Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Tale of the Perfect Meal

Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman who had her dining experience ruined by the evil waitress serving her. Okay, so I'm the beautiful young woman (because I am. Really!) and the woman wasn't evil so much as extremely inattentive.

You see, it was my friend J's birthday. Now, birthdays aren't as fun for us as they used to be. It's that slow climb towards middle age that sometimes feels like it's happening at the speed of light, mostly when an unwanted gray hair pops up out of seemingly nowhere. She chose Staccato for her birthday dinner, the benefit of being older that you can afford to treat yourself when you want. We'd been there before, both for dinner and just for drinks or happy hour. L happens to think that their chicken pesto pizza is just about the Best Thing In Town while I am particularly fond of the Wiseguy cocktail. I highly recommend it if you are one who can handle your alcohol. It is instant happiness in a glass. On all of these occasions, we had perfectly pleasant experiences. The food is very good with excellent presentation and I'd never had a single complaint. Until the evening in question.

As I said, it was J's birthday. Now, we didn't mention this when making the reservation because we had no reason to expect that we'd enjoy our evening any less than we had on previous visits. How wrong we were. First, we were seated at the very first table behind the hostess station. Not the best place, rather disappointing, but someone has to sit there and it turned out to be us that night. We grumbled a little bit while we waited for our first drink.

Our server, who will be known hereafter as Ms. Ignore-the-Table-in-the-Corner, seemed nice enough at first. She came to take our drink order and took our appetizer order when she brought our drinks. And that was the end of that. She brought our appetizer and proceeded to ignore us for the rest of our meal. She didn't take our dinner order until we had eaten all of our appetizer. This made for a very long wait between courses. She neglected to let us know what the specials were, we had to ask. She was very slow in asking if we'd like a second drink and never asked if we'd like a third. She never came to check on us or ask if we needed anything else. There was a young girl who brought us water and we ended up asking her if she could bring our check and box our leftovers as she was more attentive to us than Ms. Ignore-the-Table-in-the-Corner.

Something you should know about me is that I might complain to my dinner companions about the service we receive but I truly do try to give someone the benefit of the doubt. There is a reason that waiting tables isn't my job. Maybe she was having a bad day/her dog was sick/her boyfriend just left her. But we watched her and every other table got her prompt attention. She walked past us dozens of times while serving them and completely ignored us. Wouldn't even look at us. It was like we were invisible to her. Or else a really dirty pile of laundry in the corner that she'd rather not deal with.

Needless to say, her poor service and inattentiveness ruined our dinner experience. J was especially unhappy since it was her birthday and this was supposed to be a treat to make her feel better. We had planned on splurging on dessert even, but by the time our dinner finally arrived we only wanted to leave and it couldn't happen fast enough.

And here we come to the part of the story where I did something I've never done before. I wrote a complaint to the restaurant. I have friends who have complained very publicly about poor service and rude restaurant staff. Some of you may be familiar with the Kanpai Incident from a couple of years ago. I never felt that any experience warranted that much attention. And I didn't this time either. After thinking about it, the real reason I wrote to Staccato is because I really like it there. I had enjoyed all of my visits up until this one and I thought that if that evening had been my first visit, I would never have gone back. And I didn't want someone else to feel this way about 'my' restaurant. It actually mattered to me, odd as that sounds.

So I sat down with my friend the laptop and sent off a quick email to Staccato Management. I really didn't expect a reply. I suppose I'm used to the attitude that people don't care anymore. "So what." "Who cares about you." "We have a full house tonight so you must be wrong." I certainly didn't expect the response I got. Susan Pasquetti, co-owner of Staccato, wrote me back personally and quickly. She sincerely apologized, and seemed honestly surprised by Ms. Ignore-the-Table-in-the-Corner's service as she was one of the original staff members and apparently had the reputation of being "extremely attentive to every detail." It was a surprisingly heartfelt and much appreciated response.

Fast forward three months to last night. A rare night out with L. An actual Date Night. I decided to give Staccato another try. As much as L loves the pizza, he'd never actually been there for dinner and, although aware of my previous bad experience, had no expectations of his own. It turned out to be one of the Absolute Best Dinners Ever.

