Sunday, February 15, 2015
Met on Tinder.
February 14th, Valentine’s Day, is one of two holidays that bring diners out whom might elsewise spend every evening at home with a tub of extra crispy, New Year’s Eve being the other. Just as with that holiday, many restaurants trot out special menus for Valentine’s Day. These menus include romantically titled “for two” items, like “Land and Sea Tango for Two” and “Filet Mignon for Two”, that someone who ate out more than two times a year would recognize as the “Surf’n Turf” and filet mignon that you could order any day of the week, but served on one plate instead of two and costing 240% of the price of a single serving.
Smugglers’ Inn does not engage in this practice; our Valentine’s menu lists the same food prices that we have normally. We jack up the alcohol. A bottle of mid-shelf Mumm Brut from California, had at any liquor store for $18, fetches a whopping $50 when placed in an ice bucket by one of our Smugglers’ Inn wait staff on Valentine’s day. A bottle of non-vintage Moet & Chandon, which few people could tell from a $9 bottle of Korbel Brut, costs $110. Said $9 bottle of Korbel cost $18, which makes anyone who wants to order it feel like they need to step up to the Mumm’s, at least. We don’t list Dom Perignon on the menu, but we keep one bottle on hand in case anyone wants it for $300. So far, no one has. Bar prices are plus $.50 across the board on the holiday, but it’s all those bottles of bubbly that account for those lovely, fat Valentine’s Day tabs.
Speaking of lovely and fat, the woman at table 2, who might have been one of those people who go out twice a year, was not. Lovely, that is.
She was plus a few stone. She also had a voice like Rosanne Barr, if Rosanne Barr was hard of hearing AND TALKED SO THAT EVERYOE IN THE PLACE COULD HEAR EVERY WORD SHE WAS SAYING.
Cat, our seating hostess, walked up to me as I was surveying the dining room. Despite our capacity crowd, couples on Valentine’s Day sit forever, so she wasn’t busy.
“Did you see who’s on two?” Cat asked, not looking in that direction.
“I didn’t have to see, I heard. That voice could peel paint.”
“No, not her. The guy--your buddy.”
I looked past the woman, who was now holding forth on the merits of the Lowell Inn, a getaway hotel and restaurant in historic Stillwater, Minnesota, to study the mug of the man sitting opposite her wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I recognized him, or his ‘stache, immediately.
“Lundquist!” I said it loud enough that I expected the man to turn around, but he didn’t take his eyes off of his companion.
Those who are frequent readers of our Smugglers’ Inn blog may know about our hate/mild indifference relationship with the Anoka County Shopper and its owner and publisher, Peter Lundquist, AKA “The Mystery Diner.” Cat, like all of our employees, had read his cliche’-riddled reviews of our restaurant and bar. We have several taped to the wall by the employee break room. For entertainment purposes.
“Mother of Pearl,” I said. “That’s Lundquist’s wife? That explains a lot.”
“Not his wife, “ Cat corrected me, “his date.”
I recall “The Mystery Diner” paying us a visit in the company of his wife. Maybe the old ‘Stache had gotten himself divorced.
“What do you think--Match?” I couldn’t help it; some people you just don’t picture computer dating.
“Not Match,” Cat said, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “Tinder.”
Tinder, if you don’t know, is a hook-up site, straight up. Not that anyone I know is on it.
By the by, you need to take for granted that every employee in a bar or restaurant knows if the person with you is your spouse, your lover, your hot coworker whom you would like people to believe is your lover, your blind date, your E-Harmony date or someone you hadn’t seen since college and just happened to run into while filling up your minivan at Arco and decided to have an innocent meal with. You worry about Goggle knowing too much about you? Worry about the busboy filling your water glass.
“…AND WHEN THEY SEAT YOU, THE FIRST THING THEY DO IS BRING OVER BIG, HOT MUFFINS. I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S IN ‘EM, BUT THEY ARE TO DIE FOR.”
“Popovers,” Lundquist said. He was making a point of speaking in his indoor voice, so his foghorn of a date would get the hint. She didn’t.
"I believe you are talking about their justifiably famous popovers," Lundquist was saying, "I have reviewed the Lowell Inn on…”
“ARE YOU NOT GOING TO LET ME FINISH A SINGLE SENTENCE TONIGHT? I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT I WAS TELLING THIS STORY.”
“You’re quite right. I apologize.”
“STOP DOING THAT.”
”STOP SAYING, “YOU’RE SORRY” ALL THE TIME. (YOU’RE SUCH A LITTLE BITCH!) WHERE IS OUR FOOD? THOSE PEOPLE OVER THERE HAVE THEIR FOOD AND WE’VE BEEN HERE LONGER THAN THEY HAVE.”
Cat and I might have shared a chuckle at the sight of a man who gave us 2 1/2 out of 5 stars pinned like Ahab to a pissed-off whale, but we are not sadists. Lundquist was almost certainly billing this meal to his business, but he was still a paying customer and paying customers get treated with respect at Smugglers’ Inn, especially when they keep coming back.
“Tell his wait person to send over some champagne, compliments of the house.”
Cat stared at me, not sure if I was kidding.
“Do it. Send a bottle of Dom.”
Such an act of largesse might look to many like a blatant attempt to buy a critic. Peter Lundquist, though, is not Janet Maslin and the Anoka County Shopper has never had qualms about doling out editorial props to businesses that advertised in their “newspaper”.
I confess, I would enjoy seeing Smugglers’ Inn get its first ever five-star review, but that was not likely. Smug’s had been reviewed recently (2½ stars) and we weren’t due for another visit by The Mystery Diner for a while, certainly longer than a little paper full of words that went unread and coupons that went unclipped could stay afloat. While Smug’s has been able to expand from shrimp scampi and Happy Hour margaritas into providing creatively excellent integrated marketing solutions for small to mid-sized clients, other businesses around us have not diversified. Perhaps the Lundquists had broken up over the decision to go digital—who can know? What I do know is that a man who, for two-plus decades, has been coming here and judging us, is sitting at table two on February 14th with a woman who almost certainly doesn’t look like her profile photo and wondering what his wife is doing at this moment. And with whom.
“You sure about this? The lady is kind of a jerk.”
Rob, the waiter whose section included table 2, proffered a stand and ice bucket with a crisp, white napkin around the neck of a bottle of Dom Perignon 2000. It looked like a million bucks. 300, anyway.
“Come to think of it, give them the Moet—no, the Mumm. Yeah, we’ll do the Mumm’s.”
“Roger that!” Rob said and went to swap out the bottles.
It’s Valentine’s Day at Smugglers’ Inn. It is not Christmas.