Quick Restaurant Hits from Your Friendly Neighborhood Refugee

27 May 2010

Before we get into some bite sized restaurant nuggets, I would like to remind you all that I am celebrating the 2nd blogiversary tomorrow with an open question session and the window is still open to ask whatever.  Thank you to all of you who have sent email questions and left them in the comments already.  Feel free to ask more than one, the list is getting long but this is a joint celebration.

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Ardeo may not be on my list for anything else (inconsistency being the only constant will do that to a place in the same neighborhood as Palena) but their $25 (mimosas included) brunch might be one of the better values in the city.

Blacksalt is the reigning champion of seafood places in this area – at least in my mind – however, a recent lunch and dinner at Kinkead’s seem to indicate that they want to make an “everyone thought they were done” run at the title à la George Foreman.

The Palm (downtown location) feels about as dated as the first season of West Wing.  Their Prime Bites happy hour (really tasty noshes for $3.50 from 4:30 – 6:30 and after 9pm) however, lightens the mood but not so much the wallet.  The crowd is more interesting during the later portion of the evening… but that shocks no one.

Hudson has always had the feel of a place that is too hip by half for my tastes but they do make a damn fine Manhattan and I am still thinking about their bbq chicken pizza three days later.

I should have seen the problems coming when a recent first date countered with Brasserie Beck after my initial suggestion of Granville Moore’s. Both places have lost a step (more important for the former which is more expensive and doesn’t have the character of the latter) but she wanted Moules & Frites.  I’ve seen flashes of brilliance at Beck, but more commonly they yo-yo between visits and often on the same night.  My date was a bit pretentious, precious, and thought I should be way too grateful for the privilege, the woman was the same way… ba-dum-bum.

Mendocino Grille is still my favorite place to eat in the bastion of culinary mediocrity that is Georgetown, but am I the only one who really misses Barry Koslow’s hand at the stove?

Calling Matisse Café the best restaurant in Tenleytown may be similar to saying that they are the best team in the worst league in the city.  Saying that my last meal there makes me wish that I lived just a bit closer or they were in a more interesting part of the city, that’s a better compliment.

Note to Restaurateurs: I took a poll… even my deaf friends find your website music annoying.


Happy Blogiversary to Me – You’re Invited to the Virtual Party

26 May 2010

I missed my blogiversary – it passed last Friday – and I am not sure if it means anything that it just kinda slipped my mind.  I will leave that question to another time because I still wish to acknowledge the two years that I have been writing in this space.

This connection has been a real and important part of my life and I value all of the people who stop by to read, comment, cajole, support, question, challenge, or engage.  All of you form the foundation of an e-community that as just as valuable to me as those with whom I share brick and mortar community that had origins in this space.

Last year I asked everyone, readers, regulars, and lurkers alike to leave me a comment as an anniversary present.  Someone who shall remain nameless called that selfish and vainglorious, eh, I thought that it was harmless enough.  However, on this second blogiversary, we shall make the celebration a bit more reciprocal and inclusive.  From now until Friday*, I am collecting questions.  Leave them in the comments, send me an email** (restaurantrefugee at gmail dot com) and ask me anything you want to know about me, the blog, restaurants, wine, or any other area that might pique your curiosity.  The collection of questions and answers will be posted on Friday, the designated day of belated celebration.

Thanks for the last two years; it’s been a helluva lot cheaper than therapy.

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* You can send questions anytime you like, they just won’t be in the anniversary post unless I get them before it goes live on Friday.   As time permits, I will update the post to include questions received after Friday.

** All emails will be treated as confidential unless you indicate otherwise.


Reader Question: What to Think When a Night Goes Sideways

25 May 2010

I recently received an email from a reader who wondered if I had seen a New York Times blog post about a sticky situation at a restaurant.