We were seated at a cozy table in front of the fireplace. Our server this time was Amy. She introduced herself to us right away and took our drink order. Throughout the entire meal she was prompt, courteous and attentive. She answered questions about the food knowledgeably and complimented my choice of entree. (I don't know why I get such a kick out of it when they do that. I just do.) She brought us more bread to dip in the delicious tomato broth that the clams and mussels came in. She brought L more coffee. She boxed our leftovers neatly. She was absolutely perfect.

The surprise of the evening came when Susan Pasquetti herself brought my entree out personally to meet me. She is a lovely woman. And before you say anything, Amy asked at the end of our meal if I know Susan. I replied that we had just met, having the impression that Amy wasn't aware of my complaint letter. I believe her wonderful service was indicative of how she treats all of her customers.

And now I must take a moment to tell you about our meal because it was that good. I'm not a restaurant critic, I just like good food and this was exceptional. We started with the clams and mussels. I told you that Amy brought extra bread to go with it. This is because the tomato broth is so good I wanted to soak up every last little drop of it. The bread is also worth mentioning. Crispy, crunchy crust with a soft, pillowy inside. I am somewhat of a bread connoisseur and this is really excellent bread. If I had to choose only one type of food to eat for the rest of my life it would probably be bread and cheese. See? I'm really a simple girl.

Next, I knew I wanted the Caesar Roulade salad. Similar to the traditional Caesar, it is served as a heart of romaine with goat cheese stuffed inside the leaves. I happen to have an obsession with goat cheese lately so I really just love this salad. L chose the same and was also pleased.

For my entree I had a bit of a debate with myself. I've had the Mock Beef Tender before and loved it. Bread, cheese, meat - simple girl, remember? No comments from the peanut gallery necessary. But then Amy came to inform us of the evening's specials. Staccato has a risotto special every night. I've seen other people order it before and while the presentation was beautiful, I was only briefly tempted to try it. Last night's risotto consisted of duck, roasted red pepper, a goat cheese mousse and shaved truffles. Then she told us about the mahi mahi with two kinds of sauces and an apple-crab salad on top. Darn. Steak? Duck? Mahi mahi? I normally go with what I know, but threw caution to the wind last night and went with the risotto. When duck is done right, there's not much that beats it. And this was certainly done right. I expected a few pieces of duck with mostly rice. I got a moist, delicious duck morsel in every bite. And the risotto? Just the perfect amount of cheese, not overwhelmingly rich, like the kind of rich where you have two bites and you're done. I wanted to eat all of it but after the clams and mussels, extra bread and salad I just couldn't do it. Which just means I have a delicious little lunch waiting for me today.

L went with the Mock Beef per my recommendation. This comes as beef medallions with the most delicious goat cheese gratin (obsesssion, remember?) and beautiful, flowery stems of broccolini. He loved it. Described the steak as "melt in your mouth." And it did. I stole a couple of bites. Little bites of heaven.

Last night being Date Night, and having such success so far, we went for it and ordered dessert. I was very disappointed to learn that they had run out of the creme brulee trio but L spotted the pumpkin cheesecake right away so I settled for that. Settled does not turn out to be the right description. I'm not even a big pumpkin fan, but this was as close to the perfect cheesecake as I have ever had. Topped with just the right amount of whipped cream, swirls of caramel on the plate and the prettiest and most delicious piece of pumpkin seed brittle on top. More bites of heaven. Four to be exact because I was absolutely stuffed. The cheesecake also ended up in a little box and is in the fridge waiting to be fought over later.

It was, in the end, The Perfect Meal. Impeccable service, exquisite food and the company? A Date Night to beat all date nights. I couldn't have been happier.

The moral of the story dear readers? Not everyone deserves second chances. Not what you thought I'd say? It's true. But anyone who honestly and sincerely tries to do their absolute best for you does deserve another chance. Susan Pasquetti and Staccato fit this category to a T. Thank you Susan, Amy and the Unseen Chef for an incredible meal and a truly remarkable evening! My love affair with Staccato will continue.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Don't pee on your sister!

A few months ago I couldn't imagine why I would say this particular phrase. Now I say it all the time.

