Once seated, we were greeted by our server with water, baskets of sourdough bread and individual cups of hot clam broth which my friend Dan, who swallowed his fear of clams (the actual meat, not clam byproducts or the idea of clams) to come to dinner, declared it good. And it was-- subtly flavored. Briny and fresh tasting without being too, well, clammy. It struck a good first note.
While figuring out what to have for our main courses, we contented ourselves with beer and ordered two plates of fried calamari. My friend Bill and I ordered cups of clam chowder, which seemed like a too obvious choice, but a good one, nonetheless. The clams inside the chowder were plentiful and tender; the potatoes had enough tooth to them without being undercooked. I could smash the chunks on the roof of my mouth with my tongue. If I wanted to. However unsubtle it may have been, I introduced Bill to the pleasure of adding tabasco sauce to chowder. I like the heat it gives and the pretty pink color, naturally. The fried calamari was exactly as it should be, too. Crispy and ungreasy with just a little bit of chew. I normally avoid cocktail sauce and go straight for a squeeze of lemon, but I dipped a few tiny tentacles in, since the sauce was homemade. I might have stifled a yawn, but that's just me. It was good cocktail sauce, if you like that sort of thing.
While browsing the menu, I noticed that the restaurant served Scalone Bordelaise. If you are among those fortunate enough never to have run into this terrible shotgun marriage between bivalve and gastropod, scalone is a mixture of scallops and abalone-- two wonderful mollusks when kept in their separate corners-- usually ground together and frozen into patty or steak form. They must be pan fried directly from the freezer, in my experience, or they will do what is only natural-- separate. The only reason I know this is that this dish was served as an annual specialty at the Bohemian Grove camp I worked at last summer. We referred to the dish as Scabalone which, to us, is what it looked like when sufficiently browned on the griddle. Our campers ate it with a squeeze of lemon. as though to sanitize. I can imagine that adding a creamy sauce to it would only make the scab look infected. I moved down the menu.
I opted for the Mescalanza because it had a bit of everything in it-- crab legs, clams, prawns, Oysters Rockefeller. That, and because the name made me think of Mario Lanza singing "Be My Love". Impossible to refuse, in my book. I think I made the right choice, at least in terms of the dish's theatrical value...
Flaming seafood. An attention-grabbing entree is always in order on one's birthday. I thought about making a wish by blowing out the clam, but thought better of it.
I'd never had a seafood bordelaise before. The sauce itself was fine, but made an already rich dish obscenely so. I nibbled at the Oyster Rockefeller slowly, since there was only one and, to me, the star attraction. To my surprise, I actually liked clams drowned in sauce, but I think the other bits of seafood suffered, like the prawns and crab. Though impaled on skewers suspended above the bowl on what looked like a dumb bell rack, it was impossible not to coat everything I touched with bordelaise-- it was all over my hands. When my butter-coated fingers dropped a prawn into the bowl, I discovered a bit of sunken treasure-- an ear of corn. I think the fact that an ear of corn can go unnoticed at the bottom of one's bowl for several minutes illustrates either the immense size of the bowl in question or the limited observational powers of the person eating it. I vote for the former but won't rule out the latter. Shaking off as much sauce as I could, I bit into the corn. The corn juice released from the now-damaged kernels mingled with what sauce remained, not so much running down my chin, but getting absorbed by my beard. The corn was abandoned.
The other dishes ordered by my dining mates were just as gargantuan. The clam linguini was enough to feed all seven of us and was actually delicious. My friend David's Lazy Man's Cioppino was served in the same oversized bowl as my Mescalanza. We questioned why the dish was named "Lazy Man's Cioppino". Since the crab legs were uncracked and the prawns still in their shell, we assumed that the lazy man in question was the one who prepared the dish.
As we finished our dinners, or at least tried to, I asked our server for a hot towel, since my hands and part of my left forearm were coated with bordelaise. She said yes, but returned without one. I asked someone else for an extra napkin and was given a few small ones of the paper kind. I was wedged into the middle of the table and didn't feel like getting up to go to the bathroom, so I just moistened the paper napkins with what little water was left in my glass and cleaned myself up as best I could given the tools I had. I had hoped that someone might think about clearing our table of dirty plates, but hope accomplishes nothing except the heightening of future disappointment.
I am very glad I didn't get up to go to the restroom. As we abandoned our dinner, my friend Gary turned to all of us and said, "Keep an eye on the door of the Ladies' Room and see what comes out. It's good."
We all tried to keep up our conversations, but everyone kept staring at the Ladies' Room door. A couple of minutes passed. Nothing. A tall, fifty-something blonde entered and then exited two minutes or so later. Was that what we were supposed to be looking at? No, of course not. We'd all stared at her as she went in.
As my attention was beginning to flag, out came a rather tall woman with enormous breasts that were so ill-contained by her overflowing tank top that her aureolae peeked over the top, though her shirt was partially covered by what looked like an open Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation 1814 leather jacket. Her stride was confident across the restaurant, even in her high heeled boots. She wet her index finger with her tongue and wiped the corners of her mouth as she walked. Someone at my table intimated that she might be a working girl. I thought perhaps she was just having the same issues with the excess of bordelaise I was.
Then a man came out of the Ladies' Room adjusting his pants. I knew then that the joke I'd made about the the restaurant being a home for retired prostitutes wasn't too far off the mark. I'll just have to omit the word "retired" the next time I tell it.
Considering the fact that this woman was a practitioner, one assumes, of the world's oldest profession, I thought her behavior best suited for the oldest restaurant, Tadich Grill. Since I don't know what the world's second oldest profession is, I was at a loss to give her any restaurant-appropriate career advice.