Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Strange Dinner

"How can I help you, Sir?" asked the woman at the front desk. We were surprised by her question, because she had written down my name in the list of people waiting for dinner thirty minutes ago.

"I, er... you wrote down my name... you said there was a thirty to forty minute wait for dinner, and I said we'll come back and... the name's Banerji."

She glanced at her notebook. I could see my name had been scratched out. Clearly, she had thought we weren't coming back.

"Oh.. ah.. yes, yes! Please follow me." She showed us to an empty table for two. The time was around 9:20 p.m. Grant Village Restaurant closed at 10:00.

Soon, a waiter arrived to take our orders. "Hi, I'm Sam," he said. "What can I get for you tonight?" he asked, pouring us two glasses of water.

We were terribly hungry after our long day and we had already decided on our order. "Grilled trout and rice pilaf with steamed vegetables for both of us." I said. He wrote it down and went away.

Poulami and I sat and talked for some time. The restaurant was still quite crowded, even though empty tables could be seen here and there. "Would the order take long?" we wondered. We could see Sam serving other tables, but he seemed to be avoiding us. I signaled to him.

"Don't you serve dinner rolls with everything here?" The question was just a formality. It was written on the menu. 

"Yes Sir, we do."

"Can you please serve our rolls?"

"Actually Sir, the rolls are being warmed. They will be ready in three to five minutes." He went away.

We stared longingly at other people's tables. They had baskets full of dinner rolls, and baskets full of butter. "Well, at least we'll get the fresh warm ones." I told Poulami.

But the rolls didn't arrive. Five minutes passed. Then ten minutes passed. Then our food came. The main food, not the rolls. The portions were pathetically small. Whatever little rice they had served was just plain white rice. The "steamed vegetables" turned out to be half a dozen shriveled asparagus. We were aghast. It didn't look like food worth $23. I asked about the rolls again and were assured they would arrive soon as they were being warmed. Sam left again.

Then I looked at our dinner properly. The colour of the trout seemed suspiciously pink. I tasted a piece. It tasted exactly like salmon. Poulami agreed that it tasted like salmon. This was the last straw. Sam was nowhere in sight, so I called a nearby waitress.

"Do you find everything all right, sir?" she asked, surprised.

"No! Our waiter is ignoring us. We didn't get rolls. We didn't get the food we ordered. Nothing is all right." I barked. She fetched Sam. The subsequent conversations went somewhat like this.

"Sam, what did we order?"

"Rolls, Sir."

"No, what food did we order?"


"And what is this?"

"Trout, Sir."

"Are you sure this is not salmon?"

"Absolutely sure Sir. Would you like to talk to the chef?"

Now I am pretty confident about my ability to distinguish between fish, being a Bengali and all. But when it comes to calling a person a liar on their face on a fact which would be difficult to prove, I back out. So I said there was no need for the chef, just the rolls would be sufficient. Sam went away and returned with two rolls on two little plates.

Two rolls. On two side plates. One for each of us. Not a basket of rolls. No butter to accompany them. The rolls were cold, and pretty much the worst rolls that I have ever tasted. So much for the story about them being warmed.

I asked for butter. Sam vanished again. The chef showed up, grinning from ear to ear.

"I heard you're having difficulty believing that's trout?"

"Ah yes, I think this tastes like salmon."

"Actually, that's a type of trout called the red trout. The salmon comes without the skin on the fillet."

"Okay, I believe you. By the way, do you serve butter with your dinner rolls here?"

"Yes. Let me send you some butter." She left. Sam came back with a large plate heaped full of those little rectangular packs of butter that they give you at restaurants. It was a very weird way of serving, and I may have been imagining things at this point, but there was definitely an unsaid "Here's all the butter you can eat. Calm down now," hanging in the air.

We stopped complaining and tried to eat. We were still hungry by the time we finished everything. By 'everything' I mean the food and the rolls, of course, and not all the butter. We had also finished the water long ago, but nobody came to refill our glasses. We were too tired to complain. Since it was nearing closing time, it was too late to order anything else. And let's be honest, we hated everything about the place by this time. We knew we were being treated poorly; we just didn't know why.

We asked for the check. When Sam delivered the check, that question answered itself. The check was just for one order of grilled trout, not two. So they had judged us to be cheapskates who would order one entree and share it, and they had been behaving poorly towards us throughout the dinner because apparently that's how they treat people whom they judge to be cheapskates. Keeping aside the question of whether such behaviour was appropriate, we can say that we didn't even deserve that behaviour since we actually wanted to order two entrees and were hungry even now. I told Sam what had happened. I expected him to apologize, at the very least. I expected too much.

"Actually Sir, in English, when we say 'Grilled trout for both of us' it means split one order of trout for the two of us."

"You don't have to teach me English now, do you? This isn't the first time I'm ordering something at a restaurant."

"I wasn't trying to teach you anything Sir, I was just saying that the fault lies with both of us. Why didn't you say you had ordered two when I brought the food?"

"How was I supposed to know you had brought one order when you had split it equally into two parts? I thought maybe your portions were small."

He took away my credit card. When he brought it back with the receipt, I wrote down $0.00 for the tip, something I don't remember having done in a very long time.

"Open the trunk," Poulami said as I parked at our lodge. "I'll need to grab the cereal bars and bread and bananas for the night."

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