I have two dogs, which would normally require two leashes. But I'm a genius and got a double doggie harness, which hooks one leash to both of their harnesses. Now they are the ones fighting if they get tangled up instead of me wrestling with two leashes, switching hands, undoing the mess they get themselves in. Brilliant! Except for one thing.

Remy loves to stop and pee on every bush, tree and rock every 10 feet. Daddy encourages this behavior, probably because peeing outdoors is one of the few ways in which he can actually bond with said dog. Mommy thinks it's gross and says so. And little Ruby? Well, the poor little girl is often in Remy's line of fire even if she's not actually a target. He's somehow managed to miss her so far. Until today.

I decide it's a beautiful day, nice enough to go for a nice, long walk by the river. No stress, right? Wrong. Because here we are, strolling along, until I get stopped short by Remy sniffing a tree, a rock, a bush, a pine needle. And more often than not, Ruby is smack in the middle of Remy and his desired pee target. So I tug on the leash and say "Don't pee on your sister." We go on our merry way.

Until It happens. I don't catch him in time. He stops, sees a tree, doesn't even give the warning sniff. He just lifts his leg and marks his spot. His spot ends up being his sister's neck, because she is standing in the unfortunate location of Between Remy and the Tree. And it's the white part of her neck, so there's a nice yellow pee stain for the remainder of our walk. And I'm yelling at my dog, "I told you not to pee on your sister!!" like some crazy person.

Ruby is recovered now, even if I'm not. I got her all cleaned up and sprayed her with pretty puppy perfume for good measure. I sprayed Remy too, just because it scared him. That'll show him!

Monday, October 29, 2007

If I could spin a cocoon....

I would wrap one tightly, securely, insistently around my daughter. Just like a caterpillar she is undergoing a transformation. Sometimes dramatic, other times more subtle, always mesmerizing, amazing and frightening at the same time. I'm not always sure what my role should be or what to expect at the end, so I'd like to cocoon her and tuck her away in a safe place until she emerges miraculously as the butterfly she is meant to become.

I've said this before to any poor soul who will listen to me, but I really hate that middle school starts at 6th grade here. I don't think she's ready. She's still so small, the 8th grade boys tower over her. She is only just barely beginning to develop but insists on wearing a bra because she has to undress in the locker room and needs that tiny little undergarment for security.

And it's not just the physical differences that I am on the constant lookout for. She's much more focused on her social life this year. She's had a cell phone for the last year, but I've had to take it away twice in the last month for excessive use. If I gave her free reign, she'd rack up more minutes the rest of us combined. She's even more boy-crazy than before and unabashedly so. It's very disconcerting for a parent. I'm choosing my battles, and so far I think I'm winning more than I'm losing, but I just may be losing my sanity in the process.

Her social ambitions are now being reflected in her grades. In elementary school, she was used to being the queen bee. She garnered the attentions of both her classmates and her teachers effortlessly. This affection, and lack of having to work for it, was reflected in her school performance. She was able to focus more on schoolwork and was rewarded handsomely by her teachers. She basically only needed to show up, smile, pay a modicum amount of attention and she coasted her way through the introductory phase of her education.

Now she is realizing the harsh reality of having to work to reach goals. There have been a few disappointing test scores and quiz results. The notion of actually studying in order to do well is a jarring wake up call. To both of us, really. I've always taken for granted the fact that she is intelligent and I didn't expect that would ever change. I guess I hadn't thought to factor in the hormonal impacts of puberty. The fact that, for her, a math quiz just isn't as exciting as the upcoming dance or that being able to spell "occurrence" correctly isn't as satisfying as having That Boy talk to you.

Puberty. What an ugly word. It's turning my child into an almost unrecognizable being. Not to say she's been perfect to this point. This little person has always had her own ideas, her own agenda about her life and is always pushing the boundaries of her small existence. If this translates into her ability to stand up for herself and her beliefs and not take "no" for an answer, then I will be very proud indeed. But when I am the one saying "no", it's a somewhat bitter pill to swallow. Asking her to fold the laundry results in an eye roll, denying her request to spend the night at a friend's house turns into a 10 minute attempt at negotiation to get her way. It's exhausting sometimes.

