Bon Appétit

Fiction by Margi Desmond    Art by Ernesto Ferguson

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Edward’s behavior drove most people crazy. Especially my husband, Bill, who insisted one day he’d teach Edward a lesson.

“May I recommend the 1978 Chateau Margaux from France’s Bordeaux region?” The restaurant’s sommelier addressed Edward. “It’s a delicate wine which, during production, sits on a soil of white graves—”

“Graves?” Bill said. “What?”

The sommelier turned and, with what I assumed was his most dramatic droll expression and condescending tone, said, “A grave is a special kind of gravel, sir.”

“White rocks,” Bill said out of the side of his mouth. “Why didn’t he just say that?”

I gently nudged his leg under the table so he’d pipe down. Bill came from an upper-class family but despised pretentious behavior, while my cousin Edward had only recently experienced a healthy income as a marketing director. He was proud of his success, and though happy for him, I had to admit his restaurant antics were tedious.

Edward’s eyes narrowed at the sommelier. “It’s my understanding that Chateau Margaux wines produced in the 70s were of inferior quality.”

“Indeed,” the sommelier said. “That’s true; however, the 1978 vintage is far superior compared to the previous years.”

“Good grief,” Bill said. “Can I get a beer while we listen to this asinine conversation? I’m parched.”

“Dear,” Edward’s wife, Isabella, said, “let’s give it a try.” She smiled at the sommelier and he left to retrieve his recommendation.

Isabella turned to my husband. “Perhaps we should have taken you to The Sizzler.”

“That would’ve been fine with me. They serve a darn good steak.”

Isabella frowned. “Try to think of your dear wife, Bill. It’s Kate’s birthday and we wanted her to have a special evening. Not a two-for-one deal at a cheap chain restaurant, for Pete’s sake.”

Before Bill shot back a nasty retort, I said, “This is a wonderful birthday surprise and I really appreciate it, Izzy. We’ve never dined here.”

“We assumed as much,” Isabella said, eyeballing Bill.

Reservations at Palato Felice had to be made months in advance. Consistently featured in culinary magazines and television shows, the five-star Italian restaurant’s menu featured dishes created by world-famous celebrity chef, Benito Filiponi.

The sommelier returned with the wine while his assistant placed a sparkling crystal glass at each of our settings.

“Here we are,” the sommelier said. He cupped his hand under the bottle, allowing the neck to rest on his forearm, positioning the label for Edward’s examination. Edward nodded. The sommelier opened the bottle and presented the cork to Edward, who slipped on his reading glasses and visually examined it before taking a deep whiff.

Bill exhaled loudly to indicate his frustration.

Ignoring Bill, Edward gave the sommelier a solemn nod to proceed. He poured an ounce of the wine into Edward’s glass. Edward held it up to the light, swirled the liquid around the glass, and took a small sip. “Hum. Not a bad bouquet with a slight hint of vanilla. Perhaps a bit acidic…” He took another sip and swished the mouthful of wine.

“Oh for the love of God, just pour it.” Bill shoved his wine glass in the sommelier’s face.

Isabella’s cheeks crimsoned and Edward placed his wine glass on the table. “I guess it will be satisfactory,” he said to the sommelier.

A waiter approached the table while the sommelier’s assistant poured our drinks. “Greetings ladies and gentlemen. Tonight Chef Filiponi is featuring a deconstructed trio sure to delight all, from simple to the most discriminating palates. The culinary journey begins with a scrumptious deconstructed tomato and potato salad.” The waiter paused.

“Are the ingredients local and organic?” Isabella asked.

The waiter nodded. “Yes madam.”

“What about the dressing?” Edward asked. “Is it gluten free? Gluten makes me feel positively dreadful.”

Bill rolled his eyes and drank a large gulp of wine.

“It’s extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with spices,” the waiter said, shifting from one foot to the other. “For your second course, Chef Filiponi put a modern twist on an old favorite, lasagna, that’s guaranteed to make you weep in ecstasy.”

