Twelve years ago, my older son, Patrick, married a wonderful woman, Diana Schneider [quite the most brilliant accomplishment of his long and distinguished life]. Since they both lived in San Francisco, they decided to hold the wedding at a winery in Napa Valley [on Bastille Day, by the way, though I think maybe they did not choose the date for its historic revolutionary significance.] I rented a tux [the fourth time I had ever worn one, counting the time I wore Susie's father's tux to a country club dance when I was a teenager], and went off to California. Since this was an event of transcendent importance in my life, I decided to throw prudence to the winds and host a dinner party for Susie and me, Patrick, Diana, and my younger son Tobias at The French Laundry. Tobias generously offered to pick up the tab for the wine.
We all chose the restaurant's tasting menu, figuring that it would give us a range of outstanding gustatory experiences. There were seven or eight dishes in all, including an amuse bouche to start and a dessert at the end. Each course was brought with a flourish by impeccably schooled waitpersons on elegant bone china.
Now, here's the thing. I feel about food the way I feel about music. I do not care at all for the wrapping or the presentation or the elegance. All I care about is how it tastes [or sounds, in the case of music.] And the dishes, although a delight to the eye, were quite undistinguished in taste. They looked gorgeous, but they did not burst on the taste buds with brilliance. Mind you, they were o.k. Nothing was actually bad. But I have had many meals much better than that one, in restaurants that could not hope to secure a single Michelin star, let along the coveted three stars that had been awarded to The French Laundry. The bill, as I recall, was somewhere north of $800 -- no doubt, from the management's point of view, a steal.
I was really bummed out. This was to be daddy's signature night, my one and only splash as a Big Spender, and the meal was a manifest flop. By the time we were in the plane on the way back to Massachusetts, I was really getting steamed, so when I got home, I wrote a letter to the management of the restaurant. I did not just say that I had been disappointed with the meal. I went through it course by course and described exactly how each dish had failed to come up to snuff. As it happens, I have an especially good memory for what I eat. I did not complain. I did not ask for some compensation, I just told them that they had been a profound disappointment.
Well, back came a letter of apology with a statement that the charge for the meal would be removed from my credit card, as indeed it was. A small victory, heaven knows, but there are precious few of them in this world. I tell you all this just in case you should have a similar experience. A word to the wise.