Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Adventures in Fine Dining: Or, Blogworthy Stuff from Macaroni Grill

On Saturday, Rick and I celebrated Sam's 19th birthday by going out to dinner. Without him. Or Jared. The boys were slated to go with us, but they were attending an NFL Draft Day party and ate like water buffalo there and ended up calling us and cancelling. So Rick and I said, "Fine. We'll just do it another time. Stay as late as you like and call us when you're coming home." We sort of stared at each other and then decided to go out anyway.
Then began the Ritual of Nance Fussing About Whether Or Not What She Had On Was Dressy Enough. Rick hates and detests this Ritual because it really never ends and there is not a satisfactory role in it for him to play. He strode purposefully off to his closet to toss something on that was not bristling with whatever bushes he had been trimming before and was, naturally, ready within minutes. Shortly after that came Act II of The Ritual, which is Now I Don't Look As Dressy/Casual As You Do which is followed by Rick's own Ritual, which is The Slamming of The Back Door And Heading To The Car Ritual.
So we end up at Macaroni Grill, one of the few restaurants around that still take reservations. They had an opening when we called at the spur of the moment and we were able to make it. We were seated, and let me just say this: my fears about proper attire were immensely, vastly unfounded.
Seated directly to my left was a family of three: the parents were probably about our age (late 40s) and they had a teenaged daughter. The mother was wearing the obligatory Mom Jeans and a shapeless sweatshirt, the color of which defies even my descriptive powers. I think it used to be blue, but was perhaps washed with black jeans, and is now dusty bluish-grey. Naturally, to complete the ensemble, she wore filthy tennis shoes with rundown heels so that she is walking perpetually askew. Her husband was wearing a trucker's hat--you know, the billed cap with the adjustable plastic band in the back. Thankfully, I didn't see the front so I didn't have to read a slogan like "If this truck's a-rockin' Don't come a-knockin'" or "Eat at the Y". He was also wearing jeans, sneakers, and a shapeless garment on top. The daughter had her hair pinned up with a variety of hair implements: clips, bobby pins, and a scrunchie. And, in addition to sweat, she was wearing a spandex volleyball warmup and her athletic shoes. Charming. My martini could not come fast enough.

Which leads me to my next blogbit: martinis at restaurants.

Okay, look. Stop effing around with my MARTINI. Here's the deal. Martinis are sophisticated. They are a classic drink. They are the epitome of the urbane, debonair cocktail. I embraced the martini several years ago. (Purists would claim that even I am pushing it by drinking vodka martinis instead of gin.) But don't go throwing a bunch of crap into my martini--like ice--and bring it to me! Don't sugar the rim of the effing glass like it's a freaking margarita! Don't put plastic stirrers into my MARTINI! Don't insult me by pouring the whole shebang into a goddam highball glass! Part of the allure and culture of the martini is in that gorgeous glass. God help you if you ever, ever put an umbrella in there. Now, I can get behind the Lemon Drop, the Appletini, the Cosmopolitan (aka the Pink Martini), and at Macaroni Grill, I even ordered the Pomegranate Martini. But they sugared the rim and put two plastic stirrers in there. I was apoplectic. Get a grip, bartenders and "mixologists" everywhere. The martini is sacred. Stop screwing around with it.

Finally, I have to speak about the 60-something woman who was dining with her female companion a few tables over from me. I wasn't looking at her on purpose--I simply could not help it. No one could. Her head was on fire.

Not literally, you understand. It was her hair color: a bright, neon/fluorescent orange. I suppose it was supposed to be something somewhat akin to her original haircolor in her youth. But she was still trying to work it. It was teased and shellacked into a sort of helmet-ish affair with carefully placed individual spitcurl bangs. Eventually, I could look away. But not before I took in her attire in all its glory: a Scooby-Doo sweatshirt. My eyes filled with tears. But not before I saw the 3-inch gold crucifix pendant on a chain prominently displayed outside said sweatshirt. I just knew she wore it to complement the metallic copper handbag I saw on the floor next to her chair. Later, when she tried valiantly to signal her waitress and succeeded in alerting the entire diningroom, she used her sequined checkbook wallet (which matched her purse!) to do it.

