Why Do You Ask???? (Issue 775)

In which we are reminded that very few questions come from idle curiosity. We need to know why.

Out to dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. We chose one of Boston’s finest Italian restaurants for the meal, several cuts above “chicken parm with ziti in red sauce.” We arrived a little early, the place wasn’t busy, so we ordered some wine and chatted for a bit before our server very gently reminded us that adding food to the table might be a good next step.

We gazed at the menus – lots of wonderful choices including two that looked really good to me:

Fusilli Avellinesi al cartoccio – Artisan made fusilli from Campania, baked in parchment paper with a sauce of onions, pancetta Abruzzese, roasted tomatoes and smoked sweet peppers 

Trucha a la parrilla – Saffron butter brushed grilled trout served with pallares, yellow Peruvian potatoes and wilted greens

I was set to order and I beckoned our graciously hovering server to our table.

“Please, order first,” I suggested to my friend.

Well…. that turned out to be a bit of un errore. Top to bottom of the menu, dish by dish, he quizzed the waiter “Do you use butter or olive oil? Are there egg whites? How much salt do you use? Do you use light cream or heavy cream for this sauce? Were the vegetables grown outside in the sun or in some hothouse somewhere?” Is the pasta flour duram wheat semolina or general purpose flour? Bleached or unbleached?”

Our server, answering the questions, looked confused and off balance. I’m guessing she was thinking, “Is this, like, some kind of quiz? Is my job in danger? Are you a food critic? A jerk?” To her credit, she stayed the course, answering question after question after question after question.

After a few more long and increasingly awkward minutes, our now somewhat exhausted server parried: “May I ask, sir, what leads you to ask these questions?”

Brilliant! I wanted to leap for joy. End this dance! Thank you! Well played!

It turned out that his questions were motivated by a combination of his food allergies (egg yolks), dietary restrictions (sodium), and food snobbery (“hot house or outside”). Once those issues were on the table, clear to all, our server recommended two menu items and one off-menu item that would meet my friend’s criteria.

Always good to know why people are asking.

He went off-menu. I ordered trout.

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