You are dining in a fine, four-star restaurant this evening, being catered to by a world renowned chef. By far, this is the finest eatery you have ever been to and you’re apprehensive as you walk up, afraid you will feel out of place. You cannot make a reservation for Here – that’s the name of the place: Here. You cannot even get on a waiting list for Here. Seating is by lottery only, posted at the gate the day before, or by personal invitation from the Chef. You were invited.
Anticipation, they say, enhances the meal. For months you have been wondering what this famous chef is going to serve. Reading only high praise and stories of culinary bliss, you’ve spent many restless nights since receiving your invitation, tossing and turning, wondering why you got the invitation. You don’t order from a menu at Here; you simply enjoy what’s put before you.
The doorman looks at your invitation then hands it back to you. He removes his top hat and bows slightly as he opens the door.
‘Welcome!’ The Maître d’ shakes your hand with both of hers. ‘We have been expecting you. Right this way please.’ She first takes you to a photographer waiting in the kitchen, where you have your picture taken with the Chef!
The Chef gives you a personal tour of where he creates new masterpieces nightly, and again you wonder, why am I so special? The kitchen is enormous, spotless and so well-lit you are followed by a hundred silhouettes. ‘Everything in Here was sacrificed so I could create,’ Chef explains somberly. ‘It is for the flora and the fauna, for all the creatures great and small, we celebrate supper.’ With all the kitchen noise, you’re not sure you hear him correctly but nod in agreement just the same.
The dining area is small and silent by comparison, but beautiful and warm with original oil paintings on the walls, portraits of dignitaries that have walked this carpet before you. Your waitress takes you to your booth. All the waitstaff wear white tuxedoes with no ties, white gloves without fingertips and a black, pillbox-style chef’s cap that looks to be a few sizes too small. They move quietly among the guests.
The table with your name on it is Illuminated by a single candle. The light bounces off of the Waterford crystal and sterling silver tableware set on a white satin tablecloth that drapes over all edges. The plush leather bench is like sitting on a cloud.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s, From The Beginning, starts to play softly from overhead speakers.
You don’t like to dine alone, but yours was an invitation for one. You look around and see all of the tables are set for one. Your waitress brings your appetizer on a tiny plate made of pearl-blue, turquoise and dazzling-white bone china. It’s about the size and shape of a shucked oyster. A wonderful aroma of warm ginger emanates from a pinkish-orange dollop in the center that shimmers as she places it before you. It sparkles in the candlelight, speaking Morse Code.
‘The appetizer is called Mourning due,’ your waitress tells you.
‘Morning dew,’ you repeat. The first bite is warm apricot, both sweet and tangy and it melts in your mouth. The next bite looks the same but tastes like… goat cheese? You’re not really sure, and the last two bites tease your memory even more. The four flavors blend on your palette to create a new taste that rises from within. Sweet, and you think, fresh as the morning dew. You wonder how Chef did that. Anticipation makes your heart beat faster.
The waitress returns, her smile a fixed feature, and asks in almost a whisper, ‘How was that?’
‘Wanting,’ you say in a dreamy voice, then remember where you are and add, ‘Oh, don’t get me wrong; it was delicious. It’s just that… I thought there would be more to savor.’
‘I’m sure the main course will be to your liking,’ she says, and removes the plate to the kitchen.
The booth is dim so you take the butter knife and cleave the top of the candle, then watch as the wax runs down and the flame jumps higher. You start to see your surrounding a little clearer. The wax trails slowly to the base where it pools like cooled lava. The candle starts to dim, so you cleave it again. The pool grows and the candle shrinks. Too soon, they will be the same size.
When your waitress returns, she has both your dinner and a pair of rose-colored sunglasses. She hands you the glasses and says, ‘To enhance your next experience.’ You put them on as she places before you a huge clam-shaped plate overflowing with food.
In contrast to the appetizer, your main course is way more than you can possibly finish. But you do. Like the appetizer, each mouthful is unique. You inhale, savoring the aroma of the first forkful; pan-fried trout so fresh you can hear the brook babble as you swallow. You play each taste off your palette: Delmonico steak, a favorite, and so tender you can cut it with your fork; the sumptuousness of a just-picked, still-sun-warm tomato with basil and mozzarella makes your shoulders go limp; glazed asparagus; chilled lobster dripping in warm butter; clams linguini with grilled portabella; shark fin so poignant it bites back. You take your time, chew slowly and sip iced-cold water between bites, and the world tastes better through rose-colored glasses.
The candle starts to flicker and shadows dance where none should exist.
The waitress sees your empty plate and says, ‘Chef will be so pleased.’
‘I don’t know where I found room for it all.’ you say, as you push the table away.
The candle burns out, but the waitress is quick to light a fresh candle. This one is repulsively scented like bleach and you ask her to change it. Quickly! She does.
But the odor hangs in the air.
Your waitress brings the dessert tray and at first you want to refuse. ‘I have no idea where I’m going to put it, but…’ You point to the one with the darkest chocolate.
‘You have selected Chef’s favorite; Bittersweet.’ She sets it before you. It is still warm.
The first bite makes you pucker and frown. You used to like bittersweet. It takes a few bites to acquire this new taste and you don’t want this meal to end until you have devoured every last crumb.
Keith Emerson’s Synthesizer wails inside your booth.
Anticipation somehow exceeded, you take coffee in the cigar lounge to settle your meal.
You sit back into an Adirondack chair and blow smoke rings towards the trumpeters and angels embossed in the tile ceiling, and wonder again why you were invited.
As full as you can be, as happy as you’ve ever been, you’re a little surprised to see your waitress walking up with a black leather folio in her hand. Without her pillbox cap, you don’t recognize her at first.
‘I hope everything was to your liking,’ she says as she hands you the fare.
‘I was invited!’ you say in an undertone. She just tilts her head slightly. But you cannot stay upset; it has been the experience of a life time, after all. You smile back at her as you realize that paying also affords you the privilege of adding your own two cents.
You say, ‘Honestly, I don’t see how Here rates four-stars, but I can’t tell you exactly why not. I mean, just the tour of this man’s great kitchen is worth any price, and your service was excellent. My compliments to the Chef; everything he cooked was out of this world. But he never did explain why he invited me.
‘And the main course seemed disconnected from the appetizer. I was expecting something else entirely after that Jell-O oyster, or whatever that was.’
With no response, you continue. ‘The meal was sumptuous, as one should expect, but you could have fed a family of four with what was on my plate, and in the end I was left with the taste of guilt.
‘And the dessert has an aftertaste that I can’t wash down, even after coffee and a cigar.’
The waitress says, ‘By Chef’s design, that taste will linger for as long as it was anticipated.’
‘You mean I’ll have this bittersweet taste in my mouth forever?’ You frown at her as you put your American Express card between the leather without even looking at how much this gastronomical experience has cost.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she says. ‘Your credit cards have expired, too. We have no way of processing them Here; in Heaven.’