My first clue that we were not in Jacksonville anymore was when we drove to the expensive end of the mall where the Capital Grille took up half the real estate at the end of the block of stores which included Luis Vitton, Tiffany & Co., and a whole store dedicated to Omega watches. I usually shop at the opposite end of the mall at Target, Pet Smart, and Joann Fabrics.
Our dinner reservations were for 6 pm. Sweetie likes to get places early so we pulled up to the valet station at 5:20. This meant we had to walk the gauntlet of stores neither of us had ever stepped foot in. Well that's not exactly true. There was a jewelry store where Sweetie bought an engagement ring for a previous Mrs. Sweetie. I decided to let those questions float away on the evening's cool, damp breeze. My back was still hurting from my visit to the doctor. I'd gone asking for pain relief, but received instead enough "does this hurt?" prodding I saw stars and limped my way home. This made walking any distance painful. We turned around at the first intersection and headed back to the restaurant. It was 5:25.
We walked into the Capital Grille thinking there might be a bench seat for waiting diners, like at the Longhorn Steakhouse. There was not. Even though the Grille is known for their lobster mac and cheese, there was no gigantic lobster tank in the foyer like at Red Lobster. Instead the walls were lined with boxes where repeat customers can store the bottles of wine they buy (by the case) in the evenly temperate wall safes labeled with their names.
The hostess did not blink an eye at our early arrival. Her table or booth question was met with our traditional going out to dinner debate. I like a booth. Sweetie prefers a table. He spoke up faster so off we headed to a table. I soon noticed that we were in a place that treated me politely, but spoke to Sweetie as if he were in charge. Like in the old days when gentlemen walked the little lady to her chair with his hand placed gently but firmly in the small of her back to guide her, pulled out chair, ordered the meal, smelled the wine cork and paid the bill with cash not a gift card. In this case the hostess pulled out my chair, then pulled out Sweetie's. The table was decorated with little red hearts. An anniversary card leaned against the salt and pepper shakers.
Hostess, noting that I wore black slacks, removed my white napkin from the table: Would you care for a black napkin.
ME, nervous laughter giving away my naivete: Sure. Is that so if I spill something, no one will know?
Hostess: "We don't care if you spill. We just don't want you to get white lint on your black pants."
ME, thinking to myself: "Lint is worse than Lobster Mac 'n Cheese?"
Then the hostess went through the whole napkin drill with Sweetie. He nodded like he'd been using black napkins his whole life.
In less than a nano-second, we were greeted by Scott, our waiter. Scott looked like he might be more comfortable in the Apple Store, he was all business. He wore an ill-fitting, mustard colored jacket with a pocket full of pens, and black thick rimmed glasses.
All I knew about the restaurant before entering its cloistered walls was they are known for their dry aged steaks and coconut cream pie. The a la carte menu proved daunting at first. Scott walked us through it explaining that any of the sauces can be paired with any of the steaks, the seafood is all fresh, never frozen, and the $9.00 dish of mashed potatoes serves two, as do all the sides. When asked Scott explained that Parmesan truffle french fries are sprinkled with white truffle oil I thought chocolate, Sweetie thought wild boars. Scott made Sweetie very happy when he suggested anchovies for his Caesar salad. Sweetie has never met an anchovy he didn't like. I passed on the sides deciding, rightly so, to fill any leftover space in my stomach with dessert rather than some kind of vegetable.
Scott: Would you care for a drink?
ME: Yes. Unsweetened iced tea please.
Sweetie: The same.
Scott: How about some water?
Sweetie and ME: Sure.
Scott: Fresh or Bottled
ME, remembering the time we paid dearly for bottled water at the Columbia House in St. Augustine (we did get to take home two really cool looking bottles, but still): Fresh
ME (wondering if Sweetie just gave me the gentleman-make-the-decisions-stink eye): Bottled is fine.
Scott: Sparkling or plain?
Sweetie looked like he was leaning towards the sparkling. I remained silent.
In the end he opted for plain -aka Fugi - which came in a plastic bottle and required no uncorking fee.
The water came first, then the iced tea. Scott discreetly laid 2 straws on the table. I'm a straw kind of girl. I thought nothing of pulling of the plastic wrapper and putting the straw in my tea. I didn't blow the wrapper at Sweetie, nor did I throw it on the floor. I rolled it neatly and laid it next to my bread plate - the rim of the plate so it wouldn't be seen.