As you can probably imagine, dinner conversation did not lag. At one point, Rick said, "Why don't you just have some cards made? They can say Congratulations! You just made my blog! Go to http://deptofnance.blogspot.com/"

I think that might just be rude.


  1. I feel the need to say: this is what you get for eating at Macaroni Grill. They are not known for their refined patrons nor for their martinis. Just sayin'.

  2. This is unfortunately a consequence of the birth of the Casual Chain Restaurant, which has become much more popular and common in the past decade or so. There used to be a much larger gap between cheap, fast-food restaurants where the lower class and lower middle class dine and finer restaurants where the upper and upper middle class would dine. People would get dressed up to go out to nicer restaurants, and generally the sorts of people who go out in public in sweat pants and a hole-filled t-shirt wouldn't be able to afford to go out to these nice places.

    Nowadays, even the lower class can generally afford to go to the Causal Chain Restaurant, and when they really shouldn't be able to afford to do so, they make due by being frugal in other areas (like buying the cheap clothing you see them wearing at said restaurant). It helps them to think that they're part of the middle class, but by wasting such a large portion of their incomes on eating out more often than they should, they are keeping themselves from actually moving up in socio-economic status.

    I've lived in a trailer park, and I have friends whose parents are millionaires, and it's almost always the poor who are spending the largest percentage of their income on eating out.

    It's terribly ironic that the one thing that they do to make themselves feel like they're doing better economically is quite often the biggest thing preventing them from doing better economically. This is, of course, in addition to smoking/drinking/other vices.

  3. Thank you for speaking up on behalf of martinis everywhere. I like mine dirty and ice cold. Just like I like my men.

  4. Once I ordered a "martini up with a twist" at a fairly nice place (Fox and Crow, remember that place, it's closed now) and the waiter brought me a glass of vodka, on ice with a lemon wedge. Idiot!
    Next time you feel like getting fancy, take your hubby to Chez Francios...lovely! You'll get a proper drink AND there is a dress code!

  5. Anonymous1:23 AM

    Since repatriating to the States, I have noticed the entire nation in a perpetual state of 'undress' nearly everywhere. Not that many people dress up any more, even for really posh places. Shame they have to have bad taste on top of that.

    I fell in love with martinis years ago. With Bombay gin and a small olive. I cannot imagine being served the horrors you describe. But... if one is being classic about it... what the hell is a 'pomegranate martini'???!!!! Sorry, but that sounds doomed from the start. It implies that juice of some sort is being used. The whole point of a martini (and hence the reason you shudder when someone is uncouth enough to put an ice cube in one) is that it is a cocktail. For me, a cocktail is an alcoholic drink that combines different mixes of pure alchohol, as opposed to other 'mixed drink' combos that dump (perfectly good) booze into coke or tonic or juice or lemonade or whatever. (Forgive me in advance if this is another orchid.)

  6. I think America IS losing sight of the notion that jeans and sweatshirts aren't appropriate for EVERY damn occasion!!! When can people learn to wear something more formal...news flash...THE STORES DON'T HAVE IT ON THE SHELF FOR DECORATION!!!

    The orange hair with a fire hue...no comment.

    I went to a place in Southern Ohio, appropriately named "Martinis," and they were EXCELLENT! They had any and every kind you could think of, they were served in nice sized CLASSY glassware, no stirrers, they were ICE COLD, and you could actually TASTE the liquor in lieu of the ice or water or whatever other concoction they add to take up space in the glass!