Short version of the story: Chef/Owner of an upscale Italian place in NYC’s TriBeCa neighborhood twice dressed-down an employee.  In full view of an awkward dining room, the chef’s volume was so high and tirade so vituperative and long that one guest, the author of the blog post, eventually went into the open kitchen to tell the chef that the yelling was ruining his experience.  Shortly thereafter, the chef went to guest’s table to apologize and explain that the yelling was in service of “maintaining quality.”  The guest dismissed this excuse because it was still “ruining [his] dinner.”  The party of four is asked/told to leave the restaurant.

The author of the blog post, Ron Lieber, went on to discuss the way he wished that he had handled the situation, the chef’s response when contacted for comment – no further apology was forthcoming – and asked about who was right, and how the readers would have behaved in either party’s shoes.

I’d really like to be unequivocally on Mr. Lieber’s side, but neither man has any claim to moral high ground.   The author stood up to a bully but only because that bully’s behavior had an impact on the author’s ability to enjoy a meal.  Yes, Mr. Lieber does belatedly acknowledge that the affair “conjured up the particular type of nausea that results from watching people yank their misbehaving kids around on the subway” but he does so almost as an aside to the repeated references to the fact that he “was paying to eat there” and that the abusive behavior was “ruining [his] dinner.”  Chef Forgione, for his part, was primarily angry because he felt disrespected in the presence of his employees.

When the essence of the debate pits “Please stop being emotionally abusive to your staff, it’s fucking with the taste of my fois gras” against “How dare you challenge my ability to emotionally abuse someone who depends upon me for his livelihood?” both parties share blame in the erosion of moral framework of restaurants in particular and society in general.

If we, as a society, cannot agree that this is emotional abuse and therefore categorically wrong* then my faith in our world is fundamentally misplaced.  When will we cease giving a pass to certain people because of their talent in culinary arts, or coaching football, or producing prodigious amounts of money?

Emotional terrorism is a poor excuse for leadership, ignoring it is to condone it, and celebrating it is nothing short of profane.  Abusive chefs aren’t charming, their tirades and assaults are not reasonable prices to be paid for their “genius,” and applauding or rewarding that behavior with more fame, more restaurants simply makes us all complicit in the whole sordid mess.

* potentially a reasonable case might be made for the intellectual and emotional manipulation in the armed services but I do not believe that it consistently rises to the point of abusive.


Sunday Morning Mashup

23 May 2010

I ran into the worst clients and most awful couple ever the other day.

I was taking advantage of a lovely afternoon and spent a few hours on the patio of one of my favorite swanky hotels.  My only table companions were a cigar, an open bottle of champagne, and Todd Kliman’s new book The Wild Vine.  Sam and Toni breezed by me on the way to their own table on the opposite side of the courtyard.  My first thoughts of gratitude for having gone unnoticed were soon eclipsed by dread when I saw them waving at me and beckoning me to come join them.

I knew I should have just ignored them, but I try to be civil even with people this obnoxious when they used to be clients.  There was mindless chitchat that lasted about two excruciatingly long minutes.  There was a request for me to check my schedule for availability to do a dinner party for them.  There was general obfuscating on my part.  Just after we were said our perfunctory and worthless goodbyes but before I had actually turned my body to walk away, Sam said “Say Refugee, Toni has allergy problems, you mind putting out your cigar.”

It was all statement, there was no trace of request or favor, and it was said through that smug and entitled smile.

I had no pithy comeback, no well timed soliloquy on their pernicious sense of privilege, I just stood for a pregnant moment, returned the entitled smile and said “Absofuckinglutely I would mind, have a good day.”

******

Artie Shaw would be celebrating his 100th birthday today.  He was a brilliant player of several reed instruments, a prolific composer and big band leader, and by just about every historical account, a really stand-up guy.  He also happened to be the first musician to put a black singer, Billie Holiday, in front of a white band… and toured the South no less.

His most famous recording is Begin the Beguine and is considered by anyone worth their dancing shoes to be among the greatest big band songs ever.  Go ahead and listen… I dare ya not to bop your head.


