Thursday, July 29, 2010

Down by the Water - Part I

We were just in Florida...two weeks ago. In any case, we had two really great meals I don't want to let slip away. The food was fantastic, but more so, it was the surroundings that snuck in to my heart.

The first night we were in St. Augustine, we went to a place called the Purple Olive for dinner. We had eaten a few hours before with my dad (after we traversed a good portion of the US and the eastern Florida coastline) but after he went to sleep, it just felt right to take D down along the beach as soon as possible, along the strip that has been so fondly familiar my entire life.

In any case, we found ourselves here for dinner surrounded by local art. It began as one of those meals where you remind yourself, "I really enjoy hanging out with my partner." (D had just returned from the bathroom only to report the table of cougars on the other side of the restaurant checked him out. I liked his candor.) It was that kind of night - where the conversation might take us any place and be light-hearted and fun.

We ordered soup to start. I chose a delicious avocado-based gazpacho. It was breaking towards the end but I thought it was a brilliant and unique take on the old reliable summer soup (I still need to search for a recipe online to make here). D always inspired by a coastline nearby - ordered the Red Snapper Special with black beans. And though I haven't had any fish since I started getting round, my craving for fish and pasta beat out my fear of mercurying my kid to death (too bad the photo doesn't do the plate justice).

As I said, it wasn't really the food as much as the atmosphere. Half-way through our soups, an older man walked in the the room and was seated at a table across from us. He was a character of sorts, a regular for sure. He owned the place the second he walked in - it almost seemed as if he was the night time entertainment the way he commanded every one's attention by speaking in general to the room and so boldly to the staff (they all knew him so well and didn't even have to take his drink order). We were intrigued, as was everyone else. It took us a little while to fully acknowledge his activity and break the privacy of our table but once we opened ourselves up to paying attention, we were taken in by his energy and charm. We even invited him to come sit with us for dinner. He was alone and we knew he had great stories to tell. He turned us down numerous times as he didn't want to interrupt our meal but he still felt inclined to converse from table to table, which we happily did. The staff treated the scene as if it was his normal routine. It was the kind of thing that sounds annoying in theory when you're out for dinner but everyone in the room really did not seem to mind and I felt like we were the lucky winners who got the man's attention first. D had to ask where he was from and find out what his story was. He shared his background about living in New Jersey and starting a business after he retired from Mountain Bell (shout out to my pops who worked there for years as well, adding a bit of irony), he shared about his kids and being married and loosing his wife, all between sips of Merlot and our meals being delivered. There were moments where we drifted to our entrees and sat in silence again but always we would return to further the conversation. It was an interesting back and forth. "Are you sure you won't come sit with us?" we pleaded. "No, it's better this way," he replied (it didn't suit his otherwise outgoing personality).

We had dessert to make the moment last longer (that and it sounded friggin' off the hook - Chocolate Gateau made daily and meticulously by the chef). We wanted more time with our new friend. I could have taken him home in a take-away bag. He told us things like, what he saw when he saw us looking at each other (which made us look at each other more) and why we should appreciate the little things. He made D get up and pull my chair out when I came back from the bathroom. And when D asked for his bill along with ours, the waiter said "no" in a way that explained we were not the first people to ask and also not the first people to get shot down. One couple even came over to introduce themselves to him. D finished another glass of wine to drag our time out even more - we didn't want to leave while he was still eating. There were few people left in the room when we finally got up from our table to leave. I went over and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He held both my hands in his in a way that reminded me of my grandfather; in a way that was so kind-hearted and appreciative and delicate for a man. He asked for one more hug, which I gladly gave. He looked at us both with his lifetime behind him and ours ahead of us. He told us to take care of each other one last time. Even thinking about it now, I can't gush enough about this man's energy.

I wanted so badly to take his photo from across our table but something in me felt it would be an invasion of the magic. Rather our waiter captured this one horrid shot that seems to be taken from a 1991 disposable camera (can you dig my SATC Sara Jessica Parker moment with my entree dish in front of my pregnant belly? Yes I did just SJP myself - it's my blog, I can do that here).

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