Continued from Phase IV Music
Dinner, of course, was the centerpiece of the evening.
I chose the restaurant (code named Valabar's) because it has a national reputation for both cuisine and service, it's ridiculously difficult to get into without reservations months in advance, and its specialty was perfectly aged and prepared Angus beef. I just got my teeth fixed -- it was time for a steak. And even though the prices would ordinarily put me into a coma, I had the money to order whatever I wanted for a change and not worry about the price. That, alone, gave me buckets of confidence. Pep talks and creative visualizations are fine for developing Confidence, but try putting a fat roll of twenties in your pocket thicker than your dick and watch what happens to your attitude.
We were a little early, so I took the time to make out with Mrs. Ironwood in the car, and then wait until she fixed her makeup. She was nearly purring. I offered her my arm and we went inside to check in.
The place was packed, and it's a large place, and it was 9:30 at night. But we only had to wait ten minutes. My wife (of course) took the opportunity to freshen up, which proved challenging in her tight new skirt, which left me hanging around the hostess stand with a pager and a stupid expression on my face.
Luckily, Valabar's has a walk-in humidor -- yes, it's that kind of place.
Now, there are few things more inherently manly than the smell of cigar tobacco in a humidor. It's right up there with Old Spice and jock straps when it comes to powerfully masculine aromas. I slid the door back and walked into the humid, sweet-smelling air.
I'll be honest, I'm not a cigar smoker. My experience is limited to bachelor parties and a few other special occasions. But I grew up in tobacco country, and the nearly cloying aroma of cigars is nostalgic for me. I surveyed the carefully-arrayed boxes, with phallic-shaped objects of conspicuous consumption laid out around me, and I felt compelled to indulge despite my ignorance. I chose something short, fat, and bold, about $12 worth of cigar. It was far from the most expensive cigar there, but it was far from the cheapest, either. Just enough to give me the feeling and the flavor without making me reek like an old pool player all night. And, of course, I reserved it for after the meal. I didn't want to destroy my palate.
I had the clerk cut it and I was back on station before Mrs. Ironwood finally came out, looking relieved and put-together again -- and just in time for the pager to go off.
Valabar's is so large that we were handed off to three different hostesses until we got to our table. But when we sat down, the noise of the other patrons faded around us as we indulged in the homey-yet-ridiculously-tasteful ambiance. Our waiter appeared with bread, cheese, a pickle tray, and water, and we were off.
I wanted steak in the worst way. While famous for their Prime Rib, I sprung for the fifteen ounce sirloin.
Mrs. Ironwood looked up. "Why don't you order for me?" she asked.
My eyebrows shot up. "Really?" This was a departure.
"This is your show," she shrugged. "And what you order is always better than what I order. You're driving, you know what I like, you order for me."
I didn't argue. If she was going to place the reins in my hand, I wasn't going to let go. "All right," I said, surveying the menu. I decided that if I got the steak and she didn't, she'd end up eating half of mine anyway. She's right, I do order better than she does. I cook, she doesn't. I worked as a gourmet vendor for five years. I'm a foodie. I selected the same steak I got, only I had it done rare, with a glaze of balsamic vinegar and Roquefort cheese. Twice-baked potatoes on the side. House salads before hand. No appetizer, because I wanted to enjoy my steak and still leave room for the desserts for which the place was justly famed.
I also bought a bottle of wine, and spent more than I ever have before. I know just a little more about wine than I do cigars, but you can't work the specialty food business without picking up a few things. I found a California Zinfandel I'd heard about from someone, and asked the waiter about it. He made a counter proposal, based on our meal, which actually was ten dollars cheaper than mine. Never hesitate to ask the waiter's opinion, but don't be afraid to ask for options, either. I was feeling affluent, not wealthy.
Now, how do you pull this off without looking like an utter cheapskate?
"What would you say the best valued wine to go with our meal would be?"
That "best value" is politely acceptable code for "don't rip me off and I'll be generous with the tip" in fine dining language. Because I knew that the man was familiar with the wine options because you just don't get to walk in off the street and start waiting tables at Valabar's. I'd even been to one of their employee information sessions, back when I was trying to sell them stuff. The waiter knows that there are several equally outstanding options to go with any meal, and while he's more than happy to sell you a $100 bottle with your steak, if you ask him he'll be just as agreeable selling you a $50 bottle that's almost as good. And since our palates just weren't developed enough to really appreciate the $50 difference, the extra would have been wasted on us. A good fine dining waiter is far more interested in ensuring a perfect experience than he is padding the bill, if he's smart. Ours was smart.
He brought the bottle out for my inspection, uncorked it with professional efficiency, and poured a splash in my glass. This is the part where you can look like an idiot, if you don't know what to do. As the gentleman in the party, it was up to me to approve the wine before it was served. I truly enjoyed splashing it around to see its legs, inhaling the deep, spicy aroma of the red, and allowing a small aspirated sip to spray over my tongue before I let it was luxuriously around my mouth, gaming my taste buds with gay abandon.