In Which I Maybe Should Have Gotten Punched for Saying the Wrong Thing

19 May 2010


If you get four wine people together and ask them one question, you’re likely to get at least seven different answers.  That’s half the fun of wine discussions – the nuance, the context, the arguments – I love it all.  The gratis wine and food certainly don’t hurt either.  Thus when I get invited to speak on panels or judge competitions, it takes very little to convince me to attend.

That is unless a particular pretend-journalist is also an invitee.  Teddy and I have known each other since we were both low level restaurant managers meeting after shifts to bitch about our tyrannical owners.  I got Teddy into my wine tasting group – his talent was experiential rather than academic but he had a natural facility with descriptions.

Eventually he parlayed that ability into starting his own website. His small but loyal following grew when he got a mention from a mid-major publication.  It was a “for fun project” that Teddy decided to make a for profit escape from restaurant life… he never really loved restaurants.  A few sponsors came and then he made the decision to get in bed with a consortium of wineries.

He began taking monies from questionable sources and giving great press to those sources… and making a living and a name for himself in the process.

It was a souring experience for me, Teddy knew it, and it functionally ended our acquaintanceship.  We would still see each other when he would occasional post at the late night places.  I may not have been the most cordial to him.

A couple of years ago we found ourselves on the same panel discussion about something obscure that might only matter to 0.2 people who read this.  It didn’t take long before the other people on the dais were just kind of watching us ping-pong increasingly personal points of disagreement.  At one point, I might have accused him of “possessing analysis that has all of the depth of a hair-root.”

Teddy may have retorted something along the lines of “At least people know who I am and what I stand for unlike you and your shaky credibility and flighty career moves.”

I am fairly certain that I responded with “Yes, Teddy, we all know exactly what you are; the only debate is about the price.”

Surprisingly, there were no punches thrown.  Not surprisingly, we have never appeared together since.


In Which I Almost Get into a Fight with a 15 Year Old

18 May 2010


One of the best parts of running my own business is that I rarely have to commute during the busiest time periods.  I generally avoid the trains packed with commuters or too loud with teenagers.  A recent Thursday was an exception.

A couple of stations after I boarded three high school boys entered the train.  They sat in a manner that selfishly occupied more space than they needed, and conversed in a volume that selfishly included everyone in their profanity laced conversation.  F-Bombs and N-Bombs flowed like some of the crap that passes for hip hop these days.

Had I been listening to my mp3 player, I might have just cranked the volume, and swallowed my tongue for the next four stops.  Had they not been wearing gear from my high school alma mater, I might have tried harder to ignore them.

From my position, I only had to rotate a few degrees to face the “Alpha” of the group.

“I know you” I began in a tone that older black men get to use with younger versions of ourselves when they’re “acting-up” and know it.  “Yeah, I know exactly who you are.  You’re fake-tough.  You see, I can tell by the way you speak – pronouncing your G’s a little too carefully, dropping an SAT word here and there – I know you’re not really tough. I know that you sprinkle your expletives from some desire to sound how you think tough kids sound.  It rings especially fake considering your private school uniforms… from a place where I was a student 20 years ago.

“I went to school with guys like you, hell I even tried that fake-tough language once or twice.  But now’s the time you really need to stop, not just because you embarrass yourself and our school with all this phony and foul language around little kids and women.  By the by, it might fool some of the people into thinking you’re not fake-tough, but not me.  Nah, you need to stop now because fake-tough only leads to two things: trouble at home and school, and getting your ass kicked because you tried your fake-tough routine with someone who’s actually tough.

“So let’s just quit this whole farcical charade, shall we.”

I could see the adrenaline and decision making in his eyes – his pride was wounded and he possessed no easy retorts.  I had no regrets about my message or its tone, I do wish I had said all of it in a more private manner, giving him the option of a more graceful surrender before his friends.  To make his decision easier, I finished with “You know I’m right, and you should also know that I have your football coach and principal on my speed dial.”

The trio exited two stops later.  On their way off the train, the “Alpha” made some vaguely insulting comment about my suit being “busted.”