Isabella placed a hand on her chest and said, “Sounds exquisite. Simply exquisite.” Edward nodded in agreement. My stomach growled.

“Can he make it with gluten free pasta?” Edward asked. “My digestive system—”

“Hey!” Bill waved at the waiter. “You mind slapping some bread on the table before I starve to death?”

“Why do you insist on going out with them?” Bill said as he slipped into bed and I changed into my pajamas. “They make complete idiots out of themselves at restaurants.”

***

“Why do you insist on going out with them?” Bill said as he slipped into bed and I changed into my pajamas. “They make complete idiots out of themselves at restaurants.”

“They’re family. We have no choice.”

“Says who? I never force you to hang out with my deadbeat brother, Carl.”

“All he wants to do is sit in front of the television and smoke pot. He’s a bum.”

“Mother says he suffers from depression.”

“I don’t buy it. He’s lazy.”

“And Edward and Izzy—”

“—enjoy a fine dining experience.”

“Everything’s such a big production. When we go out with them I nearly dehydrate and starve waiting for them to pick the wine.”

I plumped my pillow and climbed into bed. “They took a wine appreciation class and I assume they’re trying to practice what they learned.”

“It’s obnoxious, that’s what it is.” Bill winced. “Someone needs to teach them a lesson.”

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Bill drove our SUV through winding back roads, deep into the country towards our destination.

“William, I must tell you how happy we are that you’ve decided to broaden your horizons and embrace the appreciation of a good culinary experience,” Edward said.

Bill looked into the rear view mirror at Edward, seated in the back. “It’s my pleasure.”

“Tell us about the restaurant,” Isabella said.

“It’s a secret dinner club.” Bill smiled slightly.

Isabella asked from the back seat, “How did you find out about it?”

Bill cleared his throat. “On a return flight from a business trip in Los Angeles an elderly gentleman, who I must say, looked extremely familiar, sat next to me in the first class cabin. He appeared sweaty and I heard awful sounds coming from his stomach. When I asked if he was okay, he complained of severe stomach cramps.”

“Poor man,” Isabella said.

“Poor you, having to sit by a flatulent old man on a cross-country flight,” Edward said.

“That’s what I thought, so I rummaged in my carry-on bag and found some Maalox tablets left over from when I ate bad sushi from the kiosk in the Atlanta airport.” Bill shook his head. “Man that was an awful experience.”

Edward snickered. “Who knew eating sushi from an airport kiosk could be risky?”

“Enough with the sarcasm, dear. Let Bill continue,” Isabella scolded.

“Long story short: he took the Maalox with some ginger ale and felt much better,” Bill said.

“So what does this have to do with a secret dinner club?” Edward asked.

“The man—remember, I said he looked familiar but I couldn’t place him—was Sir Anthony Hopkins.”

“No!” Isabella squealed.

“What was he doing on a commercial flight?” Edward asked.

“Shhh!” Isabella shushed Edward. “Bill, go on with your story.”

Bill smiled at me and I turned to look out the window.

“Grateful for my assistance, he started up a conversation,” Bill said.

“What’s he like?” Isabella asked.

“A nice gentleman. Very interesting. Anyway, he told me he was on his way to a secret dinner club, introduced to him several years ago by Meryl Streep.”

“Meryl Streep? Oh my goodness, she’s so talented. I loved her as Margaret Thatcher. She was brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Isabella said.

“Apparently all these well-to-do Hollywood movers and shakers love the place. On different occasions Anthony’s seen Caroline Kennedy, Colin Powell, and Tony Shalhoub, television’s lovable obsessive-compulsive detective, Adrian Monk.”

“Monk?” Isabella said. “I love Monk!”

“Oh my,” Edward said.

Bill steered the vehicle into the gravel parking lot outside a rickety building.


