I love restaurants. There is nothing more exciting to me than going out to a delicious dinner. I might even spend hours on my computer perusing menus, obsessing about where to go, contemplating what I might order when I get there. I can remember what I ate, what everyone else ate, where we sat and what we discussed for almost every restaurant experience I’ve ever had. It’s weird. Where did this obsession come from? Why the fascination with such a common past time?
When I was a kid, we went out to dinner together rarely. This probably had more to do with the fact that there were no restaurants within a 20 mile radius of our house in rural Vermont, than it did the fact that it’s expensive to take a family of five out to dinner. Also, my mother was a better cook than most chefs in the state at that time, so we knew where the good food really was. But once in awhile, we’d all go to the Peking Duck House in Winooski, which wasn’t quite as far as the drive in to Burlington, but was still a veritable outing. On the drive there in our Chrysler minivan with wood paneling, my dad would recite out loud,
“We’ll get the number 56, number 71, number 82, and 111.” He’d lift a finger on his right hand after each number while he kept his left hand on the steering wheel.
“Dad! Can we pleeeeeease actually look at the menu this time?!” I would scream from the third row of mini van seats. He was referring to the dishes we’d get every time we’d go to The Peking Duck House. He had the numbers memorized for their Sweet and Sour Chicken, Kung Pao Shrimp, Beef with Broccoli, and Moo Shu vegetables. But I could tell he didn’t hear me by the look in his eyes which I could see in the rear view mirror. He was watching the road ahead, but all he could see was wonton soup.
After we had arrived and were sitting at the table already getting sugar highs from slurping down our Shirley Temples and virgin Pina Coladas adorned with mini toothpick umbrellas and meracino cherries stabbed with mini plastic pirate swords. The waiter would come up to ask about appetizers. To my dismay, we never ordered a pu-pu platter, which I wanted solely because of it’s name and the hysterical laughter that would envelope my brother and sister and I until we fell out of out seats and on to the floor.
“Wonton…? Wonton…? Wonton…? Wonton…? Wonton…? My Dad went around the table clockwise, asking each of us one at a time with a finger pointed at us like the second hand on a watch. He performed this wonton soup questioning ceremony every time we went to the Peking Duck House. Which by the time I left for college was hundreds of times. No one EVER ordered wonton soup except for him.
Our usual dishes arrived at the table on oval plates with oval metal lids on top to keep them warm. I would try stubbornly to eat my sweet and sour chicken with chopsticks, which would always end up with me stabbing the chunks of deep-friend chicken on my plate with one chopstick and eating the chicken off of it like a popsicle on a stick. At the end of the meal, my dad would lift up each lid and exclaim,
“Well, we knocked that off.” Pleased that nothing had gone to waste.
Once in awhile when I ask Ben, my boyfriend, what he feels like having for dinner he will say,
“Orange Chicken! Can we get Chinese?” And I pretend that I didn’t hear him. But recently, I replied,
“Sure. I’ll make you Orange Chicken.” And I made this braised Chicken with Wine and Oranges, which isn’t remotely Chinese. But it’s a healthy and delicious alternate. I served it with brown rice and when we had finished eating every last bite I caught myself saying out loud,
“Well, we knocked that off.”