I’m here in the nation’s capital for the big Obama inauguration, making the rounds of parties, balls and fêtes, and man, is it exhausting! One thing after another, with not enough sleep. Just yesterday I was asking Michelle how she stands up to the constant commotion and shmoozing. And she always looks so good! We were in the Bedroom Suite of Blair House — you know, the one where everything’s in pink pastels — having a glass of Chard (K-J V.R.) while the tailor was putting the finishing touches on the I.G. (Inaugural Gown). No, I can’t and won’t say anything about it, you’ll just have to wait to see it like everybody else! Except I can tell you it’s STUNNING and nobody but nobody could look better in it than M.O. At one point The Man Himself popped in to say hi. He was with Rahm (who looks even more feral in real life than he does on the telly). They were going out for a jog and Barack had on these grey cotton sweatpants with wide blue sidestripes and a light blue T-shirt with PEBO in red letters. That’s short for “President-elect Barack Obama.” After he and Rahm left, Michelle joked that the girls are already calling him PEBO or “PEBO Daddy”! So that’s a little inside gossip. Now stay tuned for some big news: I have learned the contents of the Obamas’ wine cellar! And it’s not all K-J. They have a lot of Alsatian Riesling (Michelle’s fave) and some Barolo (which she says she’s learning to like under the tutelage of her personal wine guru, Karen MacNeil) and also some Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, not to mention Champagne. I asked Michelle what Big O. likes and she said he’s down with Napa Cabernet, but that he also has a thing for a good microbrew (which we already knew). She confided, “He’s never acquired a taste for liquor, but he’ll have a cognac after a nice dinner.” Back home in Chicago, they have some Illinois wine, but Michelle said they don’t really like it, and probably won’t be having it in the White House.
Another thing Michelle was working on was the menu for the Inauguration Day luncheon. For all you little people not important enough to be invited, here it is:
Duckhorn 2007 Sauvignon Blanc
(My Wine Enthusiast score: 90)
Pheasant and Duck served with Sour Cherry Chutney and Molasses Sweet Potatoes
Goldeneye 2005 Pinot Noir
(My Wine Enthusiast score: 92)
Apple Cinnamon Sponge Cake with Sweet Cream
Korbel Special Inaugural Cuvée
I asked Michelle what she thought of Tom Wark’s remark last week that “I don’t expect…any public display of wine loving on the part of Barack Obama.” (She was fully aware of it, because she reads the major wine blogs every day.) She disagreed. “Wark’s a smart guy, but he’s wrong on this one. Barack will be the wine President,” she said confidently. She wouldn’t provide details, but it’s clear that we have friends in the White House, after eight low, mean, dry years of chili and milk.
The day had finally arrived.
It had taken 6 months, but now it was here: My dinner at America’s top restaurant, La Lavanderie du Paris!
It all started with a phone call. Or, I should say, ten phone calls — for, no matter how often I dialed the reservation number, there was no answer.
And why should there be? Why should the clerk at La Lavanderie du Paris stoop to answer the telephone? Does the Pope personally answer calls to the Vatican?
That meant driving to Yondertown to make the reservation. It was 300 miles away; I set aside the weekend of the 6th. I told Linda, my wife, about it.
“You’re driving where? For what?”
“Yondertown. To get reservations at La Lavanderie du Paris.”
She looked at the calendar. “That’s the weekend of Sally’s school play.” Sally was our 9-year old. I had to be there.
But there was no other choice. I wanted to bring Linda to La Lavanderie for our fifteenth anniversary, in December. All the other weekends were booked; the 6th, it would have to be.
“You can take pictures of the play,” I said. Linda pouted but yielded. I think she was not averse to dinner at America’s greatest restaurant.
I left at dawn, in a storm. It took 6 hours. I had no trouble finding La Lavanderie du Paris. There it was, the perfect Platonic bistro, in its block of white-bricked shops, each with shutters and winding ivy.
My heart pounded and my throat grew tight as I gripped the door knob. I turned; it resisted. I turned again, more forcefully. It was locked. I stepped back. There was a sign in the window:
Hours: 4 p.m. – midnight.
I looked at my wristwatch. Just past noon. The rain was pounding down. With nothing to do, I headed back to the car, and fell into a cold, cramped doze.
I awoke precisely at 4 with a sore neck. This time, the door was more forgiving. I entered the sanctuary. It was dim, all old wood, red leather and French countryside etchings. There were scents of grilling meat, broiling butter and Provencal herbs. A busboy crossed my path; he was carrying a bottle of ‘01 L’Attitude de Larchemont.
An electric thrill shot up my spine. I was truly here in the culinary holy of holies. I felt like a supplicant at Lourdes, on the receiving end of a divine cure.
On my right was a little podium with the “Reception” sign. Behind it was a man in a tuxedo, imperious, powerful. He saw me, and looked away.
“Uh-hem,” I politely coughed.
He didn’t exactly wrinkle his nose. He just seemed to. “May I help you?”
“Yes, thanks. I’d like a reservation. For two.”
He solemnly cast his gaze down, apparently at a book below eye level.
“We have something available in March.”
I did a quick calculation. Today was the 6th — of April. He meant March of next year: Our anniversary was in December. March was out of the question.
“I’m afraid that’s a little too far off. I’d prefer something before Christmas.”
He smiled. No, “smile” isn’t the right word. His lips twisted into a grimace that was equal parts mirth, irony and loathing. It was meant to reduce me to nothingness.
“Impossible.” His adamant tone brooked no appeal.
But he had raised my dander. “Look here, I’ve just driven 6 hours in a storm. Do you know who I am?” I fumbled for my card; that ought to impress him, I thought, before realizing that, in my haste, I’d forgotten to bring any cards.
There was a scene. The manager came out, the sommelier, even the sous-chef. I dropped one or two names. I knew how to play the game. I got my reservation: December 5th. The clerk glared at me as if to say: I will have my hour. I drove home with the sweet taste of victory in my mouth.
The big day came. I booked a room at a little inn in Yonderville. Linda and I drove up. Even she was excited, having long gotten over my non-attendance at Sally’s play.
We parked. La Lavanderie du Paris’s frosted windows glittered with candlelight in the dark Yonderville night. We crossed the magic portal. I helped Linda out of her stole. We approached the podium. The face was familiar. It was him, still imperious, still evil. He recognized me, knew I was coming.
“Table for ___,” I said, politely, giving my name.
He glanced down at the unseen reservation book.
“I’m sorry, I have nothing for that name.” He looked up and smiled blandly, as if explaining the obvious to a simpleton. But his eyes glowed with the light of victory deferred, but attained.
Another scene. The manager wrung his hands, explained there must have been some dreadful mistake, he was eternally sorry — but one had to face facts. There was simply not a table available all night.
Linda touched my elbow, our signal for “Don’t hit anyone.” My thoughts were racing out of control. I looked over at the clerk. He was back behind his podium, carefully avoiding my eye.
It ended on a compromise. We were permitted to order off the menu — for takeout. No charge; the manager insisted. There was a Piggly-Wiggly down the block where we could buy paper plates. And I learned a valuable lesson. There are enemies worthy of one’s animosity, foes to engage in combat; but the reservation clerk at La Lavanderie du Paris is not one of them. In restaurants, as in life, one must choose one’s battles.