“Remember what I said. It’s an exclusive club,” Bill explained. “They only serve dinner once a week to members of an elite group. You can’t go bragging about it to your friends.”

“Looks like a hole in the wall to me,” Edward said.

“Precisely the point,” Bill said. “They don’t want to draw attention to the establishment. Wait until we get inside.”

“What the…” Edward pointed to a dingy bedroom slipper on the ground.

Bill kicked it aside. “Never mind that.”

“You think one of the Kennedys will be here tonight?” Isabella asked.

“Who knows?” Bill gave my hand a quick, gentle squeeze.

Bill held the front door open for us while we entered into a small dining area. Half the tables were occupied by diners eating what appeared to be a hearty stew served with biscuits. A woman emerged from a door in the back of the room and said, “Hello. Take a seat anywhere you want. I’ll be right with you.”

Edward led the way to a vacant table by a window overlooking the parking lot. Covered in a white table cloth, and set with mismatched china, the table was laid out for four people. “Look at the dishes,” Edward commented.

Isabella nudged him. “Be quiet, Edward. Don’t embarrass me. Don’t you know anything?”

Edward stared at her.

“Mismatched china is all the rage now. It’s très chic.” Isabella shook her head in disgust.

“I knew that,” Edward tried to cover his faux pas. “I was just making a comment.”

A shuttle bus with Shady Acres Nursing Home logo on its side veered into the parking lot and zoomed around to the back of the building. “Oldsters late for the four o’clock dinner special, I suppose. This ought to be a treat.” Edward rolled his eyes.

“Welcome to The Club,” the waitress said. “How’d you hear about us?”

“You come highly recommended,” Bill said. “We’re delighted to dine with you tonight.”

“Is that Brad Pitt over there?” Isabella pointed to a blonde-headed man with a scraggly beard hunched over a plate of food.

“Huh?” the waitress said.

I grabbed Isabella’s hand and held it down. “Isabella, not now.”

“Oh, sorry. That was very rude of me.”

“Let’s take a look at your wine list.” Edward rubbed his hands together in preparation.

The waitress shook her head. “We have no wine list, sir. The wine has been specifically paired with this evening’s dish. I guarantee your satisfaction.”

“Could we see a menu?” Isabella asked.

“Oh, there’s no menu, ma’am. The chef prepares a special dish of his choosing each week, based on the availability of the fresh, local ingredients.” She strode off to fetch our drinks.

“Fresh, local ingredients,” Isabella said, “make the finest meals.”

“I’m a little apprehensive about the wine,” Edward said.

“It will be a treat for your discriminating palate,” Bill said.

Diners paused to listen to a ruckus coming from the kitchen. Banging doors, a dropped pot, and other indiscernible noises. After a minute or so, the relaxing atmosphere resumed. The waitress, perspiring and disheveled, returned with four mason jars filled to the brim with wine.

“What’s this?” Edward said, obviously rattled.

The waitress served the table, in a clockwise fashion, ladies first, then gentlemen. “Why of course, it’s the wine, sir.”

Bill took a swig. “Delish!”

Isabella stared at her mason jar. “It’s filled to the rim.”

“That’s how they do it in Europe,” I said, getting into the spirit of the evening.

“Oh, I know,” she glanced up at the waitress. “Uh…what I meant was you just don’t see it poured that way over here in America.”

“Um-hum.” I slid Isabella’s glass closer to her. “Have a taste.”

Isabella took a dainty sip and nodded. “That’s quite good.” She drank another, larger sip. “Yes, I do believe it’s one of the best wines I’ve ever had. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. It’s…why…it’s perfect.”

Bill grinned. “I think it’s perfect too.” He raised his glass and we clinked mason jars in a toast.

I looked at Edward, still sulking over not being able to select the wine. “Edward, what do you think?”

He took a quick sip. “Yeah, it’s fine.”

“Not too woody?” Bill asked.

“I said it’s fine.” Edward huffed. “Let’s just eat.”


