Randi is on a brief leave. This column was originally published Jan. 13-19, 2000.
We all have our breaking points, and I discovered my husband’s last Thursday evening after we arrived at a nearby restaurant for dinner. We had been there once before. The place had good word of mouth, and the reviews said the service was friendly and the food was imaginatively prepared. Perhaps we should have lingered longer over the word “imaginatively.”
We were dining with one of our favorite people, our daughter, and my husband wanted it to be a special treat for her.
We were seated by one of the friendly staff, and he made a point of removing the white napkins and offering us black ones, saying, “These won’t leave lint on your black slacks.”
“I’m impressed, “ I said. “What a thoughtful accommodation.”
Don was perusing the menu. “I know what I’m having,” he said, with great relish. “The tuna steak with bok choy and wasabi potatoes.” Our daughter said she would have the same.
I saw trouble looming on the horizon, and it had fins.
The waiter arrived to take our orders.
“I’ll have the tuna, cooked medium,” my daughter said.
The waiter looked pained. “We cook the tuna rare,” he said. “Medium, with pink on the inside, is as far as we’ll go.” She said that was fine.
But it wasn’t fine with the big guy. “I would like the same,” my husband purred, “but I want mine well done. I don’t do pink.”
The waiter looked stricken. “I’m sorry, sir, but the chef won’t cook it past medium.”
“I know how I like my tuna,” Don said, quite reasonably. “I won’t send it back because it’s too well done. I like it that way. It’s my dinner, and I want it cooked the way I want to eat it.”
The waiter fetched the manager, who remembered us from the week before. “Sir, you sent your tuna back three times last week,” he said.
“That’s right,” Don said. ”Because it was raw each time, even though I ordered it well done.”
“I’m sorry,” the manager said. “But the chef won’t cook it past medium.”
“You mean to tell me that I’m paying for this dinner and I have to eat it the way the chef likes it?”
“I assume the chef is the owner,” my husband said.
“And he doesn’t care if he loses a customer?”
“No, sir. He serves his tuna purple in the middle.”
By now my husband was turning purple himself. He canceled the tuna and ordered a vegetable plate.
Our daughter suggested we try to reframe the situation.
“You’re so angry, Dad. Try to think of this from the chef’s point of view. He’s a food artist. He’s the Van Gogh of food, and you’re saying to him, “What’s with all the blue swirls? Paint me polka dots.”
The big guy wasn’t in the mood to reframe. “He can paint all the blue swirls he wants, but I don’t have to eat them. This guy is telling me that if I want to eat the meal I want to eat, I have to eat it the way he enjoys it.”
I see it as a control issue: Yes, you will. No, I won’t. The chef was a prima donna, an incarnation of “Seinfeld’s” soup Nazi. My husband couldn’t get the meal he wanted, which is, after all, the general idea of dining out, and he was right.
Scrambled eggs with ketchup, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, burnt steaks, matzo balls hard as hockey pucks: culinary idiosyncrasies are an American tradition. In the future, when we hear about a restaurant where there’s an artist at the burners, we will dine elsewhere.
Copyright 2023 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.