In between being served water and salad, I whipped out my cell phone. Okay, so maybe no one else in the place felt the need to take selfies. Maybe doing so made us look like the turnip truck had dropped us off at the valet booth, but I thought the occasion needed to be recorded. I'm not sure we'll ever eat in such style again. Besides, we were celebrating our anniversary and Sweetie wanted me to be happy, so he didn't object - too much. I like to take full advantage of Sweetie's smiles. He us not unfriendly but is stingy with smiles. Then I scooped up the confetti and dropped it in my purse like Cinderella's step sisters helping themselves to the party favors from the King's ball,
Sweetie's fishy Caesar and my spinach salad arrived on plates big enough to share. The Grille wants you to get your money's worth. The bread basket had a variety of flavors - dark, light, sweet - all of which shed a some crumbs as is the nature of fresh bread. When Scott came to take remove the salad and bread plates, he whipped a handy little tool out of his pocket and swept up every last crumb on Sweetie's side of the table. This proved to be one of the night's highlights. Scott had no qualms about sharing his knowledge and expertise.
Sweetie: Scott, what is that thing?
Scott; A crumber.
Sweetie, looking more impressed than the people around us who had obviously grown up knowing such a thing exists: Ha! A crumber.
At that point, Scott hoped I'd hurry up and finish my salad so he could impress us again. I put the last bit of spinach in my mouth and gave him the okay. In one fluid movement, Scott removed my plate, picked up the straw wrapper like it was a smelly diaper, pulled that crumber out of his pocket, and swept our table clean. Audiences seeing Houdini disappear couldn't have been more impressed than Sweetie and I.
Sweetie's dry aged Kona and shallot covered sirloin that took up most of his plate, and my 2 inch thick, bleu cheese crusted Filet Mignon arrived with proper fanfare. It took three beige coated, tray-carrying kitchen people to place the plates on our table. All conversation stopped. Sweetie and I entered a state of gastronomic Nirvana.
The rest of the evening might have been anti-climatic had Scott not reminded us of dessert. Sweetie was stuffed and not sure how high his blood sugar had soared. I, on the other hand was not leaving without coconut cream pie. A few minutes after ordering, out comes Scott with my pie, and a tray with Happy Anniversary spelled out in chocolate, adorned with a mini-sized cheese cake and flourless chocolate espresso cake. Before digging in, not giving any care to the people around us who had obviously eaten at this end of the mall before, I asked Scott to take our picture.
ME: Scott will you take a picture for us?
Scott: Of course, I will, but let me run get the house camera.
Scott, returned with a small, spy-sized camera and set about adjusting the anniversary card, what was left of the confetti, and desserts in front of us like he had either done this before or had a side job as a food photographer. He took one blurry photo with my cell phone, then got to work with the house camera.
Sweetie: Hey Scott, are you going to hang this picture on the wall like that guy over there (pointing to a large picture of a be-speckled man with curly hair that could have been Scott's grandfather).
Scott (having realized we were not of the rich and famous club): Oh, no. You have to have done something special for the city to make it to that wall. Each of our restaurants has a picture of one of their host city's best or brightest.
Turns out the gent on the wall was Phil Esteridge, an IBM pioneer from Jacksonville who did for the home PC what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did for business computers. Who knew?
Sweetie and ME, thinking but not saying out loud:
Scott: Let's take another one, just to make sure.
Clearly happy with himself and his work, Scott left
I was prepared to ask for them, but was glad I when Scott offered take home boxes (nothing as gauche as a doggie bag) for left over steak and desserts. Rich people probably got that way by not leaving good food they'd paid dearly for behind. I loved seeing the smile on Sweetie's face when he ate a dry aged Kona and shallot covered steak sandwich for a midnight snack.
Having the car parked by University of Florida lovers. $5.00
Ambiance, food, and the opportunity to see how the people with money to spend live. $180.00
Anniversary dinner, talking and laughing with my Sweetie. Priceless.
It's been said, you know you're a writer when you write stories on scraps of paper or napkins. Maybe I had the look of a writer and that's the real reason I was offered a black napkin. You can't see ink stains on them. When I realized our visit to the Capital Grille was going to be a night to remember I knew I should be taking notes. Good thing Scott had so many pens in his pocket. I wonder if that's the way F. Scott Fitzgerald got started?
Remember, when life gives you crumbs, just pull out your crumber,