Monday, September 27, 2004

Amusée Bouche

10:30 yesterday morning, and we're in the downstairs club bar room of Upstairs on the Square, formerly Upstairs at the Pudding. We're under the love note chandelier, watching the papers flutter, and have been in the room for at least five minutes. But no one has put any food in front of me yet, a notable difference from Saturday night, when we started eating at 8 p.m., and didn't stop until we staggered out the door sometime after midnight.

We like to eat, as do my sister-in-law, Roberta and her husband Ted, but no one would call any of us gourmands. However, on Saturday night we all did a fair imitation of say, Robert Morley, in one of his bulkier roles. Roberta and Ted's long-time friend, Sheila, is the hostess at "Upstairs", and owners Mary-Catherine Deibel and Deborah Hughes put on the full dog for us as soon as we walked in the door. We started with cocktails downstairs, and - evidently since we looked wan from our three-minute walk from the Harvard Square hotel - were provided with a complimentary "amusement for the mouth", this offering being a Leaf Spinach, Broccoli Rabe, Hot Peppers and Whole Milk Ricotta pizza.

Our bouches being properly amused, we made our way up the stairs to the hot pink Soiree room, where we were enthroned at the best table, which included a purple couch. "Upstairs" is in the former "Grendel's" restaurant, a Harvard fixture now departed, although the small "Grendel's Den" is still in the basement. Grendel's, which I used to go to regularly on cold winter days for the lentil soup, looked as if it were housed in a run-down library, with old dark furniture, bookshelves, and smoky fireplaces on either side of the room. "Upstairs", on the other hand, appears to have been decorated by a somewhat mad 80-year-old flea market bargain hunter, and would fit nicely in New Orleans with its pink and gold motif, bizarro chandeliers, and zebra carpets. Exceedingly funky, "Upstairs" housing is a vast improvement over their old location above Harvard's Hasty Pudding Club, in a room so deteriorated that screens were used to shield diners from the moldering walls.

But we haven't eaten and we've been seated for all of three seconds, so another amusée bouche appears to help us struggle through the wait for our appetizers, this time some sort of tuna tartar, I think, compliments we’re told of the chef who is still experimenting with it before its menu launch and would appreciate comments. We do so, although I’m not sure how “ooo” and “aaah” will work on the menu.

We charge into the appetizers. Roberta and I work on a heritage tomato soup while Peg tackles an enormous Buffalo Mozzarella salad. Confronted with a daunting wine list, already logy with food, and not willing to make the effort of matching wines to an eclectic dinner choice that includes tuna (me), duck (Roberta) veal (Ted), and scallops (Peg), I instruct the waiter to find a couple of “nice bottles” of red and white.

The “nice” sparks Peg to tell Roberta and Ted the infamous story of our first trip to the Black Point Inn, where they’ll be staying this week. Peg and I love to dance, which I don’t do very well, but I’m by God, enthusiastic, and the Black Point at the time had weekly dances in their ballroom. So, after dinner, we went to the dance and, in the course of the evening, found we were thirsty, and decided on cognac. At the Black Point, no filthy lucre ever changes hands. Meals are included, and you settle the bill for extras, such as alcohol, at check-out. So, I went to the bar, asked for cognac, and was offered the dangerous question, “What would you like, sir?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said off-handedly. “Something nice.”

And he gave me two glasses, and I brought them back to Peg, and they were very nice. In fact, so nice, I almost ordered another round, but we got distracted by dancing, and then decided to go to bed.

A few days later, at check-out, I’m going through the bill, and everything seems right, except a bill for $80. And yes, you’re right, it was for two very nice, small glasses of cognac at $40 a pop.

“Very nice” has since become a code phrase in our marriage, usually about my tendency to live a champagne life on a beer budget.

Dinner is almost served, but there is guess what? Another amusée appears first, this time some type of hand-rolled tortellini, which we’re told is “Sheila’s favorite”, and thus must be tried. Of course. It includes braised rabbit, which would please my friend Jill mightily, as she had been inciting me by email to try the “Rabbit Two Ways” main course since I told her we were going.

The rabbit was very good, Jill.

And our main courses were very good. And, the wine, picked by our enthusiastic waiter, a French white and a California Pinot Noir, were very good. And somewhere in there we had another amusée, which all I remember about is that it included a roasted corn salsa, and that was very good, too. Then, for the first time in my life, I ate three desserts, a palate-cleansing amusée, which was a dab of mint pudding, and then the dessert I selected, Coconut Profiteroles with Warm Chocolate Sauce and Caramelized Macadamia Nuts, which I shared with my sister-in-law, and then some after-dinner mints that appeared on our table with our coffee just because they had run out of anything else to feed us I think.

10:30 yesterday morning, we're back to say goodbye to Sheila, who is getting the place prepped for a shower party and the Sunday Brunch crowd. I’m watching the restaurant ticking over on slow revs as the waiters in the downstairs club bar trickle in, as Sheila finds a replacement for the bartender who is MIA, as the shower organizers arrive an hour earlier than anticipated. It’s 10:30 on a slow Sunday morning, and I’m sitting in a restaurant that hasn’t opened, feeling like I belong, having a cup of coffee set in front of me without my asking.

Thinking it’s a pretty good life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am planning a small dinner party in the lovely home of friends in Phnom Penh. I came across your blog after looking up the correct spelling of amusee

your tale inspired me to offer several smaller items.

Thanks,

The Invisible Chef