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i thought there was going to be vodka?

June 22, 2009

I’ll give as brief a description of the dinner as I am capable…

We started with an expertly prepared Royal King Crab and Asparagus risotto with truffles, artfully presented in a King Crab shell that rested on a ring of sea salt. Perfection. Continued with a double amuse bouche of crab carpaccio (unremarkable) and a seafood bisque with coconut milk (incredible). [As with most formal Belgian dinners there was approximately 30 minutes between courses, allowing for plenty of time to savor each taste without feeling rushed. For once, they were tastes worth savoring.] Then came the main courses, all of which were finished table side. The sea bass – which the waiter chopped out of a block of sea salt in which it had been cooked whole – was like nothing I had ever tasted. Moist, light, delicately infused with salt, lemon and olive oil… it made me consider becoming a pescetarian. In my opinion, the only average aspect of the meal was the dessert – my Crazy Romanian (“CR”) and I split a fruit tart that was bland at best. However, it was as if Sea Grill knew that it was a poor note to end the meal on, for no sooner were our plates cleared than a trio of two-bite desserts – a chocolate mousse & ganache dollop, a little juice spritzer with raspberry in a shot glass and a small triangle of buttermilk cake – arrived in front of us. All heavenly. Finished the evening with some espressos and a tray of macaroons, biscuits and fresh Belgian chocolates. Divine.

So… incredible, truly inspired gourmet fare. By far the best sea bass and crab risotto of my life. Where does it rank?

It easily earns a spot in the All Time Top Five

WORST dinners of my life.

See, from the moment we sat at the table there were problems. The waiter handed out menus and, quite loudly, Boris whistled, “Geeeez. This is expensive. Don’t you know we are in a recession?” Everyone looked around awkwardly ala “but you asked for this??!”

He followed up with “Anyone want to leave here and just get some mussels & frites in the Grand Place? Bet we could feed the whole table for less than a bottle of wine here.”

Myself and CR looked at each other and then the managers. With wide eyes and torsos tense with expectation, we silently ESP’d to each other: “Oh geez. Surely someone will handle this with tact. Right? They’re all adults who have sat through dozens of client dinners. Someone will save us from this awkwardness.”

But no one did. The unimpressed/ irritated comments from Boris continued throughout the evening, each one hanging unwelcome in the air, layering one on top of each other, thick as the mille-fuille pastry being rolled around the room on the dessert cart. Except not as tasty.

When we ate that achingly good crab risotto? He had caviar and prawns. They looked pretty fantastic to me. He complained about the quality and the portion. The risotto suddenly tasted like lumpy paste. Really expensive (as we were constantly reminded) lumpy paste.

Now, if the awkwardness were limited to just comments on the price, perhaps I would be the only one uncomfortable. (I tend to be a cheap skate so all the price talk made me feel incredibly guilty.) But no. No no. We were not so lucky. Instead of talking about prices throughout the FIVE hour dinner we talked about… nothing. Absolutely nothing. Every conversation we tried to bring up died after two or three minutes. Even topics that are sure to incite SOME kind of reaction that would involve a five minute debate – friendly or otherwise – were met with blank stares:

“Turkey will never be in the EU because….”  Said with a Turk at the table. I’ve seen this debated for 30-45 minutes on no fewer than four separate occasions. This time the response was “Yeah, probably.”

“Romania and Bulgaria are too corrupt because…” Said with a Romanian and two Bulgarians at the table. The audacious comments weren’t even followed by words. Just a “Hmmph.”

Gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, the Far Right platform in Europe… I’ve sat through dinners where we’ve gotten more mileage out of conversations about socks and hydrangeas (not that they were exciting. Cotton vs. pol-blend is only so thrilling. But at least they were pleasant.)

All I could think was “where is this VODKA???” I’d rather be inappropriately drunk than sit through this disaster of a dinner sober.

At a particularly low point, I found myself talking about “Pittsburghese” – try explaining what a “yinzer” is to a Russian. I dare you. Seriously, a shot or two of vodka would have livened that story right up. CR, who is usually a wealth of entertainment, informed us about Romanian tax law. Not so surprisingly, it was dull. The ONLY conversation that flowed easily for over 20 minutes during the FIVE hour dinner regarded the proposed changes to US tax law. I think it was 30 minutes long. It felt like 506 minutes. Sadly, no amount of alcohol could have made that interesting.

So yes… long story short, the food was a solid +50. The company a solid -432235203598.

Oh, and in case you were wondering. The fun was not over at the end of our FIVE hour meal (have I mentioned it was five hours yet?). No, no. We still had to go out for drinks. Which involved beer at a local square. And not good Belgian beer, Carlsberg. If possible, the drinks part was worse than the meal…

But at least it was shorter.

And cheaper.

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