A woman who was standing not too far from me and had witnessed the whole interaction leaned towards me and said “some lessons are hard to learn.”

I laughed a bit before replying “He learned the lesson alright; he might have said my suit was busted, but notice that he didn’t curse when he said it?”


Didn’t Know about the Protruding Nail Until I Walked into a Hammer Shop

17 May 2010

In the black community, the Barbershop has long been the great equalizer, a faucet tap for the social consciousness, and a place where all manner of cultural, educational, and professional differentiation are brought low by the common need to get a haircut and discuss the problems of the world while doing so.  For the better part of the last 70 years, it didn’t matter if you lived in the toniest of areas, worked in the most gilded of towers, black men still needed to go back to their metaphorical Harlems to get a cut.

The bankers would wait next to the bus drivers.  The lawyers would talk sports with the restaurant cooks.  The professors would share space with the guys who were students of the streets.  It would make for excellent networking opportunities if discussing one’s occupation wouldn’t violate one of the more inviolable rules of barbershop etiquette: work talk usually means you’re bragging, being uppity, an asshole or all three.

The unwritten rules are complicated, filled with exemptions, and new ones can be added by the singular consent of the guy with the scissors.

And I had no idea how much I had missed it all.

For the past year or so, I have been getting my cuts from a lovely woman who doesn’t work in a traditional barbershop… actually Sydney operates from a beauty salon that caters mostly to Latin American women.  The conversations I could hear were mostly in Spanish and the ones in English were unfamiliar to me at best and of the “men-need-to-steer-clear” variety at worst.  Recently work has kept me from my normal every three weeks schedule and I was at least ten days overdue.

Dear non-black-male readers, I know that every three weeks may seem a bit excessive to you.  I know that some of you may also be wondering “but your hair’s so short why would it matter?”  The answer is within both of the questions.  Because my hair is closely cropped, it doubles in length in 21 days.  If your hair grew twice as long as you prefer to keep it, you might be sprinting to the shop too.

I walked into my backup barbershop a couple of days ago because I still couldn’t get an appointment with Sydney.  I sat for about 90 minutes as the entirety of the shop partook of conversation about the NBA Playoffs, President Obama, DC elections, Strivers Row, and a few more things I cannot recall.  Some of the talk was serious, some of it got called out as ‘barbershop woofing’, but all of it was a social balm.  There’s a “No Profanity” sign on the wall – it seems irrelevant because there is a varnish of reverence at all old-school shops.  We would no sooner curse here than we would in a church undercroft.

The cut wasn’t quite as tight, and surely didn’t feel as good absent the scalp and neck massage that I get from Sydney.  But I certainly don’t get the same visceral needs met with her.  As much as I made a big deal about finding Sydney, I think it’s time for me to tell her that we need to have an open relationship.


Dreaming in Metaphors

11 May 2010

I have discussed my insomnia in this space on more than one occasion. For me, insomnia manifests in waves.  Over the last twenty years, I’ve faced calm sleeping seas and consecutive years of high swells. Through numerous conversations with my doctors, I have steadfastly resisted their entreaties to allow them to medicate the problem (and me) into submission.  Until recently, that is…

Three nights of little green pills have produced nothing more than fitful sleep and the strangest of dreams.  What follows is an adaptation of one of those WTF!#?? dreams in which the characters and situations have no discernible root to my life.

I thought Jade and I had exorcised all of our relationship demons before getting engaged.  We’d seen each other in crisis, had traveled together, found agreement on all of life’s big ticket items, and I was as mad for her as I was for her four year old son.  For almost two years, we dated and never saw a problem we couldn’t solve with honest communication… and maybe some champagne too.

About a month before our wedding day – small ceremony in the chapel of her undergraduate alma mater – we went to a Mother’s Day lawn party hosted by her classmate and would-be Matron of Honor. The women all seemed to be wearing sundresses and the men all seemed to find a shade of pastel as harbinger of late spring.  After my first hamburger but before my second beer, Jade ended a phone call and headed my way bearing the electric smile that helped me fall for her that first night we met.

