been greenly awaiting my report on my dinner Tuesday night–a 20-course pas de deux prepared by none other than His Holiness Thomas Keller and Alinea‘s divine own Grant Achatz, and served at The French Laundry.

If I had to sum it up in three words I’d say: warm bacon donuts.

They were otherworldly, as was the rest of the meal. Though I’m not sure that Homer Simpson would have enjoyed the other superlative culinary delights quite as much.

Where to start? The small knot of olive “fruit leather” that was just one weensy element of a complex taste-of-this-and-that dish? The eucalyptus foam gracing a perfect cube of, uh, turbo, I think it was? (Hard to keep it all straight when the champagne and wine keep comin’.) The china pot of warm coals and anise-scented wood chips placed alongside one of the courses just to get yer nose sense workin’ too? Or the unforgettable spoonful of ravioli filled with an intense burst of black truffle sauce? Like the biggest best Chewel you’d ever be lucky enough to eat.

Then of course there was the translucently thin and crisp bacon slice wrapped in apple shreds and suspended from a kind of stainless steel tight-rope, not to mention an elegant long skewer with a mini gingersnap and kumquat primly balanced on its end.

My head nearly exploded when, after taking a bite of that last one, I sipped the cabernet it was paired with–leaving me pounding the table like a maniacal deaf-mute (or just someone with their mouth full) to get Mark to drink some of the wine–Drink it!! Quick!–right then too.

If it sounds like the eating of this meal was an experience both theatrical and physical, packed with over-the-top mini mouthful pleasures that Mark and I intentionally synchronized, well, it was. And we weren’t alone. Our neighbors at other tables who’d been seated at times slightly staggered from us were all doing the same.

But hey, it’s California. Instead of being embarrassed by the women next to me closing her eyes and whisper-moaning, “Oh, Maury!” to her husband after taking a mouthful of something, I leaned closer and grinned, “Pretty incredible, right?”

And all the food aside, there was a thrilling energy in the place that was enlivening in and of itself. This was a small group of diners who were willing to pay a silly amount of damn-the-economy money to eat this meal. The front of the house staff was caught up in it too. Their greetings from the moment we walked in were professional and impressively personal–”Good evening and welcome, Mr. and Mrs. McClusky”–while at the same time sparkly-eyed and genuinely gleeful, “What an exciting night we’re about to have!” It was as if we’d all be clapping our hands and squealing if it weren’t for the fact that we were gussied up and wanted to respect and blend into the intimate quiet elegance of the restaurant’s decor.

I mean, it was, after all, The French Laundry.

Plus, Mark and I added our own dose of joy to the scene. Celebrating Mark’s involvement in the Alinea book, the thrilling sense of his belongingness in this foodie-heaven scene, the anticipation of the epic meal stretched before us and, well, just the us-ness of us and life and happiness and the holidays.

Mind you, we didn’t spend the whole meal mooning over the food alone. Towards the end at least there was teen-like texting taking place with friends and some emailing photos of courses. And finally we ended up in the kitchen drinking champagne while the chefs and front of the house staff ate In-and-Out and drank what I saw to be at least one Pabst Blue Ribbon. Go figure.

If merrymaking behind the scenes wasn’t fun enough, I had to break the we’re-such-insiders spell temporarily and insist on having our picture taken with the two chefs. Was it not, after all, monumental to be chatting casually with none other than Thomas Keller?  And that gay Italian guy from Sex in the City–Mario something or other, I think–he was there for a bit too, grabbing Mark’s iPhone at one point and hooting that its red and white plastic case was “Soooooo gay!”

All terribly good fun.

The last thing I want to do is disparage a Tuesday evening around Casa McClusky, but let’s just say they usually aren’t on par with this particular night.

We stumbled giddily into the Surh’s at 1:45AM, me doing a not-super-sober loud whisper to Mark, “He asked me if we would come to their holiday party! Me! Thomas Keller personally invited ME!”

The girls were camped out asleep in the room where Mark and I were also crashing. No problem, since we bunked this way in Kentucky and all went swimmingly, right?

Well, first Paige got up, which I was okay with. I hadn’t fallen asleep yet, so I figured I’d feed her then she’d sleep through the rest of the night.

Uh, no.

Kate and Paige managed to do a remarkable tag-team of waking up and loudly demanding attention of one kind or another. “EH-EH-EH,” Paige’s nurse-me siren, followed by Kate’s, “Mama, are there monsters?” or some other such question or stuffed animal complaint. Rinse and repeat about eight times.

Like a speed-addled volley ball team the four of us rotated beds, with me and Kate on the floor at one point, Paige, Mark, and I in the bed, Mark and Kate on the floor. Statistically work out all the possible configurations we hoped would result in someone–anyone–getting some sleep, and we did it. With enormous lack of success.

At 4:30 Mark whisper-hissed, “This is ridiculous. Let’s just get them in the car and drive home.” So imagine us tossing armfuls of formal clothes, diapers, toys, toiletries and baby blankets into bags, trying to not wake up our host family any more that we were certainly already doing over the course of the prior three hours.

Finally, with the car packed and me in Mark’s t-shirt and a pair of jeans, we convened in the hallway by their front door. “I need shoes,” I said–it being freezing this time of year deep in the heart of a Napa night. Mark motioned to my stilettos by the door–a look I was unwilling to settle for even under these circumstances–prompting my memory that my clogs were by the back door in their garage. (It’s a shoe-free house.)

I handed a still happy clapping all-too-awake Paige over to Mark and said, “I’m getting my clogs in the garage.” A comment he told me later he never heard. In the frigid pitch black garage I also feel around for Kate’s yellow Crocs in a sea of the three resident children’s Crocs. And leaning down I move away from where I’m holding the house door open just enough for it to slide closed.

And of course, it locks.

So here I am in the cold cold cold dark, shoes on now, thank you, but having gotten so damn close to our get-away and suddenly trapped in the garage.

Light taps on the door to the house and my hoarse whisper, “Mark? Uh, Mark?! I’m locked in here!” Nothing.

Days go by. Or perhaps just five or so minutes.

And finally, the door opens with Mark holding Paige and Kate peering around his leg. “What the hell are you doing in here?” he hisses. As if I’d just wanted a few minutes of Me Time in their garage before we made our middle-of-the-night our-kids-are-possessed escape.

All I could do was laugh. I laughed for the first ten minutes of the car ride home at how utterly absurd it was that our amazing evening ended with an utter lack of McClusky Family sleep and we were leaving our friends with not so much as a kitchen table note to return to our own home where at least the girls had their own bedrooms to lie awake in, and there might be some slim ray of hope that familiarity would breed slumber.

Home at 5:30AM. I got a half-hour’s worth of shut-eye in the car, but by 5:45 when we climbed into bed Mark had not slept yet at all. Two hours later, Paige woke up, again in her irrepressible good humor, which by that point we found utterly obnoxious.

Mark staggered to the shower and heroically readied himself for work, as I went through the motions of changing Paigey’s diaper and dressing her for the day.

And man, could I have used a stiff pot of French press coffee and about a dozen of those mini bacon donuts.


3 Comments on “Garçon? A side order of surrealitié, please.”

  1. 1 Megan said at 11:46 am on December 11th, 2008:

    Beautiful in many ways. Mark opening the garage door and your depiction of that made me crack up for quite a while! Good show Kristen!

  2. 2 Jill Davidson said at 1:44 pm on December 11th, 2008:

    We have our highs and our lows and when we have kids they so often come together. Such a great report on the food and the hard fall to earth afterward. So well told! Thank you.

  3. 3 Sheryl said at 8:33 am on December 12th, 2008:

    Great story Kristen!

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