They call it Bella Notte

Rational people understand that Valentine’s Day is a ridiculous day to go out.  I am a rational person who also finds themselves torn about V-Day.  It’s silly, and contrived and etc. But, I spent most of my life without a Valentine, and now there’s this guy who is LEGALLY OBLIGATED to be my Valentine and so, yes, I suppose I do want the dinner and the card.  Plus, way back in the beginning, Mr. Perez chose our fist Valentine’s Day together to serenade me publically at Wild Ginger and then admit out loud that he loved me. So, I admit, I totally dig it.

This year I told Mr. Perez that we didn’t need to go out on Valentine’s Day (a Wednesday), but maybe we could go out on the weekend for something low key but special.  But I confess I was delighted when my husband told me he had made a reservation for Wednesday evening at our local fancy Italian place.  We expected that it would be crowded and crazy. We weren’t exactly prepared for surreal.

The restaurant we went to is not large. It sits maybe 50. When we arrived, the back-up of people waiting to be seated was bad because of the day but was made worse by a large party taking up multiple tables for a birthday dinner.  (Pat noted that planning a kid’s birthday dinner at a small Italian restaurant on the biggest date night of the year was definitely a baller move.)

As we looked around for where to check in, a guy who I recognized as the owner of the restaurant stopped to acknowledge us. Mr. Perez told him we had a reservation for 6:30. He didn’t ask our name. He waved his arm dramatically and said “Yes, so do all these people,” and wandered off.  We dutifully joined the awkward, shifting crowd and tried not to hover over dining people, or at least not appear to be hovering

After we had waited a while, we watched as another couple entered and wove through the crowd to the bar/counter where they appeared to check in. #$%$! We thought it was weird that there was no host taking our reservations. Apparently we were supposed to go search them out. I went over and asked the guy behind the counter if we needed to check in. Yes, he said shortly. Oh, ok, well, we have a reservation for 2 at 6:30 under the name Perez. We’ve actually been here a while…we didn’t realize how it worked…so sorry, etc. He said he’d take care of it.

A large party with a baby and toddler in tow came in. The owner stopped by them and they told him they had a reservation. He waved his arm and said So Do All These People! Then, with his unnerving whiplash style, told them “Don’t worry! We’ll take care of it!” The owner continued to wander back and forth through the crowd. Sometimes he was jovial: “Thank you so much! We’ll take care of you! Thank you for your patience!” Sometimes he seemed enraged, like, how DARE we expect that a table would be available for us when we’d made a reservation.

Just as it appeared that we might be next-ish, the owner announced loudly to the crowd, “Hey I know you’ve all been waiting a long time but we have a party here with a baby, let’s let the mama with the baby sit down, ok?” Well, seriously, what are you supposed to say? No! We hate babies AND mamas! The crowd smiles weakly and nods yes. Of course.  The owner motions them to come forward and they do, all seven of their party.  Apparently the owner had thought it was a couple with a baby, not a family gathering.  The owner ran off waving his arms and the staff quickly threw together multiple two tops to make room for the party of 7, pushing our seating ever further and further away.

We continued to wait patiently. Sure, there was some weirdness but we were together. It was Valentine’s Day. One must expect crowds and waiting on Valentine’s Day.  As we watched the owner flit around, it became clear that rather than improving anything, he was clearly a sower of chaos.  He wasn’t checking reservations. He was promising people willy nilly they’d be “soon” or “next”.  He was grumbling about a mysterious “other guy” who had somehow messed things up.  He would mutter bitterly to us about other people who were being unreasonable about wanting a table, and presumably to other people about us.

Finally he came by and said “Perez, follow me.” We were taken to a two top in the middle of the room.  We were perfunctorily handed menus.  Someone came by with table settings and glasses of water. Then we waited. And waited. We watched the couple that came in after us get seated in the next section over. A server came to them immediately to take their drink order. Someone brought them bread and bread plates. We continued to wait.  Other people were seated, received glasses of wine and appetizers, and still we had not seen a server.  I asked a bus boy who moved too close to our table if we could please, perhaps, have some bread. “Oh sure,” he said. “I’ll go find your server!” He came back in a bit with a basket of bread that he dropped, then ran. Bread, but no bread plates. We were running out of water.

Finally, after seeing the couple I mentioned earlier get their appetizer and then order their dinners, I stopped their server. As nicely as I could I told him we’d been waiting quite a long time and no one had yet taken even our drink orders.  The server was polite but firm that we were not sitting in his section.  He agreed, however, to “let our server know” that we were ready.

After we sat a while longer, we began discussing cutting our losses. We were just beginning to gather up our things to abandon ship when suddenly the owner was back, looking pissed. “Yeah,” he said tersely. “What do you want?”  I wanted a wine menu, which we still had not been given, but I was not going to let him leave without our order, so we ordered our food.

The food came in good time and it was delicious. It’s true my portion of veal was quite petite, as if they’d lost half of it on the way to the table.  I looked longingly at the tables around us, receiving fresh bread, and wine, but felt that perhaps given the circumstances I should just be grateful we received our dinners. There are people all over the world with no date for Valentine’s Day and here I am, complaining that my expensive dinner has no food in it.  Did I not have a plate? Was there not plenty of wilted spinach and two, by God, TWO entire small red potatoes?

As I finished my dinner, finished the bread, and threatened to finish Pat’s dinner the owner continued to flit by, sometimes congenial (“How is it?” “We’ll take good care of you!”), sometimes dark and conspiratorial (“This day is terrible!” “Valentine’s Day is no fun anymore!”). Pat begged him a few times for a refill on his Coke, but for naught.

A bus boy came and began to clear away dishes with little regard to whether we were finished yet. I then made the insane move of asking if there was a dessert menu.  He muttered that he would get our server while neatly avoiding the fork I was going to stab him with if he tried to take away any of the bread crusts or plates containing nothing but sauce.  Survival of the fittest mode had kicked in. I would surrender nothing until a piece of cake arrived. Eventually we received our desserts, but no silverware with which to eat them.  I gave Pat the spoon that had come with my coffee so he could eat his cake.  I had saved one of my forks, having unconsciously realized the importance of conceding nothing.

Although we had yet to receive our bill, Mr. Perez pulled out the gift card we were going to use to pay, along with his card to make up the difference.  The owner came by and grabbed the gift card. Sometime later, he drifted back by our table to tell us that “someone” had made a mistake and not charged us for our desserts, but they would take care of it.  Sometime after that we overheard a different server giving a complicated explanation/apology about gift cards and desserts to the table next to us.  I tapped the young man on the shoulder and said that in fact, we were the ones who had the gift card. The young man looked completely flustered and stammered that he had to go check.  He went off to find the owner and then came back even more flustered. He handed us back the gift card which still had a small amount left after they charged us for our dinner and desserts. At no point in time did anyone actually bring us our check.

As we walked back to the car we agreed that neither of us were particularly angry about the evening, just dumbfounded.  I pointed out that any Valentine’s Day that I spend with Mr. Perez is bound to be a good one, and at least we have a story to tell.  We also agreed that we probably would not be returning to that restaurant, even though the food is quite tasty.

If there’s a moral to this story, I’m not sure what it is. Going out on Valentine’s Day is always requires patience and a sense of humor.  You should count yourself blessed if you have a partner who makes the most ridiculous experiences fun.  I’m blessed.


3 thoughts on “They call it Bella Notte

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