“Why are you so happy?” I asked.

She laced her arm around mine and uttered the sentence I never thought I’d hear her from her lips, the sentence that would end our relationship.

“You’re looking at the new chair of the Palin 2012 campaign.”

There aren’t many things that could render me incapable of verbal communication, but this was near the top of a very short list.  The room was spinning like I had the hangover from hell when Jade finally stopped the rotation with “Well, say something.”

“You’re a democrat, a democrat who’s pro-choice, pro-gun-control, pro-green, and you went to Smith for fucksakes!”

And that was it.  Our relationship, our life together shattered in as much time as it takes for three “you betcha’s” and a couple of winks.

I grabbed another beer and went to find Max, the little boy who wasn’t going to understand any of this.

“Max, I need to talk to you” I said just after he stuck his dismount from the Moonbounce.

“Max, your Mom is going to have a longer conversation with you later but the short version is ‘I’m not going to be around for a while.’”

His little head, with surprisingly large ears, nodded up and down – Jade conceived through a sperm-bank and I always kinda suspected that Will Smith was the donor.  I continued “There are some things I may not be around to tell you, but that you need to know in this life:

  • You’re going to get in trouble, you’re going to do something wrong and get caught;   when that happens, never lie about it, that only makes it worse.
  • Steer into a skid… and that doesn’t just go for driving
  • Black and White photographs are always cooler than color
  • The correct number of eggs for an omelet is two not three
  • There is no such thing as ‘out of your league’
  • If  your cab driver is listening to NPR, tip them a bit extra
  • Always make friends with the bartender
  • Never draw to an inside straight
  • A night of bad theater is better than a good night in front of the TV
  • Never do business with someone you wouldn’t drink with
  • Never wear loafers with a suit
  • There is no good sartorial application for polyester
  • People who only have self-taken pictures in their dating profile have no friends
  • Never pass on the opportunity to pay an honest compliment
  • Always wait for the second generation of a new technology before you invest
  • When you’re at a party, only tell one joke; always leave em’ wanting more
  • Quartz watches are for suckas
  • There is no car that looks good in yellow
  • Miller Lite is not beer… but that doesn’t make it evil on a really hot day
  • Learning how to dance early will yield exponential dividends later
  • Do go on that semester abroad
  • Do not gamble with pool players who have multiple word names like Philly Mike, or Six Fingered Tony
  • Chewing gum in public isn’t inherently bad, but everyone else knowing you’re chewing gum because your mouth resembles a bovine with a hunk of cud is bad
  • Daydreaming is a virtuous activity, practice it often… but not in class
  • Do not trust people who begin conversations with ‘Can I be honest with you’
  • Also not worthy of your trust are Yankee fans not from New York… or Yankee fans in general, might as well ad Red Sox fans to the list too
  • Do not see any Kevin Costner movie that doesn’t involve baseball… except maybe The Untouchables
  • Learn the word ‘feckless’ and use it whenever appropriate
  • It is always better to be the irresistible force than the immoveable object
  • Free advice is usually worth exactly what you pay for it, and ‘your mileage may vary’ applies to this list and just about everything you will ever learn as there are very few absolute truths…
  • Among the world’s absolute truths is that you will be judged for your ringtone – choose wisely.

And then I got in my yellow sports car, adjusted the tie on my polyester shirt and steered into my nocturnal skid.


Mother’s Day Loaner

9 May 2010

My mother loaned me out on Sunday.

That opening sentence doesn’t seem to effectively make the case as loaned seems a rather benign word.  Pimped would be an appropriate term except that in that circumstance I would have at least received some compensation even if a small percentage of the total paid.  No, my mother loaned my Personal Chef  service to a couple of her friends for a Mother’s Day dinner.  It was another example of “no good deed going unpunished.”

I sent my mom to Europe as a Mother’s Day present (calm down, I’m not really that generous; she had a friend from church who was going for business, so the only real expense was the flight and walking-around cash.)  As soon as I booked her trip, my mom declared “since you’re not cooking for me, I told your Aunt Sandy that you would make Mother’s Day dinner for her and a few of her friends.”

