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This Story Made Us Hungry, But Not In A Good Way

, , , , , , , , | Working | September 17, 2023

My mom and stepdad invited my daughter, her boyfriend, and me to a small Iranian restaurant and wine bar she had tried once before. I entered the restaurant, and there were maybe two customers. I told a lady who looked like the owner that [Mom] had a reservation and asked if she had seen her. She said to look on the terrace.

I went to the terrace — or rather the gravel pit — where a half-dozen tables and twenty chairs were sinking in a foot of gravel. No [Mom], no [Stepdad]. No other customers, either. The big table at the far end looked like it could seat six people, but I could see two feet of plywood where the top cover was gone. Usually, restaurants put tablecloths on tables to avoid this kind of thing being seen, but whatever.

I answered a call of nature and discovered a staple of Muslim bathrooms: the watering can. I decided to try it then and there. I went to fill it up in the bathroom sink, and the faucet dispensed two tablespoons of water and then stopped. I closed it and then opened it again. Two tablespoons of water, and then it stopped again. I had to close and open the faucet for five minutes non-stop to get half a watering can of water to wash my tushy. Poor Muslim customers.

I got out of the bathroom, and the owner told me that “my friends” had arrived. I looked into the restaurant, and my seventy-two-year-old Mom was there with her equally retired-looking boyfriend. Oh, well, maybe the owner thought they looked young.

We greeted each other and sat down, and a waitress, who looked like the owner but younger and with longer hair, dispensed napkins, utensils, and glasses for water. Then, my daughter and her boyfriend arrived, and the waitress gave us crumpled sheets of paper. Those were the menus.

Me: *Jokingly* “This restaurant must frequently change menus to go with what’s in season.”

Mom: “Not really. This stain was there three months ago.”

Stepdad: “They had the same menu the first time I came here six months ago.”

We perused the menu and the wine card, and the owner returned with a bottle of water.

Owner: “Could you please order right now? I have a big party coming, and I would like to have time to take care of you first.”

Mom: “Okay. We would like three glasses of [wine #1], please.”

Owner: “We only have wine by the bottle, and we don’t have this kind.”

Mom: “Then we will have a bottle of that [wine #2], please.”

Owner: “We don’t have it.”

Mom: “Do you have [wine #3]?”

Owner: “We don’t have it.”

Mom: “All right, then we will take this Tempranillo.”

Owner: “That one we do have.” *Turning to me* “And for you?”

Me: “I’d like some tea.”

Owner: “We have natural tea or modern tea.”

What? Which one has the tea leaves in it?

Me: “Er, natural tea, please.”

Daughter: “What else do you have that’s non-alcoholic?”

Owner: “We have soft drinks and juices.”

Which kind? No idea, and the menu doesn’t mention any drink besides wine.

Daughter: “I’ll just have water.”

The owner went to get the wine and the wine glasses, and we chose the three-course meal at $40 to $50. We had no idea what the difference was between the $40 menu and the $50 one; it was simply described as a selection of the other dishes on the crumpled-up sheet of paper. We figured that we could always order something else later on if we were still hungry.

The owner came back with the wine bottle. A seven-year-old could have drawn the front label. The back label simply said “Wine from Spain”. [Stepdad] said it would do. [Mom] asked if the music could be toned down, as it was rather loud. We ordered two three-course meals, and the owner went to tone down the music and get my tea.

We chatted for a bit, and then another waitress, who looked like the first waitress’s sister, arrived with some bread bits in a basket and my “tea”: three cardamom pods and two rose buds swimming in two cups of yellow water. Then, it was the owner and our first course: two tablespoons of three kinds of dips and two tablespoons of green olives — times two, because we ordered two of the meals. I popped one olive in my mouth and tasted walnuts and sugar. Those olives sat on the table long after the dips and the bread were gone.

Meanwhile, the “big party” arrived. Eight to ten people were greeted by the owner, the two waitresses, and the barman, with enthusiastic squeals and kisses. Obviously, they were family members and/or friends.