I have to admit this isn't my favorite part of parenting. I'm not fully prepared for this phase. It's a little like that dream I have where it's finals time and I haven't studied all semester so I have to go in and just wing it. I wing it a lot these days. I guess she is too. She's just trying to find her way in the world and I need to step back and give her some room to grow. She's actually a really cool kid and I have to trust that at least that won't change about her.

It would just be so much easier to wrap her up and hide her away until I'm ready to let her fly out into the world on her own.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Internet is THIS big....

There are days that I am so in love with the internet I can't tell you! Today is one of those days. Yes, me and WWW are having ourselves an Affair!! I'm pre-planning for Halloween. (And those of you who have been to our parties, THIS year is going to be a doozy!) So I'm looking for a costume and a mask (party-goers, stay tuned. Ya'll will be filled in soon enough). The combinations I am finding are limitless. I can't choose just one! The colors, the textures - I am on sensory overload!! Even if it is only my visual sense. Shush, I'm in some kind of trance right now...

On the other hand, this World Wide Web thing terrifies me. Because I am a parent. Of a girl-child. When I was a child, my parents had to worry only about our neighbors, maybe a teacher once in a while, and a random stranger driving down our street. Today the Radius of Danger is so much larger. My daughter now plays on-line games. Made for kids. Should be safe, right? I'm not so sure. She has admitted to 'pretending' to be 15 to boys she has 'met' online. She is 11. She's not 15. What are the chances that these 'boys' are 15?

I'm torn on this issue. I may be an 'old woman' now, but I remember those days. I remember wearing extra makeup in the hopes I might score a margarita in the local Mexican restaurant. I succeeded, by the way. At 16. I remember the pangs of puberty. I may not have known exactly what I wanted or how to get it, but I knew there was a goal in there somewhere. So I can't completely blame my daughter. She's having the same feelings, the same thoughts, that girls have had forever. Blame it on the hormones. I'm going to.

My dilemma is this -
I don't have to worry only about the next door neighbor, or her math teacher, or her tennis coach. I have to worry about the random 42-year-old man who lives in Poughkeepsie. The one who has an interest in my child that, if I knew what it was and who he was, I would, without a doubt, without hesitation, pull his testicles through his throat. What I'm saying is, our children are exposed to a hundred thousand times the dangers that we were. I'm often accused of exaggerating this point, but I don't think I am. When I was a child, the people that could hurt me were limited to maybe a 10 mile radius. The people that can hurt my daughter are limited by their internet access. This is the entire world. Leaving out the third world countries only. Maybe.

What's the solution? I don't know. Open communication? Web Nanny? I don't know. I don't have all the answers. This is new territory for me. I don't think I'm alone in this. I will be over-vigilant. I will be nosy. I will probably, unfortunately, spy on my child. In the name of safety. I hope it's enough. If anyone has a suggestion, I'm open.

In the meantime, WWW and I have some more dresses to look at. And shoes. Maybe some gloves. The night is young and I'm feeling frisky....

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Crazy Dog Lady

Yes, I am THAT crazy dog lady. Sir Rembrandt owns no less than two sweaters, three collars, sunglasses and a bathrobe. He also recognizes me as That Crazy Dog Lady and refuses to wear the sunglasses and insists on looking humiliated when required to wear his bathrobe. He does, however, absolutely adore his black Rock Star t-shirt. I swear he'd wear it every day if I let him. He knows that it makes him Cool.

After tomorrow I will be even Crazier. I am going to pick up the newest addition to our little fur family. Her name is Ruby and she is 12 weeks old. She is beautiful, she is adorable, she is the Future Diva.

Since I was already at Target buying the obviously-needed supply of carpet cleaner, I checked out their Doggy section. I was quite disappointed, as it seemed bare compared to the usual supply of designer duds, toys and bowls they usually carry. Although they did have the most precious pink velvet collar I've ever seen. I also purchased a rubber chewy shaped like a diamond ring. Pink of course. I was very tempted to buy the eyelet lace dress, but as I don't know her exact size yet, I had to pass it up. Fear not, she will own her first Diva dress in a matter of days.