Sandy is not my aunt.

Sandy is one of my mother’s friends with whom I’ve never had a particularly special relationship.  Sandy is, like my mother, a slightly cantankerous 70something black woman who doesn’t understand:

  • why I am not married
  • what I do for a living
  • why I am “wasting” my degrees
  • why she doesn’t have more grandkids
  • And did I mention why I’m not married? Yeah, she definitely doesn’t understand that.

I was loaned-out.

We made our way through seven courses, meaningless chatter about the aforementioned things that my mother nor Sandy understand, and a couple of attempts to set me up with a daughter at this Mother’s Day dinner.  At some point between the last savory course and the cheese board, Sandy came into the kitchen and said “Refugee, everything has been so amazing.  I know that your mother is so proud of you, and that she’s really happy you’re here”.

Two of her three declarations were true.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you (everyone has a mother) even to moms and offspring who have complicated relationships.

…and yes, I know that this post is coming in just under the wire before declaring belated wishes to moms.


Confidentially Forgotten

4 May 2010

I’ve done it dozens of times – spent 40+ hours planning a menu, writing specifications for said menu, sourcing and shopping, writing the tick-tock of event day, and then finally cooking for twelve hours.  For some strange reason, each time I do it I will forget more than a couple of things.  One recent weekend the “I Forgot/Didn’t Finish List” included the following:

  • I didn’t finish the tick-tock of the days events – a schedule of each activity that needs to be completed in each 15 minute segment for things to happen smoothly.  I blame the Happy Hour I happily attended because the lovely Paige was in town from Philly.
  • I forgot that even the best plans collapse under reality’s weight the first time something goes to hell.
  • I forgot that something always goes to hell inside of the first hour.
  • I forgot a couple of random kitchen tools and left one key ingredient on my kitchen floor because I didn’t get to print my final checklist.
  • And for the first hour after I picked up the woman who would be assisting me in the kitchen, I most certainly forgot to breathe.

Lexa and I have been friends for a while now but this was the first opportunity that we have had to work together.  I wasn’t presenting the calm, everything’s-under-control image that I would have liked.  I drove and shifted gears like a man in a hurry, mumbled about traffic, rainy weather, and general frustration, before Lexa dissolved my tension by saying “Refugee, you know I don’t like having to be the positive one!”

That comment was enough for me to get my swing back.  The rest of the trip to get the rented glassware involved some clown car like moments with all of the supplies and four racks of wine glasses crammed into a Jeep… and I might have been uncharacteristically directionally challenged too.

After finally arriving at the client’s home, there was another key moment that added copious amounts of levity to the afternoon.  After unloading two armfuls of supplies and sundries, I was returning to the Jeep and walked right into the glass screen door just like one of those birds in the Windex commercials.  Lexa may have laughed hysterically for a few moments.

We quickly settled into our rhythm and began cooking.  About an hour before service, The Pistol arrived to help with final prep and to be the primary server.

The menu was a Standing Degustation with 11 courses:

  1. Caprése Salad Skewers with 10 year Aged Balsamic Vinegar and Shallot infused Olive Oil
  2. Guacamole Mousse with Lardons of Black Forest Bacon
  3. King Salmon Tartar
  4. Blue Cheese and Jalapeño Beignets
  5. Mini Asiago Cheese and Mushroom Frittatas with Baby Spinach
  6. Gazpacho Soup Shots
  7. Chicken Confit Tacos with Hot Pepper Butter and Arugula
  8. Truffled French Fry Cones
  9. Petite Grilled Cheese with 4 Year Cave-Aged Cowgirl Creamery Cheddar, Prosciutto and Hot House Heirloom Tomatoes
  10. Pork Tenderloin Sliders with Roquefort Butter, and Fried Shallot Rings
  11. Mint Chocolate Mousse with Frozen Peppermint Patty Crumbles

Except that it was only ten courses because right at that moment in the night when several courses had gone out and with a few more to go, Lexa dropped the whole try of the mini grilled cheese onto the floor and open oven door.  This was my turn to repay the calming favor.  I moved over to Lexa, gave her a big hug, kissed her on the cheek and said “It’s not a big deal, seriously, not a big deal, we gotta move on.”

