Last weekend, my husband Sean and I went out to dinner to celebrate our seventeenth anniversary. We have a few favorite restaurants, but he was feeling adventurous and suggested we go a town over and try the Brazilian Steakhouse.
“That’s meat on sticks, right?” I said warily, already missing the pork shank, mac and cheese and collards I would have ordered at our standby special occasion joint.
“Skewers, actually, and there are sides! And a great salad bar!” He raised his eyebrows.
We’re bonafied meatetarians, but I have a soft spot for salad bars and a weakness for the phrase ‘all you can eat’.
“Let’s do it,” I said.
I pulled out my trusty Target t-shirt dress and he gave me the eyebrow waggle again. “Fancier,” he said. So I went fancier and let me tell you – it was completely unnecessary.
The restaurant itself was lovely. Crisp, clean linens, an impeccable waitstaff, a courteous and charming maitre d’. And a clientele that looked like a group from the state prison (and their dates) had been granted a night on the town, and decided to go meat. There was Lots of Rubber Bracelets Guy and Dr. Seuss Guy (in a One Fish, Two Fish t-shirt). At a separate table, on what may have been a first date, was Red Shirt White Tie Porn Mustache Guy, and his lovely partner Fedora Bandeau Top Hammer Pants Lady. Perhaps they were on their way to an REO Speedwagon concert, I don’t know. But I do know that Sean and I needed a good dose of 1986 to fit in at this joint.
Our fine waiter, Kevin, gave us the low down- we could start with the impressive salad bar. He would then bring us our meat plates, and a side of sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, and a basket of tiny rolls. We were given card to signal the meatatiers (not what they’re really called, I forget the official meatnomer). When the card is on green, we’re saying ‘bring me the meat’; red means ‘good lord, stop with the meat for a minute’. The meat would flow freely – sausages and steak and chicken and lamb, some of it wrapped in even more meat. Kevin cautioned us to start slowly.
Start with a salad.
Sean and I made our way to the salad bar. Luckily, we were the only ones at the bar at the time, so we were able to leisurely peruse the offerings. I had managed to put a few shrimp on my plate, and then the strangest thing happened.
Looking back, I know that what I thought was happening could not actually be happening, because what I thought was happening was this: (jump to 3:24 to see exactly what I’m talking about)
I know it might seem unreasonable, thinking that perhaps Duran Duran would be making a remake of their classic video for The Reflex over the salad bar of a Brazilian steakhouse in North Carolina. But had Simon Le Bon walked over with some meat on a stick, I would have been no less surprised than I was by what actually happened.
What actually happened was: The steakhouse had been having an issue with their air conditioning. The contractor, in a prime example of horrendously bad judgment, decided to remove a ceiling tile and replace it with a metal sheet pan, to collect the runoff. A metal sheet pan, which when completely full, would fall from the ceiling, hit the sneeze guard of the salad bar, and fly across the room, shooting a spray of water that was video worthy.
And which completely drenched my husband.
You know those horrifying moments, when an entire room goes silent and it’s because they’re all looking at you? The silence was deafening, and right before Sean turned on his heel and excused himself to go to the restroom, I heard One Fish, Two Fish guy sum up the whole night in three little words:
“That was weird.”
So I’m standing at the salad bar with my plate of five shrimp, and I’m a little confused at to what I should do next. There is a guy with a mop and I know I’m in his way. Should I go sit down? Should I try to get some more food off the portion of the salad bar that wasn’t affected? Should I stand there and eat my shrimp?
I wish I could say that the last two thoughts were not actual thoughts, but they were. You’re talking to a person who once cleaned kid vomit off the table at Chili’s then finished her meal. I am not proud. But I am hungry.
Finally, I walked to our table and sat down my plate, then went and stood outside the men’s restroom.
“Hey, man,” I whispered to Sean when he walked out. “Hey, you want to go home?” Sean is a very tidy person when it comes to his person, and I knew he wouldn’t want to sit through dinner with his boxer shorts wet and cold.
“Yeah, yeah, let’s go.”
“I’ll get our stuff. Does it smell? Are you smelly?”
“It’s not toilet water, it’s air conditioner water.” he looked at me like I was stupid, but I have a special talent for making him doubt himself. “Why, do I smell?”
“No. No more than usual.”
“What does that mean? Do I stink?”
About this time, the manager comes around the corner, where we’re skulking outside the men’s restroom like we’ve done something wrong. He starts talking to Sean and I walk to our table to get our things. In the thirty seconds it takes for me to make the round trip, they’ve become best friends.
“We’re staying!” Sean announces, and the manager is shaking his hand and clapping him on the back.
I know what has happened here. The man has uttered the magic words, ‘free meal’, and all is right with the world.
We will sit at our table, Sean with his wet, toilet water leg, getting the fish eye from the other patrons. I will laugh too loud and make four trips to the salad bar and declare, later, that ‘meat farts don’t smell!’. Sean will deem his favorite waiter his meat dealer, and push his gastric boundaries to their limits. We will turn down dessert, and leave a generous tip. We will go home and re-enact the entire thing with great embellishment. Sean will develop Matrix-esque reflexes. I will stand for an agonizingly long time with my plate of shrimp.
We laid in bed that night, still so full and happy. “Happy anniversary,” Sean said. “Happy anniversary,” I said. And fell asleep laughing.
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