The building on Vista Street had been vacant for months. Actually, once she did the math she realized it had been years. Almost two, if she was correct, roughly the same time her last relationship went south. But suddenly there was brown paper in the windows, the outside was being painted, the inside renovated, and as she passed the building each day on her way to and from the office she saw how quickly things were coming together. She was very eager to know what it would re-open as: a gym most likely and disappointingly.
And then one day, there was a sign out front:
Fine French Cuisine et Suite
She went straight home, changed out of her work wear and took a shower, shaving for the first time in months. She got out of the shower and into a little black dress she’d been saving for her next date, but since she had no idea when that would be she decided to treat herself. A quick smear of eyeshadow and a bit of mascara, a flash of lipgloss, lipstick never looked quite right on her skin, and she was out the door with her little strappy sandals clicking away.
She decided to walk as it was only a half mile away and a lovely evening. She rarely got outside anymore it seemed, always at work or at home pretending to sleep on the couch, Netflix inquiring on occasion if she was still watching. The air was perfect, she could finally tell it was autumn, the crispness to the air becoming apparent, cool and clean and promising. She noted the leaves changing and the advertisements in shop windows promising pumpkins and cinnamon and sweater weather.
The restaurant was clearly just opening for dinner when she arrived and she asked if she needed reservations. “Non, non mademoiselle. This is the advantage of opening mid-week, no one is even aware. We expect it will be overflowing this weekend though, eh? Tonight you will have a friend?”
“No,” she replied with a smile, “seulement moi.”
“Ah, you speak French! You’re accent is suberbe! Ou avez-vous appris a parlerfrancais?”
“Merci. I learned in high school and rarely get a chance to practice, you’re very kind.”
“Par ici, mademoiselle,” he said, bowing slightly and waving the menu towards a table for two.
As she walked in, the waiter following discreetly behind her and pulling out her chair, she noted the luxury all about her. Fine carpets, beautiful linen tablecloths reaching all the way to the ground, the cutlery all obviously new and hand polished, the romantic dim lighting and framed artwork strategically placed around to muffle sounds. This would be the perfect place for a date, she thought as she sat down and was gently pushed forward, her napkin swept off the table in front of her and gracefully lowered to her lap for her.
“You may expect the wine list first, no? If you will permit me, I have a recommendation? You peruse the menu first, oui, and I will bring for you the perfect accompaniment for each course. You trust me,” the waiter placed the menu in her hand before continuing, “whatever you pick, you must start with the apero. I will be right back.”
While she was convinced this meal was going to be terrible for her bank balance, she was so charmed by her surroundings and the knowledge that this would be the best meal she’d eaten in perhaps her entire life, that she set to perusing the menu with gusto. Only as she was reviewing the first course, the promised apero not making it onto the menu as more than a given with no description, that she became concerned. Surely there had been a mistake. Typos definitely. Or more like two different documents had been printed at the same time and the printer glitched, printing the two together, for there, listed under “premier cours” were some unexpected entries:
brie au four
tarte a l’Oignon
lower back massage
souffle au fromage
Should she say something to the waiter? He was clearly going to be very embarrassed if this was his restaurant, as she suspected, or owned by his family. But to not say anything, wouldn’t that be worse. She was obviously their first patron and they’d put so much work into this place that she’d hate to see it fail. He was coming towards her bearing a drink and a plate, she had only moments to decide what to do, and then there he was, placing the small glass and plate before her with a flourish and a smile.
“Voila,” he said, “have you determined your meal, mademoiselle?”
She was blushing furiously, but managed to stammer out, “well, ye…er, no…you see mmm I believe your menu may have some errors?”
“Ah non, c’est terrible!” he said bending down to look at her menu, “please, show me this.”
She pointed to “scalp massage” and then to “hand massage” and her index finger was on it’s way towards “lower back massage” when the waiter began laughing. “Ah, no, mademoiselle, no no no, these are not errors. We are a full service restaurant and you Americans are so tense, yes? So much of this stress and working that you do. We want you to enjoy your meal, to relax, and how will you do this in a traditional four or even five course situation if we do not offer these things?” he looked at her expectantly and also as though she were so silly to not see the necessity behind his words, their simple truth. “And so, I will give you some time. You enjoy this pastis and olives and peruse the menu. I shall return anon.”
She was immediately grateful there was no mistake in the menu but also still confused by something that seemed so obvious to him and so out of place to her. She took a sip of the pastis, mmm like drinking licorice, and popped an olive in her mouth, fantastic, before returning to her menu. The second course also had, what she considered to be some oddities, as did the third. Things were progressing from dubious to downright surreal by the time she got to the fourth:
le quatrieme cours
apple cranberry galette