Setting: Earlier this week at The Marrow restaurant in the West Village.
“How awesome is this?” I say. “We’re in a new place, trying a new thing. I mean, it’s Tuesday – if we were home, we’d be camped on the couch, eating delivery and watching Doomsday Preppers. Look at us, out to dinner in New York together!”
Fletch takes in the scene and nods. “Yeah, this is great… but so you know, I’m not eating rabbit neck.”
He taps the menu. “Right here. There’s a dish made from rabbit neck. Yes, I ate squirrel when I went hunting with my dad as a kid, but I draw the line at rabbit neck.”
I furtively glance over his shoulder to make sure no one’s listening. “Please never tell anyone you’ve eaten squirrel.”
He shrugs. “It’s not so bad. Tastes like chicken.”
“Listen to me,” I hiss. “Every time I’m in New York, and no matter how hard I try, I wind up feeling like I just rolled off the bus from Bugtussle. For once, I’d like to not have the waiter say, ‘So, where are you from?’ Just be cool, okay? Maybe we’re not hardcore foodies, but we’re not squirrel-eating rubes. Follow my lead.”
I begin to read and… there are a lot of words I don’t understand on the menu.
Like, a lot.
“What is quark*?”
He shrugs. “Software?”
“So it’s software covered in hazelnuts and paired with stewed wolfberries? Yeah, probably not. By the way, what do you think beerenauslese is?”
“What’s the context?”
“Well, it’s part of the culotte steak dish. I also don’t know what that is. It sounds safe, but how can I be sure that’s not fancy foodie talk for pancreas?”
Fletch shrugs for the hundredth time since we were seated. “You could ask.”
“What part of ‘I don’t want to sound like a hayseed’ do you not understand? Oh, heh. Look at this. They have a salad made from lady apples. Doesn’t that sound dirty? Ha! Lady apple!” which I say at the exact moment the waiter materializes over my shoulder with our cocktails.
He smiles at us as he hands us our drinks. “So… where are you two from?”
I recover my pride a little bit once we place our order. I’m having the culotte steak, after a surreptitious Google search assures me it’s in no way a bovine digestive organ.
“How would you like that prepared?” the waiter asks.
I wave my hand. “However the chef thinks is best.”
He gives me a respectful nod.
We manage to not look like hillbillies through the appetizer and main course. We’re working on our desserts when the waiter checks in and I’m secretly delighted at his delight over my recognizing the flavor of cardamom in the caramel sauce.
“I bet no one watching Doomsday Preppers is having handmade apple hand pie with quark ice cream and cardamom caramel sauce,” I tell Fletch, who thus far has been narrating descriptions of all the dogs who’ve walked by.
“Whoa,” he says. “Someone’s breaking into the apartment across the street.”
“Look over there – guy in the camouflage outfit. He’s trying to push in the air conditioner on the first floor.”
I crane around to gawp at the shadowy figure working on the air conditioner unit. “Holy crap, you’re right! What should we do?”
“Well, I’m going to eat my quark ice cream and watch how it plays out.”
I stare as the guy presses against the air conditioner again and again. It’s only a matter of time until he gets in. “We have to do something!” I insist.
“Like what? All those people are walking by with their dogs, like it’s nothing.”
“But this is New York!” I argue. “You could be on fire here and people would just step over you.”
“Shrug one more time and I will murder you and I’m not kidding.”
“You want any more quark ice cream? ‘Cause I’m about to lick this plate.”
The waiter approaches again. “Everything good?”
Fletch gives him a one-handed thumbs up while he attempts to scrape up every molecule.
I shake my head. “No, we’re fine, but someone’s trying to break into an apartment across the street. We should call the police.”
“You’re kidding! Where?” He peers out the plate glass window behind me.
I point. “Over there, by the door.”
He squints into the darkness. “I don’t see him.”
“Seriously? The window by the door in the middle of the building. Look at him – he’s bobbing back and forth, working on that window. It’s hard to see him because he’s camouflaged.”
“Right by the door?”
Hey, check me out, the Chicago Good Samaritan!
When the chips are down for you, New York, the Midwest is there to save the day!
You’re welcome, West Village!
I’m a hero!
I’m ready for my medal, Mayor Bloomberg!
He squints again. “Is he behind that bush that’s blowing in the wind?”
“Well, no, he’s…” A wave of profound mortification washes over me. “He’s… he’s a bush, isn’t he?”
Fletch puts down his spoon and concurs with the waiter. “Oh, yeah, that’s definitely a bush.”
I’m rendered mute by abject humiliation and am thus unable to answer when the waiter asks if we’d like anything else. He does not wish us a safe trip back to Hooterville, but I’m pretty sure he’s thinking it. And who could blame him?
Fortunately, Fletch is right there, using his best Christian-Bale-as-the-Batman voice to say, “No, thanks. Just the check. We have to go fight crime and keep Gotham safe.”
Stick a quark in me, for I am done.
Ironically, we make it back to the hotel in time to catch a repeat of Doomsday Preppers.
So there’s that.
(*A type of German cheese that’s not dissimilar to ricotta.)
(Also, in retrospect, I realize I pronounced cardamom as ‘cardamon.’ GODDAMN IT.)