On Sunday, The H and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. This wonderful day was sandwiched in between two working days for me and we have our latermoon coming up in a few weeks, so we knew there would be no long-weekend getaway. We instead went to church, where we LEFT OUR PEW during the “pass the peace/greeting” portion. This was a big step for us. We usually greet those we we can reach from our pew and the extra-friendly person who comes to us. There weren’t many people in church on Sunday and we were sitting basically on an island of lonely pews. Maybe it was the confidence after one year of marriage, but I led us out of the pew and I didn’t even prepare The H ahead of time. Communion was coming up and he was contemplating chugging out of the common cup to calm his anxieties about what just happened. After church, we enjoyed brunch at our favorite diner, where we “took it easy.” Meaning we ate enough for only two meals, not a day’s worth of food like usual. Then we enjoyed coffee, then we putzed around the apartment for a bit before we headed downtown for our fancy dinner.
Before you stop reading, I am getting to the city-rural food analysis, but the following situation sets it up perfectly. Promise.
After strolling around downtown for a while, we arrived at the restaurant. Before leaving we had debated whether or not to even keep this reservation because after disclosing where we were going that afternoon, The H and I both were uneasy that this place, “just wasn’t us.” I said, “I’ll feel uncomfortable.” He felt bad, then I felt bad, and then we both rationalized keeping the reservation because we were just trying something new. How bad could it be?
This was a fancy french restaurant in the lobby of a swanky hotel. At night I’m sure they really set “the mood”, but when it is still daylight on these long days of late spring, I couldn’t help but notice stains on the seats and missed dusty spots. Not to mention they had these table runners that were trying to act like a loin cloth as you sat at the table. In a dress, very annoying. We knew we’d be spending at least double what we’d normally pay for a nice (in our standards) night out. We ordered cocktails from who, I thought, was our server. But then another man came up and in the thickest French accent I’d heard since my 16 hour trip to Paris,
recommended told us what to order. We previously had thought we’d get a small cheese platter for an appetizer, but then I felt this immense pressure to order just what he told us to. So, we ordered it. Fois gras.
While we waited for this
delicacy gelatinous vomit bomb of poor little duck liver, we were offered bread and the most gorgeous butter I’ve ever seen. The bread server (is there an official french term?) was a woman, also French, who actually smiled. She made it seem as if we were getting this whole tray of bread. After all, it is an authentic French restaurant and one might go so far as to expect endless servings of French Baguette. But then, at the last second she puts ONE piece of bread on your plate. So many thoughts crossed my mind! Bread is the cheapest food here. But you don’t get it, WE LOVE BAGUETTE! You are wasting all this glorious butter because I don’t put 5 Tablespoons of butter on one measly piece of bread. And so forth…
Then this odd-colored loaf of Jell-O jiggler game out, with old dried bread sticking out of it and fake dirty-looking candy on top. I wasn’t sure how to eat it, so just cut off a small piece and went for it. (Sidebar: To those of you who fully know what fois gras is and how it is made, you have already either called us crazy for ordering it or will soon not understand why we didn’t love it…depending on which side of the fence you sit on. I didn’t know what it was and The H only had a vague idea.)
I pretended to like it at first. The second bite I became more conscious that this was actually making me want to gag. The third bite I used my technique that is for anytime I have to eat something I know I don’t like. I chewed, but breathed through my mouth. Makes the taste not seem as bad, right? We couldn’t finish it. Bring on the French snobbery!
Our entrees were fine and everything was plated beautifully, but we couldn’t help but give each other the look of “French Fries?” as they cleared our plates. We didn’t end up getting fries like we’d joked, but we did have a massive desert of year-old wedding cake and our favorite chocolate peanut butter ice cream. It more than made up for our lackluster expensive dinner. We were able to laugh through the whole dinner, which has already made for a great first anniversary memory bank.
Here is our year-old wedding cake straight from South Dakota –> Iowa –> Chicago. It lived well, despite it looking sad.
And now, for the real impetus of this post. Continuing my City-Rural series, this one on (obviously) food.
Rural: I think this will sum up the main takeaway on food options in small towns. Fois gras would not even be on a menu and we could have a nice fancy dinner that was not triple digits. There are not as many choices within the city limits and going out to dinner may require visiting neighboring towns to: a) get the type of food you want, b) get out of the restaurant rut of eating at the same handful of places over and over (a girl can only do the Pizza Ranch Buffet so many times in her life), or c) avoid running into people you know. (Small town friends, don’t pretend you always love running into people you know.)
If you are a foodie, you will need to drive to Des Moines a lot (or insert closest neighboring small-medium metro area) to seek out the kind of culinary exposes you desire. But, there are plenty of places that are hidden gems that a city atmosphere cannot compete with. For example, a favorite place of mine back in Iowa is an old, un-remodeled bank called Ladora Bank Bistro. It is amazing, but overall finding new places to eat with good food and service takes more effort to seek out in smaller areas. Duh, you knew that.
City: If you’ve read anything above this, you can deduce the points for and against city dining. There are choices. So. Many. Choices. Not only in quantity, but in the type of cuisine served. There really is something for everyone. Yet I can’t help but remember when we moved to the Chicagoland area, I was overwhelmed (and still am) by too many choices. “You mean there are more Italian restaurants than Olive Garden?” I feel like we should always be trying new places, but long for going to the places I know we can depend upon. As we learned on Sunday, feeling comfortable with where you are going is a very important part of deciding where to dine, whether in a small town or big city.
I like being able to go out for all-you-can-eat sushi or eating wild game, those things aren’t readily found in smaller areas. Will I pay more to go out to eat? Yes, oh yes. Will I see anyone I know wherever we choose to dine? No, such a slight chance and seeing we only have a couple friends it is really not likely to happen.
Just like traffic, there are roses and thistles to food-life in the city and in small towns. I think the lesson we took away from our experience this last Sunday was to go wherever you’re comfortable. Even if that is Hy-Vee Chinese.