Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fine Dining

This is one of those areas of life that I am not terribly interested in but always thought there were some aspects of it it might be worth doing at some point before I die: have a genuine top quality seven course French meal perhaps; drink at least a $100 bottle of wine (I probably couldn't stomach going much higher; I have no doubt that the intensity of the additional delights to be found in $1,000 and $10,000 bottles are worth every cent to people for whom the cost is an insignificant matter, but really, to people for whom it isn't, how good could they possibly be?); go to some decidedly superior, though preferably low-key, restaurant in New York. When I was younger I assumed I would eventually do all these things on occasion as part of just being myself as I made my way in the world, most likely by establishing myself as an important literary figure, but whatever position I came to, I did not suspect it would be such as kept me away from great centers and scenes of civilization, and such people as inhabited them, for years on end. When I would be in Paris to collect some medal of honor or other prix I would probably be given something like the 7 course meal as part of my fete, and no one would have any misgivings about my ability to appreciate it; indeed they would be honored to serve it to me. And even if I did not happen to live in New York I assumed I would have to go there frequently to commisserate with my agents and publishers, examine proofs, kick around the offices of my particular House, keep long evenings at one hundred plus year old taverns, and do whatever else I perceived authors to do when they were in town, which I took to include the occasional superlative meal at a restaurant behind an unmarked door such as only "in" people knew about.

It is starting to look like that scenario is probably not going to come to pass. In addition I am starting to get to the age where I can see that if I am ever going to do a lot of the things I had wanted to do "someday" I am going to have to seek them rather outside the normal tenor which my life has taken on. This being the case, I am not sure that it would be worthwhile anymore to do some of those things, at least as a total interloper into their various worlds and all that is represented by them. What would I be bringing to a presentation of world class food and drink now? What could I hope to gain or learn from my encounter with it to contribute to my own real improvement? It is hard to see any purpose in it given the inconvenience to which I would now be putting the regular participants in these rituals to accomodate my presence among them.

Then I really wouldn't have any idea even where to go. When I was a child my impression of what was the fanciest restaurant in Philadelphia, the height of dining as far as anybody I knew was concerned, was Bookbinder's, which has been around since about 1850 (and has hosted every President since that time), so it isn't exactly a must go spot amongst hardcore gourmets, and almost certainly wasn't 30 years ago either. However I have always been interested in going there sometime, and still am, just because it has always existed in my imagination as an exalted place. When I was in high school I worked as a dishwasher at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, which occasionally shows up on lists of the Top 50 restaurants in America, but due to my former lowly status in their kitchen I have no great desire to return there, even 20 years later, as a patron. I saw the chef/owner of the French Laundry in California, which at the time was rated the #1 restaurant in the country by some reputable publication, on TV once talking some pretty good culinary trash regarding who deserved to eat at the restaurant, how he dealt with people who tried to request their meat cooked in a way opposed to the vision of the chef, etc. But besides its being in remote California, I really can't see myself going to a place like this, which I think requires reservations far in advance and probably some kind of personal recommendation to have them accepted anyway.

To be honest the food itself is not much of a consideration or enticement to me at this point. Indeed, some kind of hipster place drawing a clientele of art school graduates would be, in theory anyway, more enjoyable to me, though actually I am happiest eating in a certain kind of old style bar or tavern inhabited by committed and serious drinkers, which type naturally seems to be in precipitous decline. I also like old style hotel dining rooms and bars, an even more rapidly vanishing breed of establishment. Socially I am a severely lost and dislocated person, and I am not even sure what the road back to where I might properly and happily belong--if such a milieu even exists--would be.

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