That was the only food-hiccup in a night that began with more than a couple of client induced hiccups.  None of them mattered, however, because the food was inspired, and great food erases a multitude of sins.

After we had fed all guests into submission and before we started cleaning, I grabbed a couple of beers and Lexa, The Pistol and I went outside for a quick break and that’s when I realized I’d forgotten a couple of other things too:

  • Cooking for twelve hours is physically exhausting… like, no other frame of reference exhausting
  • Cooking for twelve hours is exhausting but when the food is great, and you know the food is great, the client knows the food is great, and the guests are giving you insane compliments that they cannot possibly mean literally, it’s also kind of exhilarating too.
  • No beer I’ve ever had in my life could taste better than the one I have at the end of a night… unless I shared the experience with friends.

How We Met… Telling My Story

1 May 2010

Given my disclosed fascination with “how we met” stories, I decided that it was about time that I shared the only really good one I’ve ever had…

It was the kind of early spring Friday that is the balm for the last couple of winter months when the fun of the first two has turned to fatigue.  Nothing was going to keep me in the office (I was in a prior career back then.)  I took the top down on my car, lit a cigar and took the longer but prettier route back into the city. About an hour later (suburbs suck or as my friend Lexa would say “suburbs are something that happen to people,) I was driving down U street, your standard issue four lane urban road through a kinda trendy area.

At 9th and U, a woman  driving the car next to mine at the stoplight waves at me just before the light turns green and we drive to the next light.

“Forgive me, have we met before?” I asked the woman who waved, although I was 95% sure we had not because despite my occasionally sieve-like memory for faces, there was no way I could have forgotten the acquaintance of a woman this stunning.  She strongly resembled a younger and Latin American version of Penelope Cruz.

“No… I was just flirting with you” She replied just as the light turned green and we drove to the next light.

“Was this random I’m-bored-on-my-ride-home flirting or deliberate flirting?” was my next question.

“Oh, it was very deliberate” she replied when true to our timing the light changed again.

Down this block she moved into the left lane so I shifted to the right. Now at the 15th street light, I asked “So since this was deliberate, if I gave you my card you’d give me a call sometime?”

“Probably” was all she could get out before the light changed again.

The business card was already in my hand by the time we reached 16th street.  I tried to hand it to her passenger, but she (intentionally, I think)  couldn’t quite make the reach before the light changed and the shockingly pretty woman who had waved at me turned left while traffic forced me to go straight.

It would be two blocks before I could make a left turn to look for her, but I was determined not to have the story end this way.  It just couldn’t end with being two inches short of “maybe.”

I drove around the very trendy neighborhood for what felt like ten minutes without success.  Could she be going further South?  Should I stay on this street, turn left, turn right?  The questions bounced through my mind until I made one lucky turn and saw her giving her car keys to the valet at a restaurant.

I found a close-enough-to legal parking space and walked toward the restaurant.  The two women were already at a table.  I went to the bartender and told her I needed a favor.  I told her the whole story… the bartender (who has since become a friend of mine) promised me she’d take care of everything.

Before the unbelievably pretty woman and her stingy armed friend ordered food, the bartender went to the table with two glasses of champagne and my business card with a note that read:

“The story about meeting a woman at stoplights needs a better ending.  I hope you’ll give me a call.”

******

Post Script

She waited an agonizingly long two days to call – That annoying book, The Rules, was still popular back then.

We had our first date the Thursday following the Friday we met

I swear she got prettier by the day

We Dated for almost a year, broke up for almost a year, got back together for close to a year, broke up for another two years or so, got back together for a couple months, broke up for good.

Our love was very real, but there were a couple of fundamental incompatibilities.


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