Next I stopped at Petsmart since Target was so low in their selection of leashes. I selected a pink harness with rhinestones and matching leash. This girl will be in style, let me tell you. I also picked up a cute little stuffed dog for her to cuddle with, perfectly soft and snuggly.

I am a little concerned that Remy will feel Less Than and Forgotten About but I know if he does, it won't last long. He's very intelligent and I think he already understands. He assumes that all stuffed animals belong to him, as they should, but he's really not interested in the one I brought home today. I think he will make the best big brother around and love his little Ruby almost as much as I will.

The thought of the two of them snuggled together in front of the fireplace just warms my Crazy Dog Lady heart.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mood of Melancholy With a Side of Reflection

Yes, I realize that it has been months. I would resolve to write for you more frequently, but I'm a really bad liar. I'm afraid you'll just have to take what you can get at this point, with my sincerest apologies. Thank you for understanding my neuroses.

Why the melancholy you ask? Oh, well, what could it be? Possibly the fact that I probably hate winter more than anyone else I know. After almost 15 years of living here I am still dumbfounded that my windshield can require this 'object' to scrape 'ice' before I can drive away.
But besides that, I've undergone a few changes in the last few months. My mom and dad decided to retire and move to some God-forsaken town in Mississippi. (M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-Humpback-Humpback-I) that only has dial-up internet. Horror of all horrors -can you even imagine such a thing?

Now I know that I'm an adult, and have separated psychologically appropriately from my mother's apron strings, but I cried like a baby when she told me she would be moving. And I had over a year to prepare, as they had a business here and my brother was finishing high school. But it wasn't enough. And, oddly, the closer to the day that we got, the farther I pushed away. I couldn't handle it. I could not imagine not being in the same town as my mom. She's the reason I've stayed in the Land of Long Winters for as long as I have. I wanted my daughter to be close to her grandparents, I had a convenient back-up babysitter. True, I rarely saw my mom, but she was here when I needed her. Or just wanted to see her. She was here.

They ended up leaving at the end of October. That made this the first Christmas in my whole life that I have not spent with my family. And it truly is the family as my 18 year old baby brother and 29 year old baby sister moved with the parental units as well. I may have cried like a baby over the move, but that's where my babyness ended. (Apart from the whining that I'm doing now.) It seemed as if all the traditions from all the years just evaporated. Like they too had been packed in a box and put on the moving truck. I believe this holds true for a lot of families, the Mom is the glue. The Mom makes It happen. Without Mom, there would be no Christmas. There have been some adjustments over the years, as I've grown up, divorced, started a new relationship. But the basics were always there. And so was Mom.

This was also the first year that I allowed my daughter to be with her dad on Christmas Eve. Which meant no Kid in additon to no Mom. I almost did not know what to do with myself. So I baked cookies and pretended Santa was still coming. It was nice, just me and L. I made filet mignon for dinner. It just wasn't the same. There were two pieces of me missing. Physical, literal pieces - the part I came from and the part that came from me.

By default, I am now the glue. For my new family and for my old family. My Mom is sort of a weirdo. I can tell you 5 times in my life that I've seen her cry. I have probably cried at least once in the last 5 days. We are opposites. I am sentimental and "dramatic", she is practical and stable, consistent in her inconsistencies. She is the one now breaking away and leaving me behind. I'm not sure, but I think she has it backwards. At any rate, I am the New Glue. I am now responsible for holding my new family together and maintaining the connection between my parents for my daughter. And myself.

So there is sadness. It makes the New Year something else for me. Some relationships mean more to me than others. I want to make the most of what I have, and less of what I don't need. Cleaning out my closet. Dropping dead weight. Glue can only hold so much. I don't feel that I've achieved Super Glue status yet, it's all still so new to me. I'm practicing with paper, I can't do anything fancy like china teacups yet.

There are other changes I've gone through recently. One in particular that I chose. But it will have to wait as there is a bottle of wine and a boyfriend calling my name. So dear reader, to be continued...

Oh, resolutions you ask? I detest them, but if you insist.

I resolve to take better care of my skin.
I resolve to drink more.

I know there is a very real possibility that number one could be negated by number two, but there you go. It is what it is.
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