  7. Ah Macaroni Grill. I went there last week with the boyfriend (we gave up the dressy/casual debate awhile ago, because inevitably we NEVER match), and at the table next to us I witnessed an atrocity. The young woman, finished with her meal and waiting on her dinner companions to come back from the restroom, proceeded to FLOSS HER TEETH AT THE TABLE. Disgusting.

    I was also annoyed by the teen girl with her family who, in addition to texting throughout the meal, didn't eat her pasta (I think she had chicken parm or something). The pasta is the best part!! (And no, she wasn't avoiding carbs, because she scarfed down the break like crazy.)

    Macaroni Grill made me very sad when they eliminated my favorite entree (Capellini Pomodoro) and my favorite dessert (Strawberry Zabaglione). Jerks.

  8. "Mom Jeans." Heeee! I was guilty for some years but finally gave up jeans altogether.

    Our family stopped going to MG. Although we like the food and the decor, the one near us is always too crowded and LOUD for us to enjoy the experience. Why pay someone to make you lip read? Flame Lady is going to give me nightmares. The bag and checkbook are scary. Perhaps she escaped from Ringling Brothers.

  9. I always find it so disappointing when I go out of my way to primp and curl and vamp myself up, only to find that all the other diners are wearing jeans and Scooby Doo shirts to a nice restaurant.

    I want to enjoy the entire experience, and find it infinitely disappointing and distracting when all the other diners make me feel way over-dressed when it's them that have committed the fashion faux-pas.

  10. fringes: point taken. but restaurants in our area are not...shall we say, plentiful nor discerning. and none save MG take reservations, esp on short notice and on the weekend.

    ih--i hear you, buddy! it's alarming and frightening, and the restaurants are becoming as scary as the dept. of motor vehicles or the wal*mart, which are fast becoming one and the same anyway.

    mist1--my alltime fave martini is vodka, straight up, dirty.

    nina--that waiter, may he burn in hell...anyway, have heard of Chez Francois. we will have to try it.

    ortizzle--true, you are rightly chastising me, and I do hang my head. BUT, it was described on the menu as having vodka, cointreau, and only a SPLASH of pomegranate juice. there was no picture, no mention of sugared rim or stirrers. and cointreau is a liqueur, therefore acceptable. after all, the cosmopolitan contains a SPLASH of cranberry juice. sigh. do not hate me or banish me from THE MARTINI SECT.

    tera--i believe there is a "martinis" in cleveland. i will look it up on cleveland.com and then rick and i (and probably jared the boozehound who is always up for free alcohol) will have to check it out.

    jenomena--please tell me the Flossing Episode is not really true. i am crying even now. how did you not GO OVER THERE AND KILL HER? or at the very least, instruct her TO STOP IT IMMEDIATELY BEFORE YOU WERE FORCED TO SUMMON THE AUTHORITIES? oh my god.

    sputnik--i know. i'm so sorry. take some ambien with a stiff drink. then, try therapy.

    princess of U--this is exactly what i mean. why even make the effort if no one else does? of course then, our role is TO INSTRUCT. someone has to do it. it falls to Us.

  11. Flossing story is totally true. I stared daggers at her, but I'm not one to start conflict in public.

  12. Anonymous10:48 PM

    Fringe took the words right out of my mouth. I once had a first date at The Olive Garden. Needless to say, there was no second date.

    Thank you for making me laugh, though! My father always found it incredibly rude when my mother and I critizised people at other tables in restaurants, but I say it's just good, clean fun. Besides, some people are just ASKING for it, don't you think?

  13. Your mention of Wal*Mart reminds me of one day last semester. My friend and I went to the local Kmart for the first time, and when we got inside we were both shocked to find that we had been transported back to the Midwest. Lots of obese people in nasty clothing buying cheap crap.

  14. Anonymous8:26 AM

    May 1st Tie Report: Yes, indeed, I would throw my spleen against the wall, too, to wit:

    Dear Mrs. Williams:

    Please tell your husband that we'll all chip in to pay for the dry-cleaning if he will just change colors.

    There really is life after purple.