After half of the bread was gone, the second course arrived: one omelet-like dish that looked like it was made in a muffin tin, one mini hockey puck of the same size dusted with pistachio nuts, and three mini brown balls with half a pomegranate seed on each. My daughter stabbed one of the balls with her fork; it spread and bounced back into shape. Same thing with the hockey puck. We used the rest of the dips to moisten the second course, and we munched on more bread while another lone customer sat at the bar. The volume of the music crept back up.

When the bread basket was emptied, the long-haired waitress came back with another one while the owner brought the third course while loudly proclaiming that this was our third course, and the other waitress took photos of the big party next to us.

This course was two two-inch meatballs in tomato sauce dusted with more pistachio nuts, and one stuffed mini-pepper for each three-course meal. The pepper was smaller than one meatball. We debated over ordering something else from the menu, which my mom had managed to keep out of the hands of the owner and waitresses, and we settled on having dessert instead.

We waited until the customer at the bar ordered and ate, and then we finally saw the owner and asked her what the “Persian inspiration of the moment” was.

Owner: “Three choices: almond cookies, Pistachio-cardamom ice cream, and Iranian rice pudding.”

I knew Iranian rice pudding as I had tasted it once at the office; it’s creamy and full of slivered almonds, and it tastes of rosewater and saffron.

Me: “Pudding, please.”

Owner: *To my mom* “And for you?”

Mom: “Ice cream.”

My daughter’s boyfriend ordered the ice cream, as well, and my daughter and my stepdad declined dessert.

Half an hour later, my mom was complaining about the loud music when our desserts arrived. The waitress plonked five spoons next to my stepdad and deposited the desserts in front of my mom. We had to tell her that I was the one who ordered the pudding.

Well, the “pudding” was rubbery, dusted with pistachio nuts, and full of hard half-almonds, and it tasted like rosewater and gelatin. At least the ice cream was good.

My stepdad went to ask for the check while the lone customer at the bar was apparently having problems with his. The owner said, “Okay,” and went to chat with the waitresses in the open kitchen. The lone customer fled the restaurant, apparently furious, while the barman went to vent to the owner.

We waited for fifteen to twenty minutes while the big table next to ours got their dips, bread, olives, and undivided attention from the whole personnel. Mom complained about the “warm croutons” that we were served and reminisced about the delicious bread rolls she had gotten the last time she was there. I spotted the barman and said, “Watch this.” I tilted my head, batted my eyelashes, and smiled. The barman arrived, and we asked for the check again.

Barman: “Right away!”

He returned to the open kitchen while the owner schmoozed with the customers at the next table.

I wondered aloud if we would be billed $40 or $50 for each three-course meal. [Mom] mentioned having been billed $70 for the same three-course meal the last time she was there. The owner turned toward us and finally invited [Stepdad] to pay at the cash register. We barely had the time to say, “Finally!” before [Stepdad] came back to the table, furious.

Stepdad: “I am not paying until I see the check with the detailed amounts!”

Owner: “The machine is new; we don’t quite have the hang of it yet. You will see the detailed amount after you pay, when the machine gives you your receipt.”

Stepdad: “This is nonsense! I have never seen such a thing!”

Owner: “You have to pay for your meal!”

The five of us answered that it made no sense, we had never seen such a thing, she had to give us the bill first, she could write it by hand if she didn’t know how the machine worked, and this was unacceptable.

Stepdad: “I’ll give you five minutes. If we don’t have the bill in the next five minutes, we walk out without paying!”

Owner: “You cannot do that! I will call the police!”

Stepdad: “Call the police!”

The owner stormed to the cash register.

Mom apologized to us for the poor choice of venue, and we vowed never to return to this place. [Stepdad] told us that we could go and he would sort the bill, but we refused. The owner and one waitress came back, apologized to the other table, and showed us a folded-up sheet of paper with our order on it. [Stepdad] said that was not acceptable since the prices were not on it. The owner finally agreed to write [Stepdad] a bill with a pen, [Mom] offered to accompany us to the nearest metro and come back to the restaurant afterward, and off we went while [Stepdad] waited with the owner.

The next day, I learned that he was billed $70 for each three-course meal. I still don’t know how much my “tea” cost.

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