Tuesday, June 26, 2012
You Can't Take Us Anywhere
We had been treated by several dear friends to various Austin food experiences over the weekend: the home-cooked brisket, the funky cafe, the elegant yet sustainably-sourced tea shop. On our last night in town, we decided to step down to the restaurant in our swanky internet-steal hotel to grab a bite to eat. The constraint of our 3:30 am alarm meant that we didn't have either the time or inclination to indulge in the more avant-garde concoctions featured on the main menu, but the drinks menu also included a selection of upscale items that translated into "burgers and fries". We were in the midst of packing up, so we sauntered down in t-shirts, jeans, and soft shoes, because this is Austin, guys.
The dim cellar vaults of the restaurant were inscribed with quotes extolling the twin virtues of knowledge and food. The atmosphere of sobriety permeated down to the burnt-orange carpet. We were whisked past the bar, at which we cast longing glances, and tucked into a table at which even the candles flickered sedately. Someone materialized to fill the water glasses from a bottle. The couple next to us forked their way through the six-course tasting menu with paired wines. She was manicured and coiffured; he wore Texas Yuppie Casual: long-sleeve shirt untucked, fitted jeans, leather flip-flops. They laughed and clinked glasses; she crossed her legs and bounced a platform heel.
When our server appeared and began deferentially to explain the restaurant's philosophy, Darwin uttered these fatal words:
"We weren't all that hungry, and we know it's close to closing time, so we thought we might just get drinks and order off the bar menu."
The waiter paused for a moment, perplexed. His face went blank as he processed this concept.
"We don't normally serve from that menu in the dining room," he murmured.
"We just thought..." one of us started. "But if it's trouble..."
"It's just that we don't normally serve from that menu in the dining room," he repeated slowly, his logic circuits fried by such an unprecedented request. We were appalled by how gauche we had been and begged to order normally. He demurred in tones of great sadness as he slowly gathered up the wine glasses and the original menu ("No, no, we can do that if that's what you like...") and departed. I met Darwin's gleaming eye, and we both began to convulse with silent laughter.
Our service was attentive, but grave. The drinks ("Your order will take a moment, ma'am, since The Annex is a hand-crafted cocktail") were excellent. The tartare was superb. Two waiters presented our order of Parmesan Garlic Fries. They set before us the plate of stacked fries and then various condiments. "Here's the garlic truffle aioli," our waiter said, "and perhaps you might prefer sauce americaine." It was ketchup.
The kitchen sent out a sample of the pork belly, which was delicious. Our water glasses were filled again from a fresh bottle. "I bet they fill the bottles with tap water," I said meanly. We stifled our hysterical giggles.
As we ate our complementary chocolate truffle shortbread (it was excellent, of course), the couple next to us haggled with the waiter over their bill; they'd come armed with some internet coupon which had terms and restrictions to which they had paid little attention. Darwin charged our bill to our room and added a hefty tip to compensate for our lack of decorum. When the waiter returned, he was chatty and confidential. Had we enjoyed our stay? How long were we in town? Where were we from? He had been to Columbus once, years before, passing through with a classmate who drove an MG, and they'd been pulled over by this huge cop who wanted payment right then, and his classmate hadn't had any money on him.... We smiled and nodded and kicked each other under the table, and finally escaped to collapse face down on our bed in groans of mirth, fueled at intervals by strangled howls of "Sauce americaine!"