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Michelin 3-stars, with paper plates

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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 in June, with a phone call. Or, I should say, a dozen phone calls — for, no matter how often I dialed the reservation number, there was no answer.

And why should there be? Why should the reservation 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 told Linda, my wife, about it.

“You’re driving where?  For what?”

“Yondertown. To get reservations at La Lavanderie du Paris.”

It had to be done. I wanted to bring Linda to La Lavanderie for our fifteenth anniversary, in December.

I left the next morning, at dawn, in a storm. It took six hours. I had no trouble finding La Lavanderie du Paris. There it was, the perfect Platonic bistro, with its white-bricked facade, black shutters and climbing 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 at 4 with a sore neck. This time, the door was more forgiving. I entered the sanctuary. It was warm and 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 cradling a bottle of ‘97 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 June. 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 six 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 months passed; the big day came. I had booked a double room at the Yonderville Inn. Linda and I drove up. We parked. La Lavanderie du Paris’s frosted windows glittered with golden 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 malicious 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 plastic utensils. 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.

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