It was the most expensive wine I'd ever bought . . . and it was worth every penny.
Wine is an expensive habit to get into. When I ran a specialty coffee roastery, I noted that half of the people in high-end coffee are there because it's too expensive to play in high-end wines for most people. So they get into coffee but hang out with their wine friends like they're ashamed of the Demon Bean. At some levels, a wine habit is more expensive than a cocaine habit. But I could see the allure. If I am every ridiculously filthy rich, yeah, I'll waste my money on fine wine. Life is short.
"That is exquisite," I told the waiter, and offered my glass to the Missus. Her eyes shot open. She isn't a wine aficionado either, but she comes from a long line of wealthy alcoholics, and she knew quality even if she couldn't appreciate it. She nodded eagerly for the waiter to fill her glass.
We picked at the pickle tray and played footsie under the table. There was a time when I had found good conversation difficult even when it was just my wife and I. But "awkward" rarely gets you laid (and when it does, it usually proves problematic later) so I tried to forget the formalities of the occasion and plunged in with casual confidence.
I made the rule at the beginning of the dinner: no discussing the children, our work, our respective to-do lists or our anxieties. Conversation was limited to happy fun things, wickedly dirty dream vacation plans, gossip, and thinly-disguised innuendo that had us both well-aroused by the time our meals arrived.
I'm not going to describe the meal in detail, because words can't do it proper justice. I will say that the balsamic vinegar/Roquefort glaze was fucking orgasmic, particularly with the wine. And I was glad I got us each the 15 oz -- when you know you're going to end up taking some steak home from Valabar's, you do your best to ensure that you're taking a LOT of steak home from Valabar's.
We didn't say much while we were eating, because it was just that good. I managed almost half of my steak, and she finished over a third of hers, but despite our efforts to pace ourselves, there was just no way. I called for boxes and a dessert tray.
It was well past 10 pm at this point, but I was feeling just a hint of a buzz from the wine, and had a mood for something sweet before I proceeded toward seduction. One reason why Valabar's is so popular is that they had nine different desserts on their tray, each one baked by magical elves and designed to make grown women leave slug-trails of lust in their wake, so rich are they. When faced with such a momentous decision, my wife's eyes began to glaze over. If I didn't intervene, it might be a long night.
"We'll take the double chocolate mousse cheesecake," I said, "and the strawberry sorbet for the lady. Two coffees with cream."
Mrs. Ironwood was perplexed about my decision -- I hadn't consulted her in the slightest, which was a departure. I shrugged. "You told me to order for you. I figured you meant dessert, too."
"All right," she said, doubtfully. "But I wouldn't have chosen the sorbet."
"I know," I assured her. "That's why I ordered it." And it was. After 20 years, my wife's food selections have become predictable.
When they came, I was vindicated. As good as my chocolate mousse cheesecake was (and how could it have been bad?), her dessert was better. The freshly made strawberry sorbet was complimented by diced candied orange peel, grated candied ginger, and a shot of Chambord lovingly poured over the top. Mint leaf for garnish. She made cum noises the entire time she ate.
I only ate half of mine -- I knew we'd want the rest later, and I had plans for that cheesecake. I finished off my coffee while the waiter brought me a box and the check. I tossed my credit card out casually without looking at it. I had a pretty good idea what it was supposed to be, and when he returned with my card and the slip, it was within a couple of bucks. I added a 25% tip for outstanding service and then rose to help the Missus with her coat.
"I don't think I can walk," she moaned.
"Do you think you can dance?" I asked. She looked horrified.
"What? What do you mean?"
"I mean, if you want to, I can arrange for there to be dancing," I said. I had a contingency, a club on the other side of town that was hosting a Mardis Gras party and a Zydeco band that played until 1 am. Mrs. Ironwood looked appalled at the thought.
"Jesus, Ian, I just ate half a cow! And my feet hurt. If you don't mind, I'd rather just go home." We found out later that she had been nursing a broken heel, unbeknownst to her. So it was probably a great idea we didn't go dancing. I preferred her unspoken proposal.
"Home it is," I agreed. I hadn't wanted to go dancing, either, but I wanted to have it as an option. I also wanted her to be able to say " . . . and then he wanted to take me dancing, but I just had to have him instead!" to her best friends in the post-date post mortem.
On the way back out to the car I lit up the cigar. Mrs. Ironwood leaned into it to inhale. "It reminds me of my grandfather," she said, happily. "Only once or twice a year, but usually at Christmas." A good memory. I enjoyed smoking it for five or ten minutes, and then when I stopped enjoying it I let it die.
"Damn, that thing stinks," she said, as we drove home. "But I'm glad you did. You earned a cigar for tonight!"
"So you had fun?" I asked.
"Did I have fun? Best date ever!" she proclaimed. "And now we get to the best part!"
It was late. The highway was deserted. No cops in sight. I headed home at 70 mph.
NEXT: Phase VI Sex And Stuff