The waitress wheeled a serving cart to our table side. She lifted the lid to a huge pot and steam billowed out, accompanied by a delicious aroma. She spooned a heaping portion of stew on Isabella’s plate and continued to serve until each of us had a piping hot portion of the house special. “And my very own creation,” she announced, putting a large basket in the middle of the table, “biscuits with honey butter.”

Edward held up his mason jar. “Can I please have a refill?”

“Sure you can, sir.” The waitress took his jar and went back to the kitchen.

Bill grinned at Edward. “Good wine, huh, Edward?”

“It’s so smooth and fruity.” Edward giggled. “And packs a punch. Good thing you’re driving, pal.”

“Look who just walked in,” Isabella said. “It’s Dick Cheney.”

I had to admit, he did look like Mr. Cheney. Bill’s mouth dropped open in obvious shock when he glanced over at the man.

Edward and Isabella enjoyed seconds of the meal and three refills of the wine. Smashed and full, they expressed sheer delight that the little shack served the most delicious meal they’d had all year. When the waitress returned to the table to clear their plates, Edward insisted on expressing his appreciation to the chef.

The waitress chuckled and said, “Oh, he’ll love that. The kitchen’s winding down so I’m sure he can spare a moment to visit with you.”

Isabella clapped her hands. “Outstanding. Thank you so much.”

Within moments a mountain of a man emerged from the kitchen. Close to seven feet tall, sporting a mullet and beard, the chef’s muscle-bound body clad in a blood-stained apron, flannel shirt, and jeans was not what my cousin and his wife expected. Edward and Isabella sat speechless, as if in a trance.

After an uncomfortable pause, I said, “Hello. My cousin, Edward, insisted on telling you in person how much he enjoyed tonight’s meal. We all did, Chef.”

“Thanks,” the chef said, grinning a huge ear-to-ear smile. “We had quite a crowd here tonight. Almost ran out of my main ingredient. Lucky for me, I received a last minute delivery.”

“We adored the meal,” Isabella said, finally finding her voice. “We have discriminating palates. The meat had such a tang. I’ve never eaten anything quite like it. You used cumin too, didn’t you? I thought I could taste cumin.”

“I must admit, a lot of work went into that meal but I can’t be giving away my secrets.” The chef winked at her.

Isabelle blushed. “No, of course not.”

“What do you suggest for dessert?” Edward asked.

“Humble pie,” Bill said.

“Does that have a meringue?” Isabelle asked.

Edward’s expression clouded. “Humble pie?”

“Yeah, ya big dummy,” Bill said. “The main ingredient in the best dish—your words, not mine—that you’ve had all year was…are you ready? It was human meat.”

“What?” Isabelle gasped.

“Enos here,” Bill nodded his head toward the still-beaming chef, “works for Shady Acres Nursing Home during the week. When the oldsters croak he chucks them in his deep freeze and each week serves up a delicious concoction such as the stew you ate tonight. Saves a hell of a lot on burial fees. Families appreciate the assistance. Nursing homes don’t come cheap nowadays.”

“The meat’s tender, aged to perfection.” Enos wiggled his eyebrows.

“But the wine…” Edward stammered, “…it was…delicious.”

“Chablis bought by the gallon at the discount warehouse off Route 5.”

Edward heaved. Isabella’s eyes welled up with tears. “Nana…”

“Dinner’s on me,” Bill said, taking out his wallet.

Edward and Isabella ran out to the parking lot.

Enos sat at the table with us. “May as well take a load off my feet for a minute.”

“Here’s a little extra for your trouble.” Bill slipped him a C-note.

The chef tucked the money in his front shirt pocket. “Are you ever going to tell them the truth?”

“Maybe later. They don’t need to know this is a hunting lodge right now. By the way, the venison stew really was outstanding.”

“Thanks Bill. See you next week?”

“Absolutely!”

THE END

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