    DoN Readers

  15. jenomena--but, at least you berated her in your mind, right?!

    g.a.d.--welcome back! you know, the olive garden is truly egregious in so many ways anymore that it's the Bob Evans of Italian and i just don't know why that is. i try really hard not to be snobby about many casual dining restaurants, but some are just horrid in the extreme. and i'm glad to provide some laughs. i do try, now and then.

    i.h.--sometimes, i think "mart" is the death knell in any store's name.

    ortizzle--i would consider it a personal favor, esp. on my birthday, if he'd just repeat some of the vintage ties from mid-february. remember those? I will start referring to that as "The Halcyon Days".

  16. Anonymous4:35 PM

    May 2nd Tie: I fear for your mental health if Brian doesn't get his tie act together very soon, LOL.


  17. I've never even heard of the Macaroni Grill.

    I am feeling more and more out of touch with American culture.

    And I'm glad.

    Maybe I should stay in Belgium...

  18. ortizzle--thank you! i did have a happy one.

    v-grrrl--did you follow my link? do so and acquaint yourself, woman.
    you haven't been gone THAT long. and remember the good stuff; there is still plenty. i rolled in some last night at my favorite chain restaurant locally, Carrabba's.

  19. Anonymous11:52 PM

    I'm legendary for changing my clothes and generally being indecisive about what to wear. I can't tell if I'm just fickle...or if I lack confidence. Maybe both.

  20. Anonymous9:44 AM

    May 3rd Tie: Did he do the Boy Scout number again? ACK! BTW, I actually got home in time to see last night's Nightly News. Can't wait to see your take on Big Red.

  21. wordgirl--neither: it's that you care.

    ortizzle--we were at dinner last night and got home late. i had to view it on the internets. puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to the solids, i think, and the subtleties of hue. let me know. and i think i'll put up a new post tonight or tomorrow.

  22. Anonymous1:18 PM

    Nance: I think you pretty much nailed the color. I liked it. That said, I did watch it on the podcast, and I can tell you for certain that there is an appreciable difference in tones from the screen of my prehistoric TV. From the TV, I saw the color as deep claret. From the podcast only, I might have described it as a very dark, musky fuscia. Go figure! (This would explain why we get into petty arguments over periwinkle blue vs. pale violet, LOL.)

    I wanted to send you an email, BTW, but can't find it on your site. I figure if it isn't available on your site, there is a reason for it, but... could you please email me at:

    Thanks! Just a little snippet of news I wanted to pass on to you.

  23. Anonymous11:10 AM

    I waited tables to get through college, and I wish people would realize that from a servers stand point, how you (the patron) is dressed and the type of alcoholic beverage you order is indicative of the service they will receive. My favorite, all time event as a server had to be when someone ordered a glass of merlot, pronounced is as Mer-LOt, and then asked me for a glass of ice and proceeded to pour sugar into the wine. I do believe that I should have cut her hand off and offered her a slow-gin fizz in place of the wine and asked her if she typically drinks wine that comes out of the box? People amaze me. I also love it when children have better manners than the parents or when people pull out their tip cards and litterally leave you, to the penny, 15%. THese are the people who are never satisfied, run you all over the place and typically have 6 teeth and ask if the "chef" at TGIFridays could burn my T-bone steak and then puree it.
    Gotta love the public

  24. halley--welcome to the Dept. and thanks for leaving a comment! i have nothing but respect for servers...well, good ones, anyway.... it's a job i could never do (at a restaurant) in a million years.

    do you mean to tell me that people still order sloe gin fizzes? i didn't think you could still even get the ingredients. oh my.

    bless you, dear, for what you do. and trust me, we here at the Dept. are generous tippers. and i never order my beef anything but medium rare. how silly.

  25. Anonymous10:40 PM

    After college I opted to continue my public service endeavor, I now work as an RN in the local emergency room. I still havent decided